Grace Carlson Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Grace Carlson

Poverty Robs Many Women of
Right to Health and Beauty

(21 April 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 15, 21 April 1945, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” say the cook book publishers, hoping to increase their sales to girls and women, who are trying to attract a husband or perhaps, hold on to one. But sooner or later, most women discover that there are other ways “to a man’s heart.” Even women who are good cooks will agree that no one is ever handicapped by having a pretty face, smooth, lustrous hair, a slim figure and attractive clothes.

And so the struggle to he beautiful has absorbed the attention of women throughout the ages. The cosmetics industry was an old and flourishing business at the time of Cleopatra. Its chief customers have always been women, because the business of being beautiful has been one of woman’s main occupations. This is due to the fact that for centuries women have been barred from so many fields of competition – Music, Science, Literature, Politics and even today do not have full and equal rights with men in these fields, although they have made some important gains.

Deep-Seated Desire

Although “vanity,” as it is called, is supposed to be an exclusively feminine trait, the facts do not bear this out. Who buys the hair oils and tonics which are “absolutely guaranteed to cure baldness in 30 days or your money will be cheerfully refunded ? ” The manufacturers of various scented shaving soaps and cream and expensive after-shaving lotions certainly find plenty of male buyers, and these are only a few of the cosmetics and “beauty aids” sold to men.

The truth is that the desire to look well – “to put one’s best foot forward” – is possessed by all members of the human race, whether male or female. It is part of the individual’s feeling of self-respect and of his, or her, sense of personal dignity.

Recognizing this deep-seated human need, a popular woman’s magazine published an article in a recent issue, called, The Right To Be Beautiful. “Whether you live on a wind-swept farm in Nebraska, in a crowded flat in Chicago, or in a penthouse apartment in New York, you have the right of every American woman – the right to be beautiful,” the article begins. In fact, the article goes on to say, “there’s no longer a fragment of excuse for the girl, who facing her mirror, mutters, ‘I’m not pretty and there’s nothing I can do about it’.”

Suppose the working-class girl or housewife, facing the mirror and seeing a too-thin face, with dark circles of weariness under the eyes, hair and skin that need attention, and teeth that require dental care, decides to do something about it. If she had a few thousand dollars left over after paying the rent and buying groceries, she could have herself completely made over.

“Before and After” pictures are shown in the magazine of so-called “ugly ducklings,” who were transformed in a week’s time into glamour girls. All it took to do the job was a series of trips – “to the theatrical make-up man for face and hair restyling; to a dentist for temporary porcelain caps to fetch front teeth into alignment; to an instructor for lowering the voice a good three tones; to the dress designer for the appearance of curves we hadn’t the time to cultivate naturally; to Saks-Fifth-Avenue for a new outfit of clothes.”

Well, since she is lacking the necessary cash fo go through this transformation process, perhaps she can try some of the “home remedies” advised in the article. And so, she reads, “For a clear skin, for good teeth, for lustrous hair, for a shine in your eye, eat plenty of meat, fish, eggs, milk, fresh fruits and vegetables.” This isn’t going to be so easy either, she thinks. With prices of these foods so high, she can’t even get enough of them for the children,

What’s next in the line of beauty advice? “Hands to have and to hold must be smooth, soft and white. Rub some rich hand cream on at night and wear white lisle mits to bed.” At this point, the working-class mother is likely to throw the magazine down in disgust, knowing that no one could change the baby’s diapers several times during the night or bring innumerable drinks of water to the older children, while wearing “white lisle mits.”

Poor women do not have the much-talked-about American rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” to say nothing of the “right to be beautiful.” Only women of wealth can feel secure in this right.

Grace Carlson Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers’ Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 31 October 2018