Greeting me at my favorite local independent bookstore this past week was this interesting ‘Health’ section display:Being skinny (or at least dressing skinny), wearing dark red lipstick and super expensive perfume equals health for women? I realize the display is meant to cash in on popular New Year’s resolutions within our culture, but I still find it provocative on many different levels. I was sorely tempted to add ‘hazards’ under ‘health’ but didn’t want to get evicted from the bookstore.
By now the health dangers of the skinny woman syndrome are well known. Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, yo-yo/extreme/bizarre dieting. Expensive, dubiously medically-regulated, and sometimes fatal cosmetic surgeries. Beautiful Beyonce’s song “Pretty Hurts” does a good job of summing up this topic.
Something seemingly simple and innocuous as lipstick… How many people know that lipstick is a public/environmental health issue? Many popular brands of lipstick contain lead and at least eight other metals known to be harmful to humans. The FDA does not have any regulatory authority over the cosmetics industry, leaving the the 58 billion dollar a year industry (in the U.S./estimate for 2014) to self-regulate. Deborah Blum wrote a NYT Well blog article on this: Is There Danger Lurking in Your Lipstick? (8-16-13). The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has good, up-to-date information on this issue. And the health story on perfume is perhaps even more depressing, so I will skip it and let you read all about the petroleum products, allergens, neurotoxins, and synthetic musks here.
For some historical perspective (and some sad-funny stuff), I stumbled across my mother’s copy of The Ladies Home Journal, the June 1964 Special Issue. It features an article by Betty Friedan ‘Woman: The Fourth Dimension.’ Written a year after she published the now classic second-wave feminist book The Feminine Mystique, her ‘fourth dimension’ of a woman’s existence is “woman as a person herself, employing all her intelligence and abilities in a changing world.”
The numerous ads for beauty products in this special Fourth Dimension edition are quite telling. Besides the one for lipstick I’ve included at the beginning of this post, here are a few that stand out as both Mad Men retro and disturbingly not-so-retro (and yes, there were only white people in this magazine):
Skin cancer anyone?
Here is a full-page fashion shot of a ‘four-dimensional woman’ as a beautifully coiffed and attired artist (my mother, who was a professional artist with an MFA dog-eared this page–hopefully only out of amusement):
But this photo and caption included in Friedan’s article puts a new spin on better living through chemistry and on the value of an education (the caption says “Velta Sparnins, mother of three children, attends college on a scholarship”):