Should Women Be Beautiful? by Jerome K Jerome

Story type: Essay

Pretty women are going to have a hard time of it later on. Hitherto, they have had things far too much their own way. In the future there are going to be no pretty girls, for the simple reason there will be no plain girls against which to contrast them. Of late I have done some systematic reading of ladies’ papers. The plain girl submits to a course of “treatment.” In eighteen months she bursts upon Society an acknowledged beauty. And it is all done by kindness. One girl writes:

“Only a little while ago I used to look at myself in the glass and cry. Now I look at myself and laugh.”

The letter is accompanied by two photographs of the young lady. I should have cried myself had I seen her as she was at first. She was a stumpy, flat-headed, squat-nosed, cross-eyed thing. She did not even look good. One virtue she appears to have had, however. It was faith. She believed what the label said, she did what the label told her. She is now a tall, ravishing young person, her only trouble being, I should say, to know what to do with her hair–it reaches to her knees and must be a nuisance to her. She would do better to give some of it away. Taking this young lady as a text, it means that the girl who declines to be a dream of loveliness does so out of obstinacy. What the raw material may be does not appear to matter. Provided no feature is absolutely missing, the result is one and the same.

Arrived at years of discretion, the maiden proceeds to choose the style of beauty she prefers. Will she be a Juno, a Venus, or a Helen? Will she have a Grecian nose, or one tip-tilted like the petal of a rose? Let her try the tip-tilted style first. The professor has an idea it is going to be fashionable. If afterwards she does not like it, there will be time to try the Grecian. It is difficult to decide these points without experiment.

Would the lady like a high or a low forehead? Some ladies like to look intelligent. It is purely a matter of taste. With the Grecian nose, the low broad forehead perhaps goes better. It is more according to precedent. On the other hand, the high brainy forehead would be more original. It is for the lady herself to select.

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We come to the question of eyes. The lady fancies a delicate blue, not too pronounced a colour–one of those useful shades that go with almost everything. At the same time there should be depth and passion. The professor understands exactly the sort of eye the lady means. But it will be expensive. There is a cheap quality; the professor does not recommend it. True that it passes muster by gaslight, but the sunlight shows it up. It lacks tenderness, and at the price you can hardly expect it to contain much hidden meaning. The professor advises the melting, Oh-George-take-me-in-your-arms- and-still-my-foolish-fears brand. It costs a little more, but it pays for itself in the end.

Perhaps it will be best, now the eye has been fixed upon, to discuss the question of the hair. The professor opens his book of patterns. Maybe the lady is of a wilful disposition. She loves to run laughing through the woods during exceptionally rainy weather; or to gallop across the downs without a hat, her fair ringlets streaming in the wind, the old family coachman panting and expostulating in the rear. If one may trust the popular novel, extremely satisfactory husbands have often been secured in this way. You naturally look at a girl who is walking through a wood, laughing heartily apparently for no other reason than because it is raining–who rides at stretch gallop without a hat. If you have nothing else to do, you follow her. It is always on the cards that such a girl may do something really amusing before she gets home. Thus things begin.

To a girl of this kind, naturally curly hair is essential. It must be the sort of hair that looks better when it is soaking wet. The bottle of stuff that makes this particular hair to grow may be considered dear, if you think merely of the price. But that is not the way to look at it. “What is it going to do for me?” That is what the girl has got to ask herself. It does not do to spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar, as the saying is. If you are going to be a dashing, wilful beauty, you must have the hair for it, or the whole scheme falls to the ground.

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Eyebrows and eyelashes, the professor assumes, the lady would like to match the hair. Too much eccentricity the professor does not agree with. Nature, after all, is the best guide; neatness combined with taste, that is the ideal to be aimed at. The eyebrows should be almost straight, the professor thinks; the eyelashes long and silky, with just the suspicion of a curl. The professor would also suggest a little less cheekbone. Cheekbones are being worn low this season.

Will the lady have a dimpled chin, or does she fancy the square-cut jaw? Maybe the square-cut jaw and the firm, sweet mouth are more suitable for the married woman. They go well enough with the baby and the tea-urn, and the strong, proud man in the background. For the unmarried girl the dimpled chin and the rosebud mouth are, perhaps, on the whole safer. Some gentlemen are so nervous of that firm, square jaw. For the present, at all events, let us keep to the rosebud and the dimple.

Complexion! Well, there is only one complexion worth considering–a creamy white, relieved by delicate peach pink. It goes with everything, and is always effective. Rich olives, striking pallors– yes, you hear of these things doing well. The professor’s experience, however, is that for all-round work you will never improve upon the plain white and pink. It is less liable to get out of order, and is the easiest at all times to renew.

For the figure, the professor recommends something lithe and supple. Five foot four is a good height, but that is a point that should be discussed first with the dressmaker. For trains, five foot six is, perhaps, preferable. But for the sporting girl, who has to wear short frocks, that height would, of course, be impossible.

