YOUR BODY’S CLOCKS

Circadian rhythms are the physical, mental, and behavioral changes an organism experiences over a 24-hour cycle. The word stems from the Latin “circum” (approximately) and “diem” (day). Light and dark have the biggest influence on circadian rhythms, but food intake, stress, physical activity, social environment, and temperature also affect them. Most living things have circadian rhythms. In humans, nearly every tissue and organ has its own circadian rhythm—which is why I’m talking about your body’s clocks, plural—and collectively they are tuned to the daily cycle of day and night.

Circadian rhythms influence many functions, such as:

  • Sleep patterns
  • Hormone release
  • Appetite and digestion
  • Temperature

How Long is a Circadian Rhythm?

Early research suggested that most people preferred a day closer to 25 hours when isolated from external stimuli like daylight and timekeeping. However, this research was faulty because it failed to shield the participants from artificial light. Although subjects were shielded from time cues (like clocks) and daylight, the researchers were not aware of the phase-delaying effects of indoor electric lights. The subjects were allowed to turn on light when they were awake and to turn it off when they wanted to sleep. Electric light in the evening delayed their circadian phase.

More recent research has shown some more specific things:

A study by Czeisler et al. at Harvard found the range for normal, healthy adults of all ages to be quite narrow: 24 hours and 11 minutes ± 16 minutes.

In normal subjects in the real world, the body’s “clocks” are reset, primarily by exposure to light, so that they follow the 24-hour light/dark cycle of the Earth’s rotation.

When the Body’s Clocks Break

Circadian rhythms can fall out of sync with the outside world because of factors in the human body or environment. For example

Drowsiness, poor coordination, and difficulty with learning and focus may occur when circadian rhythms fall out of sync short term.

Working swing shifts can also disrupt the body’s clocks. Forcing oneself to wake up and go to sleep at varying intervals from one day to the next leaves the body confused. Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD) can cause trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, sleeping deeply, and waking up. People who work as nurses, late-night retail workers, overnight hotel staff, or fire fighters (just to name a few) often experience insomnia, hypersomnia, or both.

Jet lag causes disruptions in the circadian rhythm because modern travel allows the body to cross time zones faster than the body’s clocks can adapt. Earlier methods of travel, even early air travel, were slow enough that the body could keep up with changes in sunrise and sunset times. That’s why you won’t get jet lag on a boat!

Long-term sleep loss and continually shifting circadian rhythms can increase the risks of obesity, diabetes, mood disorders, heart and blood pressure problems, and cancer, and can also worsen existing health issues.

Changes With Age

According to National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information circadian rhythms shift throughout the lifespan, peaking in lateness during adolescence and then gradually shifting back as we age. This shift mirrors the U-shape curve of happiness, which some researchers suggest may be related.

Consistent with the transition to a morning chronotype in older adult humans, the circadian phase of sleep onset and wakening advances with age, whereby older adults (mean age of 68 years) report preferred bedtimes 1 to 2 hours earlier, on average, compared with younger adults (mean age of 23
years) (National Institutes of Health (NIH).

With age, people are less able to recover and recover quickly from disruptions to our circadian clocks. Changes to the circadian rhythm are a common cause of sleep problems in older adults .

Bottom Line: Be aware of your body’s clocks and work with them, not against them, to maximize your physical and mental well-being.

Happy Holidays!

I’m celebrating lots of things on this December 26th!

Kwanzaa (USA)

Mummer’s Day (Cornwall)

Boxing Day (UK, Australia, Canada)

Junkanoo (Caribbean Diaspora, see image above)

South African Day of Goodwill

Poya (Sri Lanka)

Candy Cane Day (USA)

Zartosht No-Diso (Ancient Persia and Zoroastrianism)

Slovenian Independence Day

Feast of Our Lady of Andacollo (Chile)

Family Day (Vanuatu)

Saint Stephen’s Day (Ireland)

The beginning of the Decembrist Uprising against Tsar Nicholas II (1825, Russia)

Lá an Dreoilín, Hunt the Wren Day (Ireland)

First exhibition of wood pulp paper (1854, Buffalo NY)

National Whiner’s Day (USA)

Quviasukvik (Inuit, Upik, Aleut, Chukchi, and Iñupiat)

Grant of patent for FM radio (1933, USA)

Second Day of Christmas

Proclamation Day (South Australia)

Dionysia ta kat’ agrous (Rural Festival of Dionysius, Ancient Greece)

Father’s Day (Bulgaria)

Howdy Doody Day Eve

And NO VIVIAN LAWRY BLOG DAY!

