Plastic Surgery, 1935
Oh, I can’t tell you the joy I felt when I saw this book, The Universal Home Doctor, on the shelves of of one of the few charity shops in town which still sells proper vintage books.
At first I thought it was a copy of a book I already own and love, the first old book I ever bought, The Universal Book of Hobbies and Handicrafts, as the colour, size and bindings are exactly the same. When I looked closer I saw the different title, although it’s still under the “Universal” heading which told me that these two books were part of a series, something I never suspected. I wonder if there were any more books in this set?
Neither book is dated but I have found out the the Hobbies book was published in 1935. The Home Doctor is variously dated as having the first edition published between 1932-36. Therefore I’m going to say that this also dated from 1935, as it would make sense for companion books to be published at the same, or nearly the same, time. Abe Books dates the Home Doctor as being from 1950, but this is very evidently untrue. It’s definitely pre-war, the references, pictures and hairstyles are unmistakeably from the 30s. And there were only two editions, this first one, and a second in 1967 which was a completely different book in many respects, having been updated and changed in appearance.
Here we have 1930s man in (nearly) all his glory.
The book consists largely of an encyclopaedia-format of medical problems and it enlightened me as to what Apoplexy actually was – it’s what we now call a Stroke. In addition to the alphabetical reference system, there’s appendices which give more in depth treatment to a number of subjects. There’s a section for new mothers on how to care for babies, and another section on the subject of Beauty.
I can’t resist a vintage beauty tip so this has been my first port of call. I was surprised, however, to see plastic surgery is not only mentioned but talked about as being rather commonly practiced. The most widespread form of this was evidently face lifting. The face lift operation was first performed in 1901, but became more popular over the course of the 1920s. “The only means of contracting a skin which has become too large is to remove parts of it by surgical operation, in which the procedure, to explain simply, is very like that of a dressmaker who “takes in” a dress that is too large for a customer.”
There are direct or indirect methods, either cutting the wrinkled skin out itself, with the skin over the area healing in more stretched manner, or by removing part of the skin at the edge of the face and pulling the skin tighter from there. Always remember to get both sides done though, they “…must always be performed on both sides, to avoid the grotesque effect of one side young and the other old.”
It wasn’t just face lifts – the book also mentions other “popular procedures”, including tummy tucks and breast reductions, filling collar bone hollows with fat, ears being pinned back and “little toes removed if the feet are thought too broad.” The latter was also the subject of scandalised reporting a couple of years ago, with women having so-called “stiletto surgery”, cutting off little toes for their feet to fit better in heels. It turns out it was nothing new.
I’d like to know more about the “various other “cosmetic” operations, more remarkable for ingenuity that common sense.” But you also need to be wary as legally “anyone – without any surgical training whatever – can set up as a “Beauty Specialist” and perform such operations under local anaesthesia.” This sounds like something that should definitely have been left in the past, and yet only a few weeks ago I read this, on unregulated cosmetic clinics in Australia, performing plastic surgery without any checks on their training.
Also like today, there are limitations and consequences to consider. “There are, however, two grave objections to the process of “face-lifting”. One is, that the natural expression is removed along with the superfluous skin, and the patient’s face becomes mask-like. A second, and perhaps more serious objection, is that these operations are not permanent in their effects….inevitably the time comes when the over-stretched skin takes its revenge, and the last state of the patient is worse than the first.”
I do love this line –
“It remains for the individual to choose between the necessity of “growing old gracefully” or growing old, as Mr E. F. Benson puts it, in the guise of a “grisly kitten.””
Wrinkles are tricky. First and foremost to help avoid their onset you need “a healthy life and contented outlook: worry and bad temper are fatal. It is noteworthy that it is not real troubles, but petty worries and all the nagging trifles of every day that are responsible for premature wrinkling!”
