The informant – AS – is my mother, and is a 55-year-old woman, born and raised in New Britain Connecticut, currently living in South Florida. I asked her if she had any folklore to share, and she told me about a proverb that her blind mother used to say to her.
AS: One of the things my mother always used to say to me: “Pretty is as pretty does.” Pretty is as pretty does. And basically what it means is, you can be as good looking as you want, but if you don’t act right, then you’re not pretty. So it’s about looking as good on the inside as you look on the outside. But, she used to say it in a mean way. Like if I did anything that she didn’t like or something, then she would pull that out.
This seems to be classic variation on “as beautiful on the inside as on the outside,” but reworked into a more scolding fashion. It is also somewhat amusing, since the informant’s mother was blind, the proverb/saying might have some more significance, since it involves physical appearance versus behavior.
I was interested in finding an example of a folk remedy or natural beauty regimen that had been taught to my mother from someone else in her family. While she could not think of any folk medicine examples, she did find a copy of her mother’s face mask recipe, which she read aloud.
Okay, this is the Silver Eternal Youth Mask, “Silver” meaning — that was her maiden name, and um… Grandma, and um, what she did was, she used to make this mask and put it on her face so she would look younger, and it was something that was passed on through her family — she learned it from her mom. When she turned 40, she decided that she was gonna create a business called 40 Plus, it was a line of products, and, so, this was one of the products that she was gonna try to sell. And so she tried it out on me, but it turned my face beet read. Anyway, so I’m gonna just read you the recipe:
Silver Eternal Youth Mask
3 egg whites, beaten until frothy.
One tablespoon honey.
- Mix together.
- Place mixture all over face and neck. Feel how the mask tightens face and neck.
- Lie down with feet elevated. Place moistened cool cotton balls over eyes.
- Rest for 15 minutes. Think sweet thoughts.
- Remove mask with whole milk.
This piece gives insight into 20th century beauty standards (particularly the fact that it was passed from mother to daughter) and the association of beauty with “eternal youth.” I also was intrigued that my grandmother had planned on selling this product. As we have learned in class, many supposed Western medicine innovations are adaptations of indigenous methods; essentially, commodified and mass-marketed versions of things for which no one person can truly take credit. It would be interesting to know if commercial beauty products have similar folk origins.
Main Piece: Russian Proverb
“Красота требует жертв.”
Phonetic: Krasota trebuet zhertv.
Literal translation: Beauty requires sacrifice.
Without pain/sacrifice, you will not achieve beauty.
- Why does informant know this piece?
She was often told this proverb by her grandmother.
- Where did they learn this piece?
The Soviet Union
- What does it mean to them?
She takes this proverb fairly seriously, and actual believes that in order to appear beautiful, one has to do things that one may not enjoy / are unpleasant.
When a person, usually a woman, is encouraging another person, also usually a woman, to do some sort of procedure that is unpleasant/painful in order to appear more attractive.
To provide encouragement for the person to do something unpleasant.
This proverb is essentially the same as “no pain, no gain” except it is usually used only for women and concerning the many different painful procedures that women have to do in order to appear “attractive” based on societal beauty standards. I personally do not believe this proverb in its literal sense, but I can find application for this proverb in other ways, such as applying it to studying and schoolwork, or exercise and health.
Another Colombian beauty folk belief is that if you have been out late partying the night before and have bloodshot eyes the next day, then squeezing fresh cut lemon juice into the eyes will take out the red and make them seem well rested. My mom confirms that this folk belief is absolutely false after seeing her cousin, Monica, try this home remedy at home. My mom thought Monica was kidding about using actual lemon juice in her eyes and became horrified when Monica did it. Not only did Monica run out into the hallway screaming and she also smashed into a wall, almost breaking her nose, blood flying everywhere resulting in further trauma, causing her to get two black eyes. The next day everyone was calling Monica “Mapachecito” which mean “little raccoon” My mom stills cries laughing when telling this story, calling them “lemon tears”.
Analysis: It appears that among Colombians there is no folk belief that will not be tested or tried if it relates to beauty. Even if they had heard stories that it did not work, people will still try it, blaming the user for “not doing it right”. Considering the vast amounts of money Colombians spend on plastic surgery and placenta creams (another folk belief) it is not surprising that these folk beliefs are the most enduring ones in the culture even when presented with empirical evidence to the contrary.
Contextual Data: I asked my friend if she knew of any Chinese folk beliefs that she had heard when she was younger. She mentioned this one, and the following is a transcript of her response.
“My grandma told me that if I had a flat nose, I wouldn’t be pretty and I wouldn’t be able to find a husband, so she pinched my nose like this [pinches the bridge of her nose] every single day, and now my nose is tall and I’m pretty.”
– End Transcript –
In talking to a couple of other Chinese friends, they all mentioned similar experiences — or at least, that they had all heard about that type of valorization of a “tall,” Roman nose at some point before. This does draw out the value that people place on physical appearance and indicate that beauty is something that people desire, which is one reason why they continue to perform this practice. My informant also mentioned that her grandmother would never do this to her brother and that it was something specifically reserved for girls. This idea that my informant was told she wouldn’t “find a husband” if she had a flat nose could speak to anxieties about being an unmarried woman — the idea that not being able to find a husband is something to worry about. If this practice is believed to help avoid that, it offers another explanation as to why people would continue to perform it.
April 11, 2012
Folklore Type: Folk Belief
Informant Bio: Carey Cook is married to my cousin, Debbie Richter Cook. He is half American and half Australian. He is very sarcastic and funny.
Context: I had flown home for Spring Break the evening before we drove almost an hour to my Aunt Linda and Uncle Frank’s to see Carey, Debbie, and their new baby Ashley. As Ashley was amusing herself with some suspended toys, I asked Debbie what some of the things she got told when she was pregnant were. Carey chimed in, in the middle.
Item: If you start to break out it’s cause she is robbing you of your beauty.
Informant Analysis: He laughed, and said I dunno (shoulder shrug).
Analysis: Clearly, Carey did not pay much mind to his comment other than the fact that he thinks it is funny. Especially because he knows our family is notorious for horrible acne which my cousin is not exempt from. What underlies this possible folk belief or saying is that there are stories where mothers or step-mothers are angry because their beauty is fading as their daughters’ is growing. This is the process known as aging, but some women do not want to accept that. So the answer is that their daughter must be stealing their beauty for themselves. This folk belief is actually a reflection of women’s struggle to accept how they look as they age.
Annotation: There is a book called Beauty by Nancy Butcher where the main character’s mother, the queen, is so obsessed with being the most beautiful she rounds up all of the young girls in the land including her daughter and puts them in an academy where the teachers give them drugs so they lose their minds and learn that ugliness is beauty. The mother also uses potions and other concoctions to maintain her youth and beauty. In the end the main character confronts her mother and with some bad mixing of poisons and concoctions the mother dies, and it is hinted her beauty gets transferred to her daughter.
Los Angeles, California
University of Southern California
ANTH 333m Spring 2012