15 December 2010

Times Haven't Really Changed: Airbrushing the Past

As of late, there has been a backlash against the airbrushing of models for fashion magazines and advertising.

Because models apparently aren't beautiful, slender or tall enough, the fashion world further slims their hips and waists, elongates their legs, and enlarges their eyes, hair and breasts.

The left picture is a more accurate representation of what a 29 yr old's bottom looks like.

"We're always stretching the models' legs and slimming their thighs," a Manhattan-based photo retoucher tells NEWSWEEK, speaking anonymously for fear of professional backlash.

See how she's so fat in the second picture? Obviously such flaws had to be fixed.

I'd love to tell you this is just a new fad, or something that our Evil Modern Society created. Unfortunately, "airbrushing" has been around for hundreds (thousands?) of years.

It used to take the form of paintings and sculpture.

Henry VIII (yeah, that Henry) famously demanded that since he had yet to see Anne of Cleves, that his royal portraitist must paint her accurately and not flatter her.
If all artists painted accurate representations of their subjects, then why such a demand? Because almost NO ONE did that. That would be poor business.

I don't know, she still doesn't look too bad.

Only since the invention of photography were we able to prove that the art was less than realistic, but it's been going on long before the 19th century.

The Princess Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse, in a lovely painting:

The Princess Alice in real life:

She's not ugly, but didn't naturally possess the mid-late 1800s female aesthetic Ideal which was extremely sloping, white rounded shoulders, plump arms, and round face having tiny nose over heart-shaped lips.

Queen Victoria in her wedding dress:

And here is the Queen in her wedding dress.

Here's another painting of her:

It doesn't even look like the same person in the face.

Not only women were "photo-shopped" in paintings.
Here's President Andrew Jackson's photograph...

...which is far cry from paintings and money depicting him:

Note the strong jaw and expressive eyes that are required of all men.

Print of Andrew Jackson in his natural state of "kicking British ass." Still not my favorite President.

I agree that the media's depiction of models is not good for the self-esteem of the rest of us, particularly since the models have been altered so much that they are no longer real people. 

When a 5'9" model weighing less than 115 is not a "good enough" shape for Fashion, this is what we are left with after the airbrushing:

This is a real Ralph Lauren catalog.

But is it so much worse than this was?

1830s fashion plates. Notes the elongated necks, sloped but wide shoulders, oddly narrow feet, tiny high waists.

08 December 2010

Tenuous Link to Our Past: World War II

Have you ever read some interesting tidbit of history and thought, "I sure wish I could have met those people. The questions I would ask!"

While the distant past is only accessible from the archaeological record and documents, more recent history is readily accessible, and usually takes the form of "old people." Old people are a wealth of semi-useful information, and since most people ignore them, they are very happy to share their stories with you if you even hint at a passing interest.

Having one of the last remaining World War II bomber pilots as my grandpa, I consider myself a lucky person. His eyesight is fading and his hearing is about gone, but upstairs he's 100%. He seldom talks about the War with me, and I'm sure it's because I'm female. (When I mention this to other war vets, they all nod their heads knowingly. Still not sure what that's about.) Still, the man's not getting any younger, so when I visited for Thanksgiving, I waited until my grandma left the room to take a call before I pounced.

To get around Grandpa's hearing issue, we use a little white board. I wrote on the board, Who are those people with you in the photograph on your desk? Where are you guys?

I pick up the black and white picture and bring it to him. It depicts 5 young men in Army Air Corps uniforms in a bar.
"That's my crew. We were in Italy. That's where we were stationed, so we could fly bombing missions over Europe."

464th Bomb group flying in formation.

How many missions did you fly?

He laughs. "49."

I write Why is that funny?

"It was during the 46th mission that the plane went down. After we were recovered, I asked to be put back on the flight list so that I could complete 50 missions. I flew three more, but then we were sent home."

You crashed a plane, then wanted to fly again?

"I liked flying."

464th Bomb group flying side by side.

What made you want to be a pilot?

"Well, I was bedridden for over a year when I was little..."

Polio, right?

"They said a cancer of the bone, but maybe polio. When I saw pictures of airplanes, I knew I wanted to do that! When the war first started, I didn't have enough education to be a pilot. [He had been at the University of Illinois when the war started, and didn't finish.] But then I ran into a friend of mine who was flying P-38s. He told me that they needed pilots badly, so I spoke with his commanding officer, and got to go to cadet school."

