There are no ugly women; just lazy ones

Helena Rubenstein, the world’s first self-made female millionaire, was born in Kraków, Poland, in 1872. She emigrated to Australia in 1902. With no money and little English, she packed a great complexion and jars of face cream in her luggage. When her supply ran out, she started making her own. With all the sheep in Australia, lanolin was in good supply.

By  1908, she was raking it in. She had plans for expansion. Again, on her own dime, in an era where women in business were not financed by banks, she moved to London. She married and had two sons.

In 1912, they all moved to Paris and she opened a salon. She set up a publishing company, too, the one that published Lady Chatterley’s Lover. All sorts of names and notables attended her salon, many of whose notoriety was still in the making. She was known for her dinner parties and her wit.

When WWI broke out, the family moved to New York where she opened her salon in 1915. This would mark the beginning of a lifelong rivalry with Elizabeth Arden, captured on film in The Powder and the Glory. She sold her US business to Lehman Brothers in 1928 for just over $7 million and bought it all back for less than $1 million when the Great Depression hit. From there, it was onwards and upwards.

Her second marriage was to a  Georgian aristocrat 23 years her junior. [That must have been some face cream!] She spent money on art and clothes but took her own lunch to work. She set up foundations, gave scholarships, and employed most of her relatives in the business. She was some woman.

IMG_3361 (800x600)In Kraków last week, I stood outside the house in which she was born. It’s in the Jewish District of Kazimierz and is now a restaurant. Or so I was told. There seems to be a little confusion about exactly where. Earlier in the week, I’d seen the Oscar-nominated Hungarian movie Saul és fia (Son of Saul) so senses were particularly heightened. But Helena Rubenstein escaped before the madness descended on this part of the world. Her reasons for emigrating were most likely economic. And it made me think  of the millions of souls of potential who perished – not just Jews, but Catholics, Roma, artists, intellectuals – millions of lives wasted because of one man’s ideal.

And this made me think about abortion and the screening tests for unborn children and the parents who for better or worse decide whether or not to carry to term babies who are less than perfect. I wonder what Hitler’s mum might have done with the benefit of hindsight. But then the same might be said for Henry Ford – given the number of lives lost to automobile accidents. And my mind took another leap and bounced to risk aversity and how many of us live our lives in fear of things that never happen. And that led to potential and the fulfilling thereof.  Parents reliving their own failed sports careers through their children? Is that right? And then I started on emancipation and the movie My Sister’s Keeper that I’d heard about. A story of a young girl of 12 who’d sued her parents for medical emancipation. They’d had her so that she could be a donor for her sibling. And from there to movies and how they no longer seem to imitate life but take on a life of their own. And what about our constant need to be entertained, and our low boredom thresholds. And why don’t we read any more? Surely a beautiful mind is light years again of a beautiful face – but then beautiful faces are there for the taking – as Rubenstein said – there are no ugly women; just lazy ones.  I wonder what she’d have made of me ….

PS – Son of Saul – worth seeing – a whole new take on life in concentration camps. Playing in Toldi with subtitles 8.45 Mondays and Tuesdays.



2014 Grateful 50

I did something last night that I rarely do. In fact, I could add up all the times I did it last year on one finger. But for some strange reason (perhaps I’m still feeling the effects of the recent full moon) I decided to put my face on before I went out.

My relationship with make-up is quite cosmetic. I usually only wear it when I’m not in a good place; when my confidence is at a low ebb and I need to put a wall, however thin, between me and the world. Or when I’m venturing out of my comfort zone and need to play a role. Trying to make it look as if I’m not wearing any at all is key. I hate looking ‘made up’ and, being innately lazy, I am fascinated by other people’s dedication to it all. [According to Helena Rubenstein: There are no ugly women, only lazy ones.]

I had a good look at my fellow tram travellers and every woman, without exception, had a face on. Some were bolder than others, more stylish, more out there, but every woman I saw, regardless of age, was masked up. Collectively, I was looking at eight hours of effort – one working day.

The US FDA defines cosmetics as something ‘intended to be applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance without affecting the body’s structure or functions’ and of those, promoting attractiveness is probably the main reason people would give. We’ve been using make-up for years – it’s been traced back as far as Ancient Greece and Egypt and it’s been in and of fashion ever since. In the 19th century, Queen Victoria declared it vulgar and improper and the only people who should wear it, according to her good self, were actors. But it came into its own in the early twentieth century and has been enjoying huge popularity ever since. And its much more convenient. No more using burnt matches to darken eyebrows, or berries to stain lips, or urine to get rid of  freckles or arsenic to get that sought-after pale look. Now it all comes in tube, safe and tested. [Wasn’t it Yves Saint-Laurent who said: The most beautiful makeup of a woman is passion. But cosmetics are easier to buy…]

But back to last night…me with my face on. A number of people commented on how well I was looking, asking what I’d done to my hair. No one noticed the make-up. Mission accomplished. But then earlier in the week when I was at GOTG sans face, I received similar compliments and inquiries about my hair. This would suggest that the make-up did little for me and that extra effort was wasted… if indeed I was wearing in the first place in an attempt to look better and garner more compliments (which wasn’t the case…).

Objectively I can say that yes, I did look better than usual. But in actuality, could I be bothered doing it every day? I don’t think so. As I spent a precious five minutes cleaning off the residue, I had a flashback to Mulranny beach in the west of Ireland. In my mind’s eye, I could see its stones, in their various shapes, sizes, colours, and textures – each one lovely in its own right. And I got to thinking about nature and naturalness and how beautiful it can be. And I realised that I’m fortunate enough to have inherited my mother’s good skin and that really, there’s no need to mess with it. And for that, I’m truly grateful.

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