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People — women in particular — have been making themselves up for centuries, often despite fear of public derision and threats to personal health. Makeup has been used as art and artifice, for subjugation and empowerment. Read about how it has changed through the years and how it looks today, as seen in the mirror of The Good Wife. (Open Letters Monthly, The Smart Set)

Blood may be thicker than water, but alcohol is stronger than both. Read about the truth and cliché of vodka in Russia and the hangover left by Prohibition in the United States. (Gastronomica, The Smart Set)

What do you do when you know you’re losing your mind? Read about a journalist who knows Alzheimer’s inside and out and a young, forgetful woman trying to ward it off. (Nautilus, The Smart Set) •

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.
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Screenshot from a Fair and Lovely ad
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When Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America in 2014, she was the first Indian American in the pageant’s history to win. But she wasn’t America’s – or even India’s – favorite. Tweets such as “I swear I’m not racist, but this is America” and even “9/11 was four days ago and she gets Miss America?” followed her victory. In India, rather than celebrating a daughter’s success in the land of the gore lok, the white people, many were perplexed when they noted the color of her skin. They considered her complexion too dark to be beautiful. Had she entered the Miss India pageant, she would have been advised to “fix” her skin tone.

My family is from India, and I, along with many Indian-American women, can empathize with Nina. We face confusion from the Americans (“But where are you from?”) and scrutiny from the motherland, which we visit only once every few years but remain fiercely connected to regardless. India is my second home, Pune city in Maharashtra state is my favorite city in the world, and I am proud of my Indian heritage. Yet I have developed deep resentment specifically for India’s obsession with fair skin. In my earlier trips, relatives “recommended” that I stay out of the sun, and they emphasized that a “dark face” is not an attractive one. I, at 10 years old, told them about genetics, but the comments didn’t stop. While India has a range of skin tones, varying from olive to chocolate brown, the vast majority falls at the latter end of the spectrum and ironically envies the small percentage on the other side.
More… “Fair Game”

Kanan Gole has written for Table Matters (on, ironically, her inability to cook) and The Smart Set, and enjoys writing about her Indian heritage and her travels. She is moving to Haiti soon, and there’s definitely a writing project waiting for her.
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Cultural critics generally place themselves at a distance from material culture. They may critique the world, but they don’t seem to inhabit it.

But why shouldn’t those of us who parse culture also celebrate it — acknowledge that we make choices all the time about the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the furniture we put in our homes? Why shouldn’t we, in other words, make recommendations regarding products and services that we think are unique, useful, or otherwise commendable?

“We’re IN society, aren’t we, and that’s our horizon?” as Henry James put it. In a consumer society, we want reliable recommendations regarding products that can improve our lives. At the same time, we tend to be suspect of product endorsements. We are aware that advertisers will use whatever means they can to sell — from testimonials by famous people to ingenious product placements to the incorporation of skepticism itself into their messages (i.e. couturiers who stitch “waist of money” into their garments). But if someone like myself, who has experience deconstructing culture, sets out to explain the value of a product, shouldn’t that carry weight? I realize, of course, that this could be seen as a more sophisticated advertising ploy, but that’s the mise en abyme of salesmanship and a risk you have to take.
More… “This Product Will Change Your Life”

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a talk show broadcast on more than 400 public television stations across the country. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.
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A cashier at The Discount Store

More than forty years ago, on the eighth floor of an auditorium in Dayton’s department store in Minneapolis, the artist Red Grooms created a unique installation. He called it The Discount Store (1970). The work was commissioned by the Walker Art Center, which was still in the process of building its now-famous permanent home in Minneapolis. With great foresight, The Walker Center also commissioned a documentary film (by Al Kraning) on Grooms’ project. Watching the film gives some idea of what it must have been like to experience the artwork.

