My Life In Beauty
Look & Feel Amazing: Lessons Learnt From My Mother, Harper's & Queen's Beauty Editor
I had a beautiful mother. She was a cross between a golden-haired fairy godmother and a Hitchcock blonde. Always impeccably dressed, my mother could walk through a barnyard in a white suit and emerge without a speck. Not me. I am a walking advertisement for what I ate for lunch, since most of it ends up down my shirt.
My mother never shared with me her clothes, her jewelry, or her cosmetics. Even to walk through her dressing room and touch them was a crime punishable by banishment. She did share some important advice though: She taught me that beautiful skin matters. To maintain it, she insisted, you need just the right amount of sunlight –half an hour early or late in the day–and no more ever. She was also adamant I needed to eat natural foods and to supplement my diet with some judiciously chosen vitamins and minerals as well. Stay away from sugar and breads and pizzas, she insisted. Never go to bed without cleansing your face first, and nourish your skin to keep it soft and smooth with something really active—be it fresh papaya or an absurdly expensive but irresistible French night cream—to help repair cell damage that occurs during the day. It was she who taught me to fall in love with the ritual of nurturing my skin.
At first I balked at the idea. Then, in my mid-twenties, I decided she was right. I began to make a little time each day to look after myself. I came to realize that the time a woman spends at her dressing table (this can be as simple an affair as a cardboard box covered with cloth at which you sit on a cushion) is a time of silence, solitude, and renewal. It is even better than meditation. And it’s a lot more fun. Fifty years later, I still believe this with all my heart.
CAUGHT IN THE NET
My professional involvement with beauty began when I became Health and Beauty Editor for Harpers & Queen magazine in London. For that matter, I was the first ‘health and beauty editor’ anywhere. Why health and beauty? Because I insisted that these two aspects of a woman’s life are so dependent on each other that they cannot be separated.
At Harpers & Queen, I was blessed with a remarkable Editor for my boss: Willie Landels, a man of vision, humor, intelligence and the best possible kind of genuine sophistication. Willie gazed benignly upon my naïve American enthusiasm and my obsession with getting to the bottom of whatever I was investigating and he decided to place his trust in me. We worked together for almost fifteen years. From the very first month, he provided me with the freedom to write whatever I thought was important, and to say whatever I found to be true about it. In the decade and a half I worked with Harpers & Queen, only once did Willie question anything I wanted to write. It was a piece on Outward Bound for women. He thought it was “too downmarket”. Nobody ever changed anything in my copy— except to correct my abysmall [sic] spelling. Nor, after the first few weeks, did anyone attempt to influence or control what I alone decided I wanted to write about.
AIN’T NOTHIN’ SO NICE AS FREEDOM
Such freedom is a great blessing. It set me free to delve deep into whatever fascinated me—from writing about how Lancôme formulated their first liposome, to exposing the way plutonium, with its radioactive half life of 2,300 years, was being irresponsibly dumped into the Irish Sea from Britain’s nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Cumberland. It still is by the way. (That was kind of scary. After the article appeared my telephones were tapped for more than a year and my London home broken into twice, although nothing was stolen.)
TO HELL WITH PRESSURE
In the magazine world, a beauty editor (most nowadays hold the far grander title of “Beauty Director”) is continually bombarded by the publisher and advertising director at the magazine to write about products from cosmetic companies who have bought advertising. Harpers & Queen was no exception. Within the first fortnight, I was approached by its Advertising Director, Terry Mansfield—who later became Managing Director and Chairman of the National Magazine Group in Britain. Terry told me that one of the cosmetic giants had just bought an expensive double paged spread to promote some new skin cream. Would I please make sure I wrote glowing words of praise about the product in our next issue, he requested.
With puritanical American blood surging through my veins, I was shocked. (More than a wee bit self-righteous as well.) “But Terry,” I whined, “I can’t do that. I can only write about what I believe in. If I wrote that kind of stuff, our readers would never come to trust me. After all, your advertisers wouldn’t want to buy space in a magazine its readers can’t trust. Would they?” I think Terry was so stunned by my naiveté that he didn’t quite know what to say. When Willie, the editor, learned about my response to Terry’s request, he smiled a secret smile. A year later, Harper’s beauty advertising had doubled. Before long, it tripled. Terry never brought up the subject again.
Gradually my articles on health and beauty—some of which, I suspect, were too technical for anybody to fathom—attracted a wide audience. An ‘inside joke’ began to circulate. It was said that the reason why Leslie Kenton’s stuff was so widely was that although, few people understood a word of it, nobody wanted to admit to this. So they just kept on buying the magazine while Willie kept on smiling…