AN UP-SIDE TO FORGETTING?

Virtually everyone has experienced the frustration and/or embarrassment of forgetting. And as people age, forgetting becomes more frequent, at which point the brain adds anxiety or fear to the mix. But is forgetting always a bad thing?

Necessary Forgetting

On the contrary, research indicates that forgetting might be necessary to our mental functioning.

According to Dr. Scott A. Small, professor of psychiatry and neurology at Columbia University, a “constellation of findings” indicates that sifting and discarding the vast amount of information the brain collects is a necessary function. It may even be as essential for survival as the gathering of useful knowledge. And some researchers (including Small) are exploring ways that not being able to forget might provide insights into dealing with psychological conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We were all taught forever, everyone, that forgetting is a passive breakdown of the memory mechanisms. The fundamental insight—the eureka, I think, of the new science of forgetting—is that our neurons are endowed with a completely separate set of mechanisms … that are dedicated to active forgetting.”

Dr. Scott A. Small
Director of Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Columbia University
Author of Forgetting: The Benefits of Not Remembering

Oliver Hardt, an assistant professor of psychology at McGill University says forgetting is “one of the most fundamental aspects of a memory system. Without forgetting, nothing would work.” You may notice that your hairdresser/barber is wearing a green plaid shirt, but remembering that long term would just (in my words!) junk up your brain.

Neuroscientists have discovered that it is actually a positive thing that we cannot remember every detail of every day. Dr. Andre Fenton, a neuroscientist at New York University, claims that would be potentially very distracting. For example, experiencing intruding memories could make it very difficult to focus during cognitive tasks like doing homework or deciding what to eat for dinner.

Beneficial Forgetting

As Ingrid Wickelgren wrote in Forgetting is Key to a Healthy Mind, being able to forget has ripple effects on personality. If you cannot shake negative memories, for example, you might fall easily into a bad mood. Although the inability to forget does not cause depression, research shows that depressed patients have difficulty putting aside dark thoughts. In other words, being able to forget negative, stressful, or traumatic events and information might be beneficial to our mental health.

More generally, according to the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry, “The ability to forget helps us prioritize, think better, make decisions, and be more creative. Normal forgetting, in balance with memory, gives us the mental flexibility to grasp abstract concepts from a morass of stored information, allowing us to see the forest through the trees.”

And this isn’t just a Columbia opinion!

Oliver Hardt is among the many scientists who suspect that this culling of nonessential memory is one of the key purposes of sleep. A good night’s sleep quite literally produces a clearer mind.

Why Do We Forget?

Poppies for Remembrance or Forgetting (depending on the source)

New research by Blake Richards and Paul Frankland indicates that being forgetful doesn’t mean you’re losing your marbles. In fact, it could mean that you are exceptionally intelligent. People with excellent long-term memories often forget details once they are no longer needed. On the other hand, people whose brains are not cluttered by memories of minutiae may be better at intelligent decision-making.

Both memory and forgetting are based on brain physiology/chemistry. The synaptic connection point between neurons is what makes a memory. For transient short-term memories, that change is temporary. The more a person revisits and repeats a memory, however, the stronger and more enduring that change becomes.

That may be good or bad!

Emotional memories are often difficult to forget because of the involvement of an area of the brain that plays an important role in controlling behaviors that are important to your survival, including feelings of fear. People with post-traumatic stress disorders may have an overgrowth of synaptic connections in the amygdala (the part of the brain that stores fear memories).

Dr. Sheena Josselyn, a senior scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children, and a professor of psychology and physiology at the University of Toronto, researches precisely how humans learn and remember. The purpose of memory, she says, “is not to allow us to sit back and say, ‘Oh, do you remember that time?’ It really is to help us make decisions.”

How to Forget?

