Retro Beauty for ‘Deeper Shades’

I am absolutely fascinated by old publications aimed at women (which is probably why I love The Women’s Library so much…) so, this Christmas, I was thrilled when I went home and my mum off-loaded all her old beauty manuals on me. One woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure, after all…

The SHE Book of Beauty (a hardback spin-off from SHE magazine, which is still going strong) by Sally Ann Voak was especially accidentally amusing in its retro advice. Published in 1979, it has that jolly way of talking about bodily functions; the chapter on breast care is entitled ‘Bosom Pals’ and a bottom is referred to as a ‘boomps-a-daisy’. Whilst a lot of the advice is strikingly similar to what we read now in women’s monthlies (diets, exercise and, shock, cosmetic surgery!) there are also some hideously outdated hints and tips. For example, the book recommends a factor 7 as the highest SPF to use when tanning, and suggests packing ribbons for your hair and ‘a sensational long housecoat’ amongst the essentials to take to hospital when you’re about to give birth.

One section of the book that particularly stood out was the (2 page long) chapter on ‘Beauty in Deeper Shades.’ Here the book states;

‘Just as white skins can’t be lumped together under one beauty heading, the many shades of coloured skins can’t be treated as one type. Each skin is individual, and potentially beautiful too’

These ‘potentially beautiful’ skin tones are then lumped into not one, but three different categories – African ‘Black’, West Indian ‘Coffee’ and Oriental ‘Olive’ as pictured below…

…whilst the rest of the beauty advice could be said to be aimed solely at white women who are ‘lumped together’ into – ahem – the entire remainder of the book. I’d like to say this token ‘Deeper Shades’ piece was by far the most dated portion of the book but, sadly, this probably isn’t true. Most mainstream women’s glossies today will still be writing their beauty advice on the assumption that their reader is white, and any make-up tips aimed at black women (I’ve yet to see a beauty piece aimed at other specific skin tones/ethnicities) will most likely be done as a ’special’. Still, at least readers nowadays won’t expect to find themselves described as having ‘a difficult skin colour’, as they are in the 1979 SHE book.

Anyways, I thought it would be fun (I have some odd ideas of what constitutes fun…) to compare the advice given in the SHE book for very dark and medium brown skins with some images taken from Beverley Knights make-up range which was launched in September last year.

‘Garish blues and greens look wrong – choose subtle colours instead.’

‘Lots of mascara suits darker girls but full lips look wrong with dark lipstick

I always find it amusing that such strict advice is doled out on something that (I feel) should be as fun, experimental and frivolous as make-up (especially when that advice is quite clearly wrong, as shown above!) To be fair though, the beauty rules from SHE may have been based on the fact that the pigmentation strength in old make up ranges was a bit crummy, rather than the fact the writer was a bit conservative/clueless. It’s great that make-up technology has come a long way since then, although the best brands for black skin are still pretty expensive.

The SHE advice for those who fall into the ‘Olive skin’ bracket says that ‘brown kohl pencil round the eyes or to add depth and shape almond eyes’ is essential. This strikes me as pretty unhelpful in practical terms (not to mention that ‘add depth and shape’ could be read as ‘make appear more caucasian‘), since some women with mono-lids struggle with eyeshadow application and find that eyeliner is pretty ineffectual for them. Thank heavens for YouTube (and for women taking authority over beauty advice into their own hands)!

So, a lesson in how far we’ve come and how far we have let to go… all in one hard back book from the 70’s. A pretty good Christmas present, huh?

More to read:

Hannah Pool’s ‘The New Black’ Guardian columns on creating the English Rose look on black skin and her love/hate relationship with the Afro Hair & Beauty show.

IMAN make up back in the UK (with good comments!)

This piece on The New York Times Gift Guide for People of Colour over at Sociological Images illustrates that ‘the fact that there “needs” to be a guide specifically for people of color reveals that all the other products and guides, ostensibly for “people,” are really for white people.’

By: Sarah Barnes, 07.01.2010 | Comments (2)
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