One of the books I read in June, of which more anon, was Beauty Tips for Girls, by Scottish writer Margaret Montgomery. A blackly funny contemporary novel (highly recommended), it’s told in three voices – Katie, a fifteen-year-old girl; Corinne, Katie’s mother, who has descended into drink following the death of her young son; and Jane, Katie’s teacher.
Katie reads Misty, a magazine aimed at girls her age, which includes advice on sexual positions, really cruel comments about celebrities, and advertisements for cosmetic surgery. It is one of these small ads that drives Katie to tell her dad she’s staying with a friend when she’s actually made an appointment with a London plastic surgeon.
It made me think about the advice doled out to girls and young women over the years, as chronicled in my various book/magazine collections. For example:
‘Girls of this age [fifteen or sixteen] are particularly apt to look untidy if their dresses are not chosen properly for them. … Nearly all young girls will look well in Magyar blouses and quite plain skirts.’
Article in Woman’s Weekly 1911 (in The Woman’s Weekly Keepsake Book of Vintage Childhood, available now in newsagents. This is a great series – to read and for writerly research.)
‘Why it is necessary for women to powder and paint and black their eyes between the courses [in a restaurant] is one of the unsolved problems of these unhappy times.’
The Girl’s Own Annual (no date but probably the late 1920s)
‘Thick ankles cannot be slimmed overnight but perseverance and patience for a couple of months will work wonders. Olive oil rubbed in every night is invaluable … ’
Aunt Kate’s Household Companion (1938)
‘It is comforting to know that however shy and awkward a girl may feel, a boy of her own age is likely to be still less composed.’
The Girl’s World (1950)
‘Horizontal stripes make fatties look wider than ever.’
‘Fussy prints, button, frills and bows make fatties look bitty and lumpy.’
‘You’ve got your little eye on this fanciable fella, but as far as he’s concerned, you just don’t exist! … 21 ways to make him notice you:
Drop the ice-cream you’re licking all over his sleeve. Then you have to clean it off, don’t you!'
Jackie Annual 1975
‘Twenty Ways to Make Him Come On Strong: How to put back the sparkle into a love affair that’s gone flat:
Force him to look at you. Do the vacuuming in bra and pants.
Amaze him by turning up for a date dressed totally in violet – turban, lipstick, dress, tights, shoes, with undies dyed to match.’
I wonder how many Cosmopolitan readers took those pieces of advice.