Choosing to forget something might take more mental effort than trying to remember it, researchers at The University of Texas at Austin discovered. But given the results summarized above, it’s probably worth the effort. Unfortunately, the more emotionally charged a memory is, the more difficult it will be to forget.

Researchers are working to develop treatments to help patients deliberately forget targeted memories. Patients can use these “active forgetting” techniques, such as identifying and removing memory cues or consciously interrupting and shutting down memory recall, to weaken the hold of traumatic memories. However, like most medical treatment, this should be done under the supervision of a licensed professional.

According to Small, one of the best ways to help your brain forget things you’d like to forget is to stay social and engage with life. He theorizes that this might be one of the reasons why the Coronavirus pandemic has been so damaging to the world’s mental health. Quarantined and isolated people stayed indoors and brooded on painful memories rather interacting socially. As restrictions lift, try going out among people to make yourself forget!

Bottom Line: A consensus seems to be emerging that forgetting is both inevitable and valuable.

EYELASHES!

Why eyelashes? Why not? They’re more interesting than you might think. For one thing, they are functional.  Eyelashes protect the eye from dust or other debris. They are very sensitive to touch, and may close reflexively if an insect or whatever is too close. In addition, they contain sebaceous glands at the base that lubricates and protect from dryness and irritation.  Babies are born with eyelashes. 

Eyelash Information

Eye and eyelash parts

The lifespan of an average eyelash is three to five months, compared to the rest of your hair, which lasts two to four years. 

Baby eyelashes
Photo by Carlos ZGZ

For all that they look fine, lashes are the thickest hair on the human body—which I find hard to believe, but whatever. 

Most people have 150-250 individual lashes on the top of the eyelid and between 50-100 on the lower lid. They grow in uneven rows, 5 to 6 on top and 3 to 5 on the bottom. Just like head hair, eyelashes naturally fall out and replace themselves in a natural cycle every six to 10 weeks, so it’s totally normal to lose between one and five lashes each day.  The older people are, the slower the growth process becomes. This is how/why lashes start to thin out.

You Jianxia
World's longest eyelashes
You Jianxia

In addition, aging and menopause are considered to be leading factors that cause shorter eyelashes due to certain hormonal imbalances that affect the growth cycle of hair follicles. Other factors include stress, lack of sleep, and allergic reactions to medications.

In high school, I knew a girl whose lashes were so long that they brushed the lenses of her glasses.  According to the Guinness Book of Records, the longest eyelash measured 20.5 cm (8.0 in) long, grown on You Jianxia’s (China) left upper lid.

Feather eyelashes

The lashes on the top eyelid are usually between 7-13mm in length while the lashes on the bottom usually never grow longer than 7mm.  The average length of the normal lashes is 10mm-12mm  The researchers, led by Farid Pazhoohi of the University of British Columbia in Canada, estimate that the optimal eyelash length for women is about one-quarter to one-third of the width of one’s eye. The optimal eyelash length for men is a bit less, about one-fifth of the width of one’s eye.

Ethnicity does not have an impact on eyelash length. However, Asian people and those of Spanish and Eastern European descent commonly have straight lashes while others have curlier lashes.

Ideal Eyelashes

False eyelashes
Performers in Jakarta applying false eyelashes
Eyelashes

Does eyelash length really matter? It depends on who you ask. According to ancient Chinese face reading tradition, long lashes are for the sensitive and imaginative. Long lashes indicate more fire chi presence and it means that people who have them are extra sensitive.

Pliny the Elder, a Roman scholar born 79BCE, claimed that long eyelashes were a sign of purity and chastity. He claimed, “Eyelashes fell out from excessive sex, and so it was especially important for women to keep their eyelashes long to prove their chastity.”

Eyelashes

People have been darkening their eyelashes with soot, kohl, berry juice, oil, ink, or lead for millennia. The Algerian town of Mascara produced great quantities of antimony, which the locals applied to their lashes for beautification as well as to provide protection from trachoma and eye diseases. Ancient Egyptians combined galena, malachite, soot, crocodile dung, and honey to create the kohl they used to darken their eyelids and lashes.

