Thursday, June 19, 2008


Cosmetic Treatments

Horace Miner first investigated Body Ritual among the Nacirema in the American Anthropologist 58 (1956) 503-507. In the half century since his seminal article, much additional research has been done on this exotic tribe, so much that no one could possibly read it all. But my son drew my attention to one recent brief item of anthropological interest on the Nacirema by Jonathon Morgan, Natural cosmetics: $200 for a bird poop facial, Green Daily (April 30, 2008):
As it turns out, the last time one of Mother Nature's feathered friends dropped a bomb on your noggin, they were doing you a favor. Because, believe it or not, high-rolling New Yorkers are paying for that crap — the Shizuka salon in midtown Manhattan charges $216 for the courtesy of lathering your face in bird excrement.
This type of cosmetic treatment is not unique to the Nacirema. For example, Pliny, Natural History 30.10.28 (tr. John Bostock and H.T. Riley), also recommended bird excrement as a cosmetic treatment to the ancient Romans:
Wool-grease, mixed with Corsican honey — which by the way is considered the most acrid honey of all — removes spots upon the face. Applied with oil of roses in wool, it causes scurf upon the face to disappear: some persons add butter to it. In cases of morphew, the spots are first pricked with a needle, and then rubbed with dog's gall. For livid spots and bruises on the face, the lights of a ram or sheep are cut fine and applied warm, or else pigeons' dung is used.

maculas in facie oesypum cum melle Corsico, quod asperrimum habetur, extenuat, item scobem cutis in facie cum rosaceo inpositum vellere — quidam et butyrum addunt —, si vero vitiligines sint, fel caninum prius acu conpunctas, liventia et suggillata pulmones arietum pecudumque in tenues consecti membranas calidi inpositi vel columbinum fimum.
The ancient Greeks and Romans used similar products from other animals for similar purposes, but that will perhaps be the topic of another blog post.

Faced with zits, one can also just do nothing. See P.G. Wodehouse, Uncle Fred in the Springtime, chap. 8:
We start out in life with more pimples than we know what to do with, and in the careless arrogance of youth think they are going to last for ever. But comes a day when we suddenly find that we are down to our last half-dozen. And then those go. There is a lesson in this for all of us.
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