I know you crashed a plane - where did you go down?

"We were taking a lot of enemy fire, and one of the crew was killed. I ditched the bomber in a pond* in Yugoslavia, near Dubrovnik [official records say either "the Adriatic," "a flooded field," or "a lake."] You know, we've been back there several times. It's a walled city, and it's just beautiful."

Did you see the crash site again?

"No, I never saw it again."

464th Bomb group.

How did you get out of the plane?

"That was the tricky part. We went in to the pond, and the plane was filling up. But then something happened to make it roll over so that I could get out. Some members of the local resistance helped to get the other crew member out." [details on the rest of the crew have been sketchy, but one seems to have been cut down by enemy fire before the crash]

Did you have to swim out?

"Yes, and it was cold. Not a good experience."

What time of year was this?


Yeah, I guess that would be cold.

"But the resistance said they couldn't help us until nightfall. It wouldn't be safe to move us until then."

So you had to sit under a tree somewhere and shiver for hours?

"Yes, well as I said, it wasn't much fun."
(Honestly, I can't imagine much worse than having your plane shot down, your friends killed in front of you, you almost drown trying to escape the sinking fuselage in icy water, and you have to sit, soaked, for hours in a foreign country waiting to be captured or shot, watching your other friend's life slowly leak out).

And the other guy?
I ask.

"He was in a bad way." Grandpa frowns at this point. "There were bones sticking out..." He doesn't say anything for a second. "He didn't last." [This, by the way, is the reason my grandpa installed seat belts in all his cars upon his return from the War.]

Trying to figure out if this was the plane that crashed... still researching this one.

He perks up. "But the neat part was that the resistance put us in a German ambulance. They covered us in blankets and told us they were going to drive through the enemy German lines, then our own lines. We were told not to speak. The driver had a German uniform."

That is pretty cool. So you got through the German lines okay.

"We did, and past the walls of Dubrovnik."

The crash is why you got the medal.

Obviously not wanting to discuss that in depth, he says, "Did you see my new medal case? Your father and uncle helped with that. I'll show you."

Bombs drop from a plane in same squadron as Grandpa.

We walk to the hallway where his medals are displayed in a shadow box. His Silver Star is near the top. The ribbons are still vibrant. I pointed at the Silver Star and Purple Heart.
"I know what these are for, but why did you get these?" I point at others.

He studies them. "For doing a good job I guess."

By this point my grandmother is off the phone, and now Grandpa only wants to discuss how lovely Croatia is this time of year.

So naturally I have to research the rest.

I knew he was a bomber pilot. He was a member of the 464th bomb group, 777th Squadron.

Grandpa is 3rd from the left. Bomber Reunion 2002.

I found out that he received the Silver Star in 1945:

And his "doing a good job" medal?

The Air Medal is awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity in or with the Armed Forces of the United States, shall have distinguished himself/herself by meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight.

I'd like to find out more about that crash, but it appears that I will have to consult military documents and books from here on out. It is mentioned in at least one book. I've learned that just because the Past is conveniently sitting in the same room, doesn't mean he wants to talk.
Or maybe he still takes the "loose lips sink ships" slogan seriously.

*1945 Newspaper article briefly discussing crash.

03 December 2010

Sweatpants-Free Zone:

I own one pair of sweatpants. They were my mother’s University of Oklahoma sweats from circa 1975. I don’t own any other pair, and wouldn’t dream of wearing them more often than once each month, any where other my kitchen.

“Chicago Mail Order,” 1921

When I started college, I noticed that many of my fellow young scholars wore sweatpants to class. Instead of taking pride in their appearance, they schlepped around in flip-flops, grey sweats and some kind of t-shirt, completing the ensemble with hair that may or may not have seen a brush in the past 3 days.

“Butterick Fashion,” 1934

When I began to fly about once per month back in 2001, I noticed sweatpants on airplanes. No longer did people don their Sunday best to ride about the world with others; rather, I saw people of all ages in sweats lugging around bed pillows (which kind of grosses me out).

1940s Airline Advertisement

I’ve seen sweats in houses of worship, in office settings, out at bars… and I wonder where on earth these people found the information saying that this is acceptable public attire?

When I’ve asked for the opinions of others, I get one of two answers:

· Sweats are comfortable, and I dress for comfort.

· I hate that people can’t respect themselves enough to at least put on a pair of jeans.