Lash Lure
Eyelashes

In 1933, Lash Lure promised consumers that a “new and improved mascara will give you a radiating personality, with a before and after.” Unfortunately, the permanent eyelash and brow dye contained para-phenylenediamine, which caused dermatitis, conjunctival edema, keratitis, corneal ulceration, and necrosis. The damage permanently blinded fifteen women and killed one.

Eyelash extensions have been a fashion trend for more time than most people think. The desire to have luscious lashes has transformed dramatically since their beginning in 3500 B.C. While the reasons to have long eyelashes were more symbolic back then, today, they are an indication of beauty.

According to an article in the Dundee Courier in 1899, fashionable women in Paris could have hair from their own heads sewn “through the extreme edges of the eyelid between the epidermis and the lower border of the cartilage of the tragus.” Doctors would rub the patient’s eyelids with a solution of cocaine before taking a needle to them, so I’m sure it didn’t hurt a bit!

Early false eyelashes
Peggy Hyland applying false lashes, 1917

The darkness of eyelashes is related to (natural) hair color. 

For all that eyelashes are functional, we often associate them with beauty, the ideal being long, curved, and dark. There are actually eyelash salons! Who knew? (Not me, obviously.)

False eyelashes? One can get single lashes or strips. And fake lashes can be anything from mink to velour to real human hair.

A surprising number of people make and wear false eyelashes cut from paper. They design intricate patterns in strips of thick, waxy paper and attach them to their lids, just like false lashes made from hair or feathers.

Mink eyelashes
Mink

Gorgeous as they can be, fake eyelashes may cause temporary or even permanent loss of one’s natural eyelashes.  Taking the fakes off can break natural lashes, and possibly damage the hair follicle, causing lash regrowth to fail.

Problem Eyelashes

There are a number of diseases or disorders involving the eyelashes:

Trichiasis
Ingrown Eyelashes
Trichiasis
Demodex folliculorum
eyelashes
Demodex folliculorum

Eyelash and eyebrow transplant surgeries may help to reconstruct or thicken lashes or eyebrow hair.

On the stranger side, the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages linked the exposure of any hair (including eyelashes) to having an excessively erotic disposition. To demonstrate their modesty, Medieval women covered their hair and plucked their brows and lashes.

Animal Kingdom Eyelashes

People share eyelashes with other animals.  Lashes, being hair, are found in all mammals except the aquatic ones (dolphins and whales). 

Hornbill Eyelashes
Hornbill
  • Classically long and elegant, elephant lashes have been making history since the days of the woolly mammoth.
  • Camels‘ lashes are remarkably long and thick. 
  • Horses and cows feature lashes as well, as do dogs cats, and mice.
  • Lashes differ in length and density depending on where the animal lives 
  • Inherited eyelash problems are common in some breeds of dogs as well as horses. 
Eyelash viper
Eyelash Viper

Eyelashes are an uncommon but not unknown feature in birds.  Hornbills have prominent lashes (vestigial feathers with no barbs), as do ostriches. Among reptiles, only Eyelash vipers show a set of modified scales over the eyes which look much like eyelashes.

As best I can determine, the function of eyelashes for animals is the same as for humans: protection.  For animals that live in dusty areas, their lashes stop them getting specks of dust in their eyes. This is why camels, kangaroos, elephants, and giraffes have several rows of long eyelashes, not just one row.

Bottom line: There’s more to eyelashes than meets the eye!

CELEBRATE PECULIAR!

Peculiar People Day
How peculiar!

January 10 is Peculiar People Day, an annual opportunity to recognize and celebrate peculiar people. Oxford Languages defines peculiar as, “strange, odd; or unusual.” Pretty straightforward. But when talking about this day’s peculiar people, other issues tend to mix themselves in.

For example, saying it’s those who refuse to conform to the world’s idea of normal assumes a conscious resistance. 

Peculiar People Day
Quite peculiar!

Some put it even more baldly: Peculiar People Day is to celebrate the leaders of the strange and unusual, who refuse to succumb to the world’s idea of what is normal and sane.  This view, by adding the role of leadership, requires influence.

Even taking out resistance and influence, honoring individuals who are eccentric, non-conformist or unique in some manner is still subjective. Indeed, we’re all deviants by someone’s standards, in some places, at some times.

Peculiar People Day
Doubly peculiar!