It’s quite right that bad eyesight can cause premature wrinkling, I’ve been slowly getting used to new gas permeable contact lenses for the past couple of months and my creased squint lines have depressingly got much worse in a short space of time as a result. For which I can thank Boots Advanced Protect and Perfect eye cream, which has incredibly restored things right back to normal (I am not being paid for this advert).
This is interesting, especially for someone who loathes high heels.
“Uncomfortable clothes are a cause of lines on the face, especially uncomfortable shoes. Women have wisely discarded two instruments of torture, the strangling collar and the squeezing corset, but they seem more reluctant about shoes. The discomfort of too narrow soles and too high heels still produces the frown of pain.”
Yes, this is still a thing. I bet this poor woman has the frown of pain alright.This reminds me of “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”, Kimmy having developed “scream lines” from being abducted and forced to live in a bunker for 15 years.
“Plucking the eyebrows seems to be losing its popularity…..brows that are no more than dark lines on the forehead seem to take away all “character” from the face.” Eyebrow fashion – whether it be plucking yourself bald like a chicken, or drawing in thick black beetling brows – remains a mystery to me still.
There’s a lot of information about looking after the hair. For a start, who is doing this? “The hair should be well-brushed for five minutes night and morning, preferably in front of an open window, as air is necessary for hair health.”
Hats, in 1935, were all but compulsory. “As regards hats, the best kind for the hair would be none at all except in very brilliant sunshine; but, since one must be worn, it should be light and well-ventilated. The lining should be washed once a week.”
As the owner of an oily scalp, the advice on the frequency of hair washing baffles me. “Roughly, once a week in the town and once a fortnight in the country should be enough.” And oh, the faff of having to make your own shampoo out of melted shredded soap, glycerine and eau-de-cologne. Or olive oil, egg and lemon juice.
Be careful about colouring your hair. An experienced hairdresser should bleach it for you as it “in unskilled hands may damage the hair seriously, as well as produce extraordinary effects.”
But hang on, X-rays are suggested as a means of removing superfluous hair. Seriously, X-rays? The book notes that its possible that the treatment may cause damage and changes to the skin, but hopes that “with further research, doctors may hit the happy mean and then this method of depilation will be by far the most satisfactory of the local treatments.” It’s true, it was noticed in the later part of the nineteenth century that X-rays resulted in hair loss and, before the terribly destructive effects of radiation were discovered, this was actually a method used by many women. Until 1946, that is. When the effects of radiation on the surviving inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki made it quite clear that this wasn’t something to be trifled with. Many women in the meantime had had scarring to the skin, developed cancer and even died from what was later deduced to be radiation damage from X-ray hair removal. It was even given a name – North American Hiroshima maiden syndrome. There’s a fascinating post here about it.
How to deal with thin necks, fat necks, thin shoulders, fat shoulders, thin arms and fat arms.
Fat necks should be “patted sharply all over with cotton wool dipped in an astringent lotion; the cleansing lotion recommended for the skin may be used, with the addition of two tablespoons of eau-de-Cologne….home massage should not be tried or the condition will probably be rendered worse.”
I’m not entirely sure how this would help, but now I’ve got the Happy Monday’s song “Fat Neck” in my head, and, thanks to my husband, the unfeasibly thick neck of George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher from the band Cannibal Corpse. All the astringent lotion in the world’s not shifting that. George said, “A friend of mine once said, ‘You don’t have a head, you’re a neck with lips.‘”
I’m always interested in the dietary advice from other ages. Here, carbohydrates are recommended as the basic foodstuff which should make up the majority of our diet. The fact it transforms quickly into sugar is a plus here, rather than the cause of the demonization of carbs now.
I’m pretty sure than no one apart from possibly Gwyneth Paltrow is keeping tabs on their daily phosphorus allowance these days. Still, interesting to see that the, sadly neglected, foodstuff treacle is a source of both calcium and iron. Maybe treacle will be the next trendy superfood?
Edit: inspired by Tasker Dunham’s comment below about the other books in this series, I went digging. I found this advert from 1940, beautifully illustrating the series, or, at least, some of them.