I collect vintage beauty and exercise books written by celebrities, including the likes of Morgan Fairchild, Jaclyn Smith, and the Joans (Crawford and Collins). The heyday of these chatty guides was the '60s, '70s, and '80s, and they fairly burst with personality. (Elizabeth Taylor's 1987 diet guide, Elizabeth Takes Off, begins with such a lengthy bio of her colorful life that she doesn't even get down to the business of weight loss until page 111.) By the time the '90s rolled around, celebrity beauty books had fallen out of fashion, replaced by best-sellers from earnest nutritionists and all-business personal trainers. That's why I snap up these retro gems whenever I can. They're inexpensive, easy to find, and make the perfect hostess gift—with their entertainingly dated (and in some cases, outright deranged) beauty advice, they beg to be read aloud to a group.
Here are some of my favorite bits:
Joan Crawford's instructions in My Way of Life included these tips: Avoid sitting in soft chairs, which "spread the hips." Walk around the house with toes pointed inward, for crucial extra leg toning. If your hair is oily, try "cologne massaged into the scalp." For dry hair, slather on a mayonnaise 'masque' for 15 minutes. (Many years ago I tried this: the mayo doesn't wash out for days, and my greasy head smelled disconcertingly like potato salad.)
In The Way to Natural Beauty, Cheryl Tiegs suggested that one substitute that calorie-laden morning doughnut with "CT's Oriental Pudding," a shake made with honey, skim milk, and…a block of tofu. ("This breakfast sweet is guaranteed to keep you satisfied till lunch.")
Christie Brinkley shared a novel use for flat beer in her Outdoor Beauty and Fitness Book: Comb it through your hair to use as a makeshift setting lotion. She was also fond of rubbing cut lemons on her elbows (after 10 minutes, they'll be "bleached white!") I phoned Mary Gail Mercurio, M.D., associate professor of dermatology at University of Rochester Medical Center, to see if this assertion had any weight. "Lemons contain citric acid, which exfoliates the skin," she says, "and lemons do have some bleaching properties. You're not going to get bleaching after 10 minutes, but some dead skin will come off." A moisturizing cream that exfoliates is more efficient, she says.
In On Your Own, Brooke Shields' handbook for looking good during the college years, she told readers she combated stress by listening to a tape of "wonderful old accordion music," and battled temptation in the campus dining hall by picturing her mother next to a giant scale, watching her daughter's every bite.
Perspiration, wrote Victoria Principal in The Beauty Principal , "is a type of natural sunscreen—so when you play tennis in the sun, don't wipe off that sweat—instead, pat it down." She sensibly added that you shouldn't use your sweat as an excuse to forgo the sunblock. This one made Dr. Mercurio laugh out loud "It is absolutely not a type of natural sunscreen," she says, "and, in fact, probably enhances the absorption of the sun."
To combat sugar cravings, Elizabeth Taylor provided this recipe for Chocolate Fantasy in Elizabeth Takes Off : Combine 1 envelope dietetic chocolate pudding mix, 1/2 cup evaporated skim milk, and 1 1/4 cups black coffee. Cook until thickened. Add one egg yolk; cook for another minute. Serve. (My mother made this runny, chemical-scented concoction regularly, and my only "fantasy" was a desperate wish that I was eating something else.)
In The Joan Collins Beauty Book , one of five lifestyle guides that the industrious Dynasty star churned out, her disco-era tips included: Secure your wig with extra hairpins before "lovemaking," and don't do cocaine because it's bad for a girl's looks. She also shared an effective tanning formula from her youth: Mix 8 parts baby oil with 1 part iodine. Apply every hour. I grew up in New Jersey in the '80s, so of course I did this, cheerfully frying my skin like a rotisserie chicken. Dr. Mercurio ruefully admitted that she once did the same. "Dreadful for your skin," she says with a shudder. "Baby oil enhances the optical effect of the sun being able to penetrate. You get some short term benefits, but the long term ramifications are dramatic."