Finding/knowing who to celebrate is a public vs. private dilemma: in order to be labeled quirky (or whatever) one’s behaviors, beliefs, or attributes need to be perceived.  If a peculiar tree falls peculiarly in a forest and no one sees it doing so peculiarly, was it still peculiar?

The etymology of ‘peculiar’ is, in itself, fairly peculiar. Originally, it referred to a herd of cattle privately owned, from the Sanskrit word ‘pasu-‘ for cattle. Not until the 16th century did ‘peculiar’ develop its modern connotations of something distinguished or special, generally in reference to those especially well-endowed in wealth or social standing. By the 17th century, ‘peculiar’ had come to refer to something strange, curious, or unusual.

Of all individuals, the hated, the shunned, and the peculiar are arguably most themselves. They wear no masks whatsoever in order to be accepted and liked; they do seem most guarded, but only by their own hands: as compared to the populace, they are naked.” –

Criss Jami, Healology

I couldn’t find any solid info on the origins of Peculiar People Day; the earliest record (that I could find) showed up on a list of January Days published in the The San Francisco Examiner on January 1, 2002. But Peculiar People Day has too many options for fun and awareness to disappear anytime soon.

Peculiar People Day
Very peculiar indeed!

Peculiarity manifests in many dimensions:

  • Jobs
  • Opinions
  • Appearance
  • Physical characteristics
  • Speech or phrasing choices
  • Mannerisms
  • Pets
  • Reading Habits
  • Talents
  • Hobbies

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs is a fascinating fantasy read! But that’s not the only book with peculiar people:

A bit peculiar!
  • “I thought to myself Mr. Rochester is peculiar — he seems to forget that he pays me £30 per annum for receiving his orders.”
  • “I love my love with a b because she is peculiar.”
  • Don’t you realize that in my world my parents are peculiar because they’d never been divorced? Basically because it would have been too much trouble. But you live in a world where not only are your parents not divorced, they appear to love each other.”

Still need a reason to celebrate? Some believe people who are termed ‘peculiar’, ‘different’, ‘strange’, or ‘abnormal’ set the world in motion.

Bottom Line: Celebrate and recognize yourself as well as others on Peculiar People Day.

Peculiar, Missouri seal
Peculiar People Day
“Where the ‘odds’ are with you”

WHY NOW?

A resolution is a firm decision to do or not to do something. As such, you can make a resolution any old day. You needn’t wait for New Year’s resolutions.

In practice, people tend to make resolutions when something personally significant happens: birthdays, anniversaries, birth of a child, death of a loved one, when celebrating a big achievement or suffering a major defeat…

But New Year’s Day is the single most popular day to do so.  Based on the average of five studies, 38.5% of U.S. adults make New Year’s resolutions. Younger adults are more likely than older adults to do so.

Why this day? “The New Year offers a blank slate — an opportunity to get things right. When we set New Year’s resolutions, we are utilizing a very important concept called self-efficacy, which means that by virtue of aspiring to a goal and following through on it, I have a sense of control over what’s happening in my life.” (Piedmont.org

New Year’s Resolutions Then

New Year’s resolutions aren’t a new thing. According to Merriam-Webster, the practice has been around since the early 19th century, and perhaps as far back as the late 17th century.  Anne Halkett wrote a number of “Resolutions” in her diary on January 2nd, 1671.

New Year's resolutions
Aketo festival, Duhok
Celebrating Akitu (Aketo) in modern-day Duhok, Iraq, 2018

On the other hand, History.com says the ancient Babylonians were making New Year’s resolutions 4,000 years ago. They also held the first recorded celebrations of the new year, called Akitu—though for them the year began in mid-March.  They made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed.

When Julius Ceasar established the Julian calendar circa 46 BCE, he named the first month of the year after the god Janus, who looked both backward and forward. Romans believed that if Janus had seen them making improvements in their lives during the previous year, they could start the new year with a clean slate. At New Year celebrations, Romans made offerings to Janus and promised the god that they would behave better.

