Getting Gorgeous Used To Be A Lot Less Complicated

Over on the blog called The Smart Set, Paula Marantz Cohen writes a requiem for the beauty parlor. Cohen recalls an age when you went out just to get your hair did, not mani-pedi massage with full-body deforestation: "When I was growing up, my mother used to go twice a month to the beauty parlor. That was what it was called then — not the hair stylist or even the hair salon, all latter-day terms. She would have her hair cut, colored, or coiffed, and sometimes she would get a manicure. But hair and nails were the extent of it. The body that lay in between was off limits. Caring for that — whatever it might entail — happened in the privacy of the home." These days, "maintenance" often involves so much more. But why?

At first Cohen suspected the modern phenomenon of having your entire body tended to was a result of the hairy, free-wheeling '60s.

But a friend pointed out that the exposed body nowadays is a far cry from the exposed body of the 1960s. That was the era of hairy underarms and legs, frizzy unkempt hair, and bra-less breasts that sagged under macramé T-shirts. Compare this to the perfect orbs that protrude like hothouse melons from the tank tops of 70-year-olds. "Let it all hang out" has been replaced by "let it all be nicely exhibited." Walt Whitman (and his hippie successors) sang the "body electric;" we sing the "body electrolysis" — also, siliconed and liposuctioned.
How did we get here? Do we blame porn? Celebrities? Magazines? Shows like Extreme Makeover? The hairless, polished, rounded-breast way we present ourselves now is surely a trend like any other, but the upkeep is troublesome. Our grandmothers got their hair done once or twice a month; foot binding was a one time thing; in the 17th century, water was considered dangerous to one's health and Louis XIV only bathed twice in his life. But, as Cohen writes, "Tending the aesthetic needs of the body can become a full-time occupation, growing more elaborate and extensive as the body ages, since it takes more effort and ingenuity to resist time's sickle. It's easy to spend $300 for about three hours worth of service, which then has to be repeated in 10 days' time." The real question: Is it worth it?

Body Service [The Smart Set]

Earlier: Is There Such A Thing As Too Clean?