As per the weekly lists, I was back in the kitchen today. However, much like the other rooms of my house, cleaning the kitchen wasn’t that bad considering I’d just done it last week so a lot of the more time consuming tasks like checking expiration dates in the pantry were already done. Even taking everything out of all the drawers and cabinets didn’t feel as bad this time around.
I do have to be honest though. When I started this challenge, I mentioned my mental health as a factor for why I wanted to do this challenge to give myself some daily structure. I woke up this morning and felt that really heavy weight of depression on me today. The stress I’ve been dealing with lately outside of the challenge has been a lot, and it was kind of hard to haul myself out of bed today. However, rather than just get back into bed after I did school stuff with Kiddo, I forced myself to stay on track with the challenge. I feel completely drained on every level, but I also feel accomplished and proud of myself for winning this particular battle against my brain. Plus, now my kitchen is extra lovely and I can celebrate my victory in my clean house.
I ordered a book when I started this challenge and today, it finally arrived! I am now the proud-ish owner of a 1937 copy of The Household Searchlight Homemaking Guide. As I mentioned in my last post, a lot of companies put out various publications for young women and this one is from The Household Magazine. This magazine was published monthly starting in 1900 until it folded in 1958 and they produced a couple of books, including The Household Searchlight Recipe Book as well as my aforementioned The Household Searchlight Homemaking Guide. The book covers essential home and etiquette topics from weddings to table setting to early childcare and housework essentials.
Holy crap. I knew dining wear etiquette could be extensive, but this is…a lot. I honestly had no idea there were so many ways to set a table, but the book includes instructions on how to set the table for:
Each of these include instructions for linens, china dish service, silver service, glass service, and table decorations (and may whatever god you pray to have mercy on your soul if you dare to use colored pottery as table decor on tables laid for formal service).
The book also includes menu suggestions for every type of meal, including:
I read this list to Jon and he offered to get me a glass of water since I sounded so winded when I was done.
I was eagerly anticipating this section and I was not disappointed. Suggestions for keeping trim include mowing the lawn or tending to the garden to “keep your knees and hips limber.” I don’t know if you’ve ever gardened, but I always feel creaky and like I’ve aged thirty years after kneeling at a flower bed for thirty minutes.
But perhaps my favorite part was in the part about the importance of an adequate diet. Check out the first item listed, which also happens to be my favorite:
The editors of this book literally thought women were too fucking dumb to get oxygen without instruction. Jon was a little disappointed that “death” was not listed as one of the effects of the lack of this essential substance, but I pointed out that, according to the conversational advice section, that is an unpleasant topic that “takes all the sparkle out of your conversation.”
This section also spent quite a bit of time focused on the horror of facial wrinkles (which was an amusing contrast to their suggestion of a daily “sun bath” while covered in oil). Additionally, reading through the extensive grooming instructions was exhausting and I’m pretty sure if I followed the directions, I’d spend my entire day grooming myself. Then again, maybe it would be like the cleaning guidelines I’ve been following for the last ten days and I’d find them easier once I got the hang of it.
However, modifications would need to be made. If I end up doing some kind of vintage health and beauty challenge, I will definitely skip the home skin bleaching. One, because it’s gross and problematic that women were encouraged to be as white as possible to fit a supposed “ideal” beauty standard, and two, because I’m already so pale that I’m practically translucent.
Overall, the book I got fascinates me. This is partly due to my interest in how women were instructed to live their lives versus now, when there are so many more options available because we and the women who came before us fought so hard for them. As I read on, I realized how much this book also started to stress me out because the standards are set so high. I understand that it’s a guide book intended to provide a comprehensive framework for life, but as I flipped through it, I started to feel both intimidated and micromanaged. In the health and beauty section, there’s a part called, “Mouth, Teeth, and Breath.” I assumed this was mostly going to include similar sentiments to those expressed in the ads I discussed yesterday (“Use this brand of toothpaste or your husband will leave you!”) but first, it said this:
“Every person’s mouth gives a short description of the inner person. It tells if he is kind and sweet-tempered, if he faces life serenely and adjusts to it, or if he is at war with his surroundings. Massage cannot keep mouth corners from drooping, or lips from becoming hard, tight lines, if troubles are brooded over constantly. Thoughts actually shape the mouth. Teach yourself to be industrious; work hard at whatever your work may be. Think about happy things in your life. Even though your mouth may not be lovely, this sort of acting and thinking will give it charm.”
This advice isn’t completely unfounded, as there is scientific data that supports smiling as a mood booster, as well as increasing your attractiveness to other people. However, to me, the passage from this book sounds like, “Don’t think icky thoughts! Smile through the existential dread! Smile! Smile! SMILE!”
Even today, women are still often told they should smile regardless of what’s going on in their lives, usually because the men around them would prefer to look at smiling women because that creates prettier scenery for them.
I’ll brush my teeth, but stop telling women to smile. It’s my face and I’ll wear whatever expression I want.
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