“Vicara Fibers,” 1956

This is a very “me/now-centric” society. Rather than care about how we are perceived by others, we care only for and about ourselves at the present moment in time. Who cares if in 2 years I’ll want my professor to write a letter of recommendation? I only care about my comfort level in this 8am class.

“Arrow Shirts,” 1961

We don’t care about other people because other people don’t matter. So why stop at wearing sweatpants out to places formerly reserved for resort or business casual? Let’s wear those holey, sagging things to funerals. I mean, we’re so distraught at a funeral, so we might as well be comfortable.

Next, let’s wear our “leggings of shame” to weddings (but not white sweats, because you might compete with the bride).

The President should give his next State-of-the-Union in them.

“Levi’s Sportswear,” 1978

Or, you know, we could relegate sweatpants back to where they were intended, where they belong: The gym. Hence the name “sweat” pants. There’s nothing wrong with respecting yourself, and dressing to impress those around you.

As Jerry Seinfeld famously said in an episode of his show, “You know the message you're sending out to the world with these sweat pants? You're telling the world: "I give up. I can't compete in normal society. I'm miserable, so I might as well be comfortable."

23 November 2010

Thankful For Foods New & Old:

When I lived in the Garden State, harvest season was the highlight of the year. The last tomatoes are brought to the farm stands, the corn finishes ripening, and the bright pumpkins swell in the fields.

The Harvest, Robert Zund (1827 - 1909)

Few people ever consider the historical circumstances that allow us to enjoy these fruits and vegetables around the world today. Most people know that Amerindians cultivated corn (maize) for thousands of years, and introduced it to the Europeans who arrived on America's shores in the 15th century. However, corn wasn't the only "New World" vegetable to impact Europe.

For instance, though tomatoes are today considered an integral part of Italian sauces, the British and North American British colonists refused to eat tomatoes for years because they erroneously believed them to be poisonous (only the leaves are toxic). Anyone who has been hiking or enjoys the outdoors probably has heard that brightly colored berries are typically bad to eat. The vibrant fruit of the tomato made some Europeans nervous, so when Spanish explorers brought back seeds from Tenochtitlan around 1519, the British only cultivated them as decorative plants. Obviously since the Spanish had seen the Amerindians eat the tomato with no ill effects, the fruit caught on quickly in Spain, with Italy following closely behind. The myth of the poisonous tomato persisted among the British and Americans until less than 200 years ago.

Ripening Tomatoes 4, Cindy Revell (Contemporary)

Were you aware that the Irish didn't farm potatoes until recently? Native to Peru, the potato is first mentioned by Spaniard Pedro de Cieza de Leon in 1540, when he writes that the native peoples have, in addition to maize, another "plant that supports a great part of their existence: the potatoes...." After making its way around Europe, Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618) first brought the potato to Ireland when he planted them at his estate near Cork. The new crop gained so much in popularity that "cooking any food other than a potato had become a lost art. Women hardly boiled anything but potatoes" [Woodham-Smith, The Great Hunger: Ireland, 1962]. This dependence on the potato directly lead to the starvation of millions when the blight destroyed nearly all the potatoes in Ireland.

Gathering Potatoes, Jules Bastien-Lapage (1848 - 1884)

Perhaps the crop most associated with autumn is the pumpkin. We make pies and soups from it, roast the seeds, and even fry the blossoms. While pumpkins today are grown on every continent save Antarctica, they are believed to have been first cultivated in Mexico thousands of years ago. In addition to using pumpkins as food, Amerindians would pound the tough rind into strips and weave it into mats. Colonists first created the pie when they hollowed out a pumpkin and filled the inside with milk, honey and spices, then set the squash in the fire to cook.

Gathering Pumpkings: An October Scene in New England, ca. 1860

This was original posted at Mark & Stephanie's excellent and healthy blog, You Are What I Eat.

12 November 2010

A Simple Matter of Etiquette...

Because I am of a certain age, I receive wedding invitations, wedding shower invitations, and baby shower invitations. This started about the time I turned 18, and downpour has yet to let up.

There are a few things that have never failed to upset me, and I can’t imagine why any self-respecting person would do them.

Don’t get me wrong; many of my friends have sent baby shower announcements and wedding invitations that were lovely, and even if I tried, I wouldn’t find fault. But there are always a few…

At a former job in Florida, a coworker had a baby shower for her second child. Everyone was invited, and had brought gifts. When a girl friend and I showed up, the mother of the mom-to-be handed us envelopes. She told us to address them to ourselves, as they were for the Thank-You notes to be mailed later.