Grooms constructed The Discount Store after visiting a Target Discount store in Crystal, MN. He created huge, ten-foot tall wooden cut-out figures to represent the various costumers in the store. He painted the walls to look like aisles filled with an abundance of cheap goods — everything from toys, to soap, to guns (Target used to sell guns… More…

A hair and mustache icon

Baldness can be sexy, but let’s be frank, only in certain cases. Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Kingsley, or fashion model Tyson Beckford are positive examples. Perceptions may vary, of course, but for the most part a bald head makes a man less attractive, especially if he’s overweight or stocky. And men know it. They experience baldness as a loss of more than just their hair and are aware of it with every look in the mirror.

Before coming to Istanbul I never really thought about the fact that somebody could want to invest time and a couple of thousand euros in new hair. I knew that the “combover” — to cover otherwise obvious baldness — was no longer the latest in hair fashion and a toupee was completely out of the question, but hair transplants never really crossed my mind. Hair loss is not a marginal phenomenon: Two… More…

Makeup department, that is.

I was strolling through a department store recently, killing time before meeting a friend, when I became lost in the maze of cosmetic counters. I was not literally lost, of course. I could make my way past the makeup into the shoe department blindfolded. The problem is when I’m not blindfolded. That’s when my head gets turned. Although I know, intellectually, that the makeup sold in this labyrinthine space is the same as what I can buy in the drugstore for a fraction of the price, I am unable to resist the fancy packaging and the placards advertising free gifts and special enzyme action. I am seduced into believing that these products will make me, in the immortal words of Oprah, “as cute as I can be.”

 

So there I was, loitering among the age-defying moisturizers, when a young woman… More…

Serenity we could use right now.

Beauty, the saying goes, is in the eye of the beholder. In Grace Kelly’s case, however, it isn’t. Her beauty was so pure that all eyes see the same thing. After all, she had a nose so straight it didn’t cast shadows, hair so blond it seemed sprinkled with gold dust, and lips so finely shaped no Botox artist could duplicate them. In the Huffington Post piece, Mary Hall states that when Kelly met Prince Rainier she was wearing a dress made from a McCall’s easy-to-sew pattern. Hall means to highlight her subject’s impeccable taste in noting this, but the point here is not taste but the irrelevance of taste. It didn’t matter what Grace Kelly wore. Her clothes had one purpose and one purpose only: to keep out of her way. The McCall’s dress apparently did that.

The annals of celebrity are full of women who made the most… More…

Well, at least she had a sense of humor.

If Hollywood epics have taught us anything about the ancient world, it’s that Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt was drop-dead gorgeous. The original femme fatale has only been played by sultry screen goddesses — Claudette Colbert, Vivian Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor. But just how beautiful was she? According to the ancient biographer Plutarch, men were hypnotized not by Cleopatra’s looks but by her wit and charm: Her beauty was “not of the incomparable kind that would astonish everyone who saw her,” he wrote, “but her conversation was irresistibly fascinating, and her character utterly mesmerizing.”  She certainly knew how to make a memorable entrance: To meet Mark Anthony on the modern-day coast of Turkey, she arrived in a luxurious gondola dressed as Aphrodite and reclining on a gold bed as naked slaves fanned her with feathers. (The ancients did not share our sense of privacy; the minions would have kept fanning while… More…

A catwalk for the crowds.

 

The woman was decked out in a black one-piece bathing suit, her face matte and her body shiny. She wore gold bangles, gold platform heels, and a gold belt with a Miss Venezuela crown belt buckle so large that it looked like a rodeo or boxing trophy. And her pose — she wasn’t smiling, but with an acrylic nailed hand on one jutting hip, she was looking at the viewer as if she was destined for better things than the present moment.

This photo of the Miss Venezuela contestant had been ironed onto the matching oversized T-shirts of the group of people standing in front of me in line to get into the Miss Venezuela pageant. So here the contestant was: powerful, cold and unattached looking, but in a picture that was rippling over the normal drooping breasts… More…

Hair cuts and manicures. How retro.

 

I knew something was in the air when the local hair salon started calling itself a day spa. Now all the blue-haired old ladies in town are going to be able to get a Brazilian wax.

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.

Then, in the 1980s and ’90s, that once-private expanse of the body opened itself to… More…