The bust and the waist are also points on which the dressmaker should be consulted. Nothing should be done in a hurry. What is the fashion going to be for the next two or three seasons? There are styles demanding that beginning at the neck you should curve out, like a pouter pigeon. There is apparently no difficulty whatever in obtaining this result. But if crinolines, for instance, are likely to come in again! The lady has only to imagine it for herself: the effect might be grotesque, suggestive of a walking hour-glass. So, too, with the waist. For some fashions it is better to have it just a foot from the neck. At other times it is more useful lower down. The lady will kindly think over these details and let the professor know. While one is about it, one may as well make a sound job.

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It is all so simple, and, when you come to think of it, really not expensive. Age, apparently, makes no difference. A woman is as old as she looks. In future, I take it, there will be no ladies over five-and-twenty. Wrinkles! Why any lady should still persist in wearing them is a mystery to me. With a moderate amount of care any middle-class woman could save enough out of the housekeeping money in a month to get rid of every one of them. Grey hair! Well, of course, if you cling to grey hair, there is no more to be said. But to ladies who would just as soon have rich wavy-brown or a delicate shade of gold, I would point out that there are one hundred and forty-seven inexpensive lotions on the market, any one of which, rubbed gently into the head with a tooth-brush (not too hard) just before going to bed will, to use a colloquialism, do the trick.

Are you too stout, or are you too thin? All you have to do is to say which, and enclose stamps. But do not make a mistake and send for the wrong recipe. If you are already too thin, you might in consequence suddenly disappear before you found out your mistake. One very stout lady I knew worked at herself for eighteen months and got stouter every day. This discouraged her so much that she gave up trying. No doubt she had made a muddle and had sent for the wrong bottle, but she would not listen to further advice. She said she was tired of the whole thing.

In future years there will be no need for a young man to look about him for a wife; he will take the nearest girl, tell her his ideal, and, if she really care for him, she will go to the shop and have herself fixed up to his pattern. In certain Eastern countries, I believe, something of this kind is done. A gentleman desirous of adding to his family sends round the neighbourhood the weight and size of his favourite wife, hinting that if another can be found of the same proportions, there is room for her. Fathers walk round among their daughters, choose the most likely specimen, and have her fattened up. That is their brutal Eastern way. Out West we shall be more delicate. Match-making mothers will probably revive the old confession book. Eligible bachelors will be invited to fill in a page: “Your favourite height in women,” “Your favourite measurement round the waist,” “Do you like brunettes or blondes?”

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The choice will be left to the girls.

“I do think Henry William just too sweet for words,” the maiden of the future will murmur to herself. Gently, coyly, she will draw from him his ideal of what a woman should be. In from six months to a year she will burst upon him, the perfect She; height, size, weight, right to a T. He will clasp her in his arms.

“At last,” he will cry, “I have found her, the woman of my dreams.”

And if he does not change his mind, and the bottles do not begin to lose their effect, there will be every chance that they will be happy ever afterwards.

Might not Science go even further? Why rest satisfied with making a world of merely beautiful women? Cannot Science, while she is about it, make them all good at the same time. I do not apologise for the suggestion. I used to think all women beautiful and good. It is their own papers that have disillusioned me. I used to look at this lady or at that–shyly, when nobody seemed to be noticing me–and think how fair she was, how stately. Now I only wonder who is her chemist.

They used to tell me, when I was a little boy, that girls were made of sugar and spice. I know better now. I have read the recipes in the Answers to Correspondents.

When I was quite a young man I used to sit in dark corners and listen, with swelling heart, while people at the piano told me where little girl babies got their wonderful eyes from, of the things they did to them in heaven that gave them dimples. Ah me! I wish now I had never come across those ladies’ papers. I know the stuff that causes those bewitching eyes. I know the shop where they make those dimples; I have passed it and looked in. I thought they were produced by angels’ kisses, but there was not an angel about the place, that I could see. Perhaps I have also been deceived as regards their goodness. Maybe all women are not so perfect as in the popular short story they appear to be. That is why I suggest that Science should proceed still further, and make them all as beautiful in mind as she is now able to make them in body. May we not live to see in the advertisement columns of the ladies’ paper of the future the portrait of a young girl sulking in a corner–“Before taking the lotion!” The same girl dancing among her little brothers and sisters, shedding sunlight through the home–“After the three first bottles!” May we not have the Caudle Mixture: One tablespoonful at bed-time guaranteed to make the lady murmur, “Good-night, dear; hope you’ll sleep well,” and at once to fall asleep, her lips parted in a smile? Maybe some specialist of the future will advertise Mind Massage: “Warranted to remove from the most obstinate subject all traces of hatred, envy, and malice.”

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And, when Science has done everything possible for women, there might be no harm in her turning her attention to us men. Her idea at present seems to be that we men are too beautiful, physically and morally, to need improvement. Personally, there are one or two points about which I should like to consult her.

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