Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Last-Year Reads: Anita Colby's Beauty Book

Want to be a star? Want to be a star in 1950s style? Then Anita Colby's 1952 Beauty Book is the guide for you.

Colby was a model turned star-maker who worked at David O. Selznick's film studio during the 1940s as 'Feminine Director', basically coaching, grooming and perfecting the latest batch of beauties to arrive in Hollywood. In this book she divulges some of the secrets to her success.

The more I read of these kinds of books, I realise how little the essential advice has changed over the years. The key to beauty is always a combination of a good diet and exercise, dressing well, keeping your mind active (cf Eileen Ford) and having fun (a la Lilly Daché). So why are people still buying these guides? And why aren't we all stunning beautiful? Probably because we lack the determination to see it through. At least Anita Colby is honest: "It will never be a lazy life, being a beauty", she warns her readers.

Colby's book offers a four week "beauty and charm" course promising a "complete re-make of yourself". She's one driven woman (and talented too, the charming illustrations littering the book are also her own). To participate in the programme she requires her readers to undertake some ruthless self-analysis too, in the style of Edith Head's How To Dress for Success book. Those poor Hollywood starlets. There are problems I would never have thought of. "Is your hairline too low?" she asks. Apparently you can have a pear-shaped face as well as a figure (I'm now convinced I do). As part of the program, each day gives you a different task, whether that's tackling your eyebrows or your feet. If you had the time and energy to devote to the book, I'm sure most of them would bring results.

One of Colby's more unusual bits of advice is something she calls "The Hollywood Slant on Beauty", basically reclining with your feet in the air (ironing boards will do the trick) as an essential anti-ageing exercise. Once in the position, simply "Relax here for 15 to 20 minutes seeing black and seeing blank. Think of Nothing Except to Count Your Blessings". The important of the exercise runs throughout the book - she urges you to even brush your hair in this position. It's obviously something she feels strongly about - she patented a design for a chair which converts to an inclined bed.

Colby also takes on interiors, viewing them, in quite a Hollywood way. as an extension to your interior life. She quotes Hitchcock on Joe Platt's set for Rebecca: "this is the first time I've used an empty room as a portrait of a woman." Naturally she covers hostessing too.

For all its useful advice, the Beauty Book can't quite extract itself from the era in which it was written. Who doesn't think of the plight of downtrodden 50s housewives when they read that the supposed key to happiness is "to give yourself away"? I think I'll happily take Anita Colby's beauty tips, and I'm full of admiration for her extraordinary dedication to the beauty cause but I'll look for the life philosophising elsewhere.

Buy this from Last-Year Girl Books on Etsy

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