Feminine beauty has been a hot topic for discussion throughout recorded history and the 19th Century was no exception. With the growth of mass market publications and inexpensive books during the 19th Century, so was the mass proliferation of self-help manuals dealing with the subject of how one can enhance their beauty. It has often been stated by commentators that the growth of the health and beauty aids industry grew along with the fashion industry and that both were part of the overall consumer economy that began to take shape as part of the Industrial Revolution and it fed on people’s desire to improve their appearance, or at least how others perceived their appearance.
One such example of these self-help manuals was one titled, somewhat bluntly, The Ugly-Girl Papers or, Hints For The Toilet. Published by Harper’s Bazar in 1874, the book is a compendium of various beauty advice articles originally printed in various issues of Harper’s Bazar. Covering everything from proper posture and diet to keeping the skin soft, the book offers a variety of advice ranging from the merely amusing to the extremely questionable (and especially those involving various toxic chemicals). However, in the book’s defense, there are some things that are still used to this day, albeit in a modified form.
Particular ideas and attitudes in regard to fashion and beauty reflect their times and the 19th Century was no different. Contained in the preface of the book is some of the basic philosophy behind the book:
The first requisite in a woman toward pleasing others is that she should be pleased with herself. In no other way can she attain that self-poise, that satisfaction, which leaves her at liberty to devote herself successfully to
I appeal to the ugly sisterhood to know if this is not so. Could a woman be made to believe herself beautiful, it would go far toward making her so. Those hopeless, shrinking souls, alive with devotion and imagination, with hearts as fit to make passionate and worshiped lovers, or steadfast and inspiring heroines, as the fairest Venus of the sex, need not for an instant believe there is no alleviation for their case, no chance of making face and
figure more attractive and truer exponents of the spirit within.
There is scarcely any thing in the history of women more touching than the homage paid to beauty by those who have it not…
The above passage pretty much sums up the reason why woman should be concerned with improving their beauty, and especially members of the “ugly sisterhood.” In short, a woman’s ultimate fulfillment comes from her beauty and this book will help them attain it.
Needless, to say, the attitudes expressed above have changed somewhat but in some respects they still exist to this day although the language is different. The health and beauty aids industry is still with us today, stronger than ever, and its a multi-billion dollar industry that offers a seemingly endless variety of products and advice that carry the promise of enhancing out beauty (and yes, this also applies to men!).
So, in the end The Ugly-Girl Papers lives on as a testiment to another era, an historical artifact if you will. To us here at Lily Absinthe, while much of what we design is rooted in the 19th Century, our attitudes are not and we believe that every person arrives at true beauty by their own path, in their own time, and in their own way. 🙂