New Year's resolutions
Peacock vow, medieval knights
Knight taking the Peacock Vow
from the Codex Manesse, c. 1304

Inspired by a 1312 poem by Jacques de Longuyon, medieval knights began the practice of taking the Vow of the Peacock (les voeux du paon) at New Year banquets. During the presentation of the subtlety (a special dish designed for visual or entertainment value more than actual nutritional value), people frequently made boasts, pleadges, and vows. When the host presented a roast peacock at a New Year feast, dressed in its own plumage, knights would vow upon the bird to uphold the values of chivalry.

For early Christians, at least as far back as 1740, the first day of the new year was the time to think about one’s past sins and resolve to do and be better in the future. John Wesley, an English clergyman and founder of Methodism, held a Covenant Renewal Service in 1740. Many Christian communities still hold Watch Night services overnight on New Year’s Eve.

New Year's resolutions
Jewish High Holy Days
New Year’s postcard made by the Hebrew Publishing Company, 1900

The Jewish calendar begins with the High Holy Days (יָמִים נוֹרָאִים), running from Rosh HaShanah (רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה) to Yom Kippur (יָמִים נוֹרָאִים). During the ten days between, people work to improve the judgement presented upon their actions during the previous year. They seek atonement, donate to charity, and ask forgiveness from those they have wronged. Many Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur customs, including wearing white and eating honey with apples, originated in the Middle Ages among the Ashkenazi community.

New Year’s Resolutions Now

Now, of course, New Year’s celebrations are mostly secular and resolutions are usually promises to oneself. The most common resolutions are to continue good practices, change an undesired trait or behavior, accomplish a personal goal, or otherwise improve their behavior. In particular, according to 413 U.S. adults (18-89 y/o) surveyed Oct. 25-Nov. 2, 2022, who intended to make one or more resolutions (Source: Statista Global Consumer Survey);

New Year's resolutions
Family and friends
Spend more time with family and friends
  • To exercise more, 52%
  • To eat healthier, 50%
  • To lose weight, 40%
  • To save more money, 39%
  • To spend more time with family/friends, 37%
  • To spend less time on social media, 20%
  • To reduce stress on the job, 19%
  • To reduce spending on living expenses, 19%

But note: according to Discover Happy Habits, only 23% of survey participants planned on making new years resolutions for 2023. And the most popular resolutions for the coming year are living healthier (23%), personal improvement and happiness (21%), and losing weight (20%).  

Twelve percent of new gym memberships are created in January. Sales of healthy food spike by nearly 30% in January every year, though sales of junk food do not diminish much during the same period.

Keeping New Year’s Resolutions

But why bother? Do resolutions really work?  Of those who make New Year’s resolutions, after 1 week 75% are still successful in keeping it.  After two weeks, the number drops to 71%.  After 1 month, the number drops again to 64%.  After 6 months, 46% of people who make a resolution are still successful in keeping it.  And by year’s end, only 9% are successful. (Medical News Today)

Work on your goal with a friend to keep you both on track

To increase your chances of success (according to various things I’ve heard or read):

  • Be specific. (Lose XX pounds vs. lose weight)
  • Write it down.
  • Make it public.
  • Start small to see success early. 
  • Consider the steps it will take to reach your goal. 
  • Track your progress.

If you are tired of the same-old, same-old, consider some more unusual resolutions. In 2016, I shared suggestions for New Year’s resolutions for writers. Real Buzz published some more suggestions for unusual New Year’s resolutions, including the following:

  1. Take your photo in five interesting places
  2. Learn a decent party trick
  3. Break a record
  4. Make a new friend each month
  5. Develop a good relationship with your body
  6. Learn something you didn’t learn as a child
  7. Try new food each week
  8. Make the usual unusual
  9. Sort out financial worries
  10. Do something nice for someone else every day

BOTTOM LINE: To resolve or not? And remember, anytime, anything. Make it your own.

New Year's resolutions

COSMETICS FOR PEOPLE OF COLOR

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about makeup for men. Researching that topic took me deep into the worldwide history of cosmetics. But discussions of cosmetics for African Americans or Native Americans were glaringly absent.

