Friday, June 28, 2013

The Arts of Beauty; or, Secrets of a Lady’s Toilet, by Madame Lola Montez

Cataloged under the subject heading “Beauty, Personal” is this gem of nineteenth-century cosmetology: Madame Lola Montez’s The Arts of Beauty; or, Secrets of a Lady’s Toilet, published by Dick & Fitzgerald of New York in 1858.

The Irish entertainer’s advice ranges from the impractical to the outrageous, begging the question: did this famous beauty really intend to divulge the secrets of her charms, or does this book have another, hidden purpose? Is The Arts of Beauty an ironic feminist treatise, or did Madame Montez simply wish to poison the competition?

For those of us who suffer from premature graying, Madame Montez recommends an intoxicating blend of oxide of bismuth, spermaceti, and pure hog’s lard: “The lard and spermaceti should be melted together and when they begin to cool stir in the bismuth. It may be perfumed to your liking.”

Another chapter is devoted to “A Beautiful Bosom.” The subject is delicate, yes, but “why should not a woman be suitably instructed in the right management of such extraordinary charms?” Various preparations are recommended to promote the desired growth or reduction of the area; ladies are discouraged, however, from the dangerous practice of self-medicating with internal doses of iodine!

And, lest the woman so spackled with layers of animal grease, ambergris, and ammonia be accused of vanity, Madame Montez asks us to consider: “Preach to the contrary as you may, there still stands the eternal fact, that the world has yet allowed no higher ‘mission’ to woman, than to be beautiful.” The quotation marks round “mission” say all.

Marie Silva
Archivist & Manuscripts Librarian

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