The interesting part is that
nobody ever received any Thank-You notes at all. Some people even spent a lot of money on lavish gifts.

But Laura, the price of the gift shouldn't matter.

You're right, but those people should have at least received the Thank-You notes that they had already addressed to

An out-of-state friend was having a wedding shower. The friend who was throwing it for her was someone I did not know. This person sent a wedding shower invite to me, and enclosed two different Registry Cards. In addition, there was a hand written note saying, “If you can’t make it, here is the address where you should send the gifts.”

Do I really need to go into detail about the obvious rudeness here? Needless to say, no gift was sent (I did bring several gifts to the wedding itself, and I paid a crazy amount in travel expenses, so I think I did the “good friend” thing sufficiently).

I take personal offense at Registry Cards.

Etiquette Fail.

I don’t mind if a person is registered somewhere, but proper etiquette dictates that I call a friend, relative, or the person throwing the wedding/baby shower to find out that sort of information.
(By the way, it is horrible etiquette to throw your own shower. It means you are pathetic, and have no friends.)

Registry Cards included in invitations means one of two things:
  • “I am inviting you because I want a gift from you, and I don’t trust your crappy taste in picking out something nice for me.”
  • “I know you are too cheap to bring a gift, so I’m reminding you of your friendship duties.”

It does not mean, “I enjoy our friendship, and I would love for you to share in my special day.” That’s what the original invitation meant.

Have you ever heard of the money dance? This is right up there with the money tree on my list of pet peeves. At another wedding*, men had to pay money to dance with the bride. Not only had the men paid money to travel to the wedding, paid money for hotel expenses, paid money for gifts, and paid money for tuxes, they now had to pay to dance with the bride? Woe unto those who didn’t have cash on them!

I could write a whole book on wedding/baby shower stupidity, but there are already several out there, as well as several reliable websites letting us know the proper way to behave.

Of course, I’m perfect, just as my blog readers are perfect, and none of us will ever do any of those things.

*I've been to a remarkable number of weddings.

28 October 2010

Pictures of the Dead:

In olden days, when the child of wealthy parents died, the family paid to have a portrait painted including the deceased. The recently departed was depicted as alive, though might be staring off into the distance while the rest of the family faced forward. Other signs of a mourning painting are a child holding dead flowers, or dead flowers in a vase near the sitter.

 The middle classes typically remembered their deceased with "hair art," which could be a wreath made from the hair of their loved one, or a piece of jewelry created from hair.

Photography was invented in Paris, though there is some argument about that (the first photograph was taken in 1827 and took 8 hours to develop).  While having one's picture taken was costly, it was not nearly so prohibitively priced as having a portrait painted.  As one might imagine, being able to keep an actual image of the family member appealed to mourners greatly, so when photography became affordable and popular, Victorians had pictures taken of family members after they died. As with the earlier paintings, the mourning photographs intended to depict a "living" person.

Most of the time, the deceased was "asleep."

Sometimes the deceased was propped up along side living family.

I should point out that it is the young girl above who is being propped.

Taken 9 DAYS after she died.

There are some people today who feel that this old practice is "creepy" or overly morbid, and are glad that we now properly respect the dead. These people forget that not everyone had a camera back then, and mortality was much higher. That postmortem picture is all that the parents have left of their little boy or girl. Think about it - there's no other way to remember what the laughing child looked like before the sickness or accident. Parents don't want to just bury their baby and forget, so they have a picture taken as if their child was napping.

Today's occidental society is far removed from death.  Aging, Sickness and Death no longer take place among family in one's home.  Today we hide them away in nursing homes and hospitals.
In a time period when Death walked more frequently among us, such images weren't foreign and disturbing.  The were loving reminders of those who passed too soon.

A Discussion:

"I think still think... the fundamentals of our economy are strong."

-Senator John McCain, mid-September 2008.

"The fundamental business of the country, that is the production and distribution of commodities, is on a sound and prosperous basis."

-President Herbert Hoover, late October 1929.

"The present administration has either forgotten or it does not want to remember the infantry of our economic army. These unhappy times call for ... plans ... that build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the pyramid."

-President Franklin D. Roosevelt, early April 1932

This is why my grandfather, who fought in WWII and earned a Silver Star, firmly believes that FDR is the greatest President. Simply, he believes he laid the groundwork that got us out of the Depression.