There are many reasons for this, ranging from forced relocations disrupting a community’s access to materials traditionally used for beautification, to societal beauty expectations, to cultural practices, even to the way film development parameters affect the way darker skin tones appear in photos and movies. The history of makeup use in darker-skinned communities in America also reflects the segregation and discrimination non-white people have faced. Cosmetics marketed to lighten or bleach skin, hair care products advertised to change texture, and a variety of treatments purported to change one’s racial appearance have been on the market for as long as the market has existed. The idea that one must mimic European ideals of beauty to be attractive is slowly changing.

Native American Cosmetics

In researching Native Americans, I found little that was specified for beautification, but many practices that would improve appearance. Across the entire North American continent, many different environments present very different challenges and materials for skin care and beautification. A Miccosukee person living in the heat and humidity of Florida would have a very different beauty regimen than a nomadic Assiniboine person living on the northern Great Plains. Better Nutrition identifies these 5 specific sources of health and beauty for Native Americans commonly used in the Mojave Desert. The article does not specify which tribe used these methods, but the author mentions researching in Sedona Arizona, where the Yavapai, Tonto Apache, Hopi, and Navajo lived at various times in history. (Bolding added.)

“Desert-dwelling Native Americans used aloe vera gel to expedite wound healing, soothe sunburn, and hydrate skin. Aloe is antimicrobial, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and it contains antioxidants. Aloe also has phytosterols that help soothe itches and irritation. The bioactive compounds in the plant are rich in vitamins A, B, C, D, and E as well as magnesium, potassium, and zinc that aid healing.

Agave nectar is antimicrobial and was mixed with salt by Native Americans to heal skin conditions. Agave’s sugars soften skin and lock moisture inside hair. These sugars form complex bonds with internal proteins to add strength, resiliency, and elasticity to skin and hair.

“Native Americans ate the prickly pear and used oil from the fruit’s seeds to help strengthen skin and hair. The oil contains twice as many proteins and fatty acids as argan oil, and is rich in vitamin E, making it an excellent remedy for damaged or mature skin and dry hair. Linoleic and oleic fatty acids help moisturize and restore skin’s elasticity. The vitamin K in prickly pear helps to brighten dark spots and undereye dark circles.

w

“Native Americans discovered that juniper berries produce a stimulating, astringent, and detoxifying oil. They used it to remove impurities. Today, juniper oil is a key ingredient in detox skin products. It can balance oily skin and open blocked pores and keep them clear. Juniper improves circulation and reduces swelling, making it an ideal ingredient in massage oil.

“Native Americans used the juice from the yucca root to make soap and shampoo because of its ability to lather. Since it’s packed with vitamin C and other antioxidants that soothe and nourish the skin and scalp, they also used it to treat ailments from acne to hair loss. Yucca is also anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and detoxifying.”

Many ingredients in modern beauty products were first used by Native Americans. In areas where maize was a prominent crop, people ground corn to use as a skin cleanser. It was often rubbed on to the skin to remove impurities from the body, sometimes for ceremonial purposes.

By “cosmetics” one usually means preparations intended to make the wearer more attractive, used as part of one’s regular toilet. Such cosmetics are typically removed daily.

Although not cosmetics in the above sense, the oldest materials used in Native American face paint were derived from animal, vegetable and mineral sources, with earth or mineral paint being the most common. White and yellow paint was obtained from white and yellow clays along river beds, and buffalo gallstones produced a different kind of yellow.

A growing number of cosmetic and skincare brands owned by Native people make use of traditional materials. Cosmopolitan recently published an article highlighting makeup brands owned and run by Indigenous Americans, including Prados Beauty, Cheekbone Beauty, Ah-Shí Beauty, and Sḵwálwen Botanicals. Huffington Post wrote about how some of these brands are using marketing and product design to break down harmful stereotypes and educate consumers about distinctions among the many, varied tribal cultures.

Black Cosmetics

By comparison, searching for African American/Black cosmetics turns up a long history of a population underserved by commercial cosmetic companies.

A black man born during slavery, Anthony Overton, opened the Overton Hygienic Manufacturing Co. in Kansas in 1898, to sell baking powder and other products to drug and grocery stores. Recognizing the absence of cosmetics in skin tones for women of color prompted his foray into makeup.

In the early 1900s, large department stores did not stock products for people of color, so Overton developed a network of salespeople who visited small stores with samples. People could also send for his products by mail.

Sales of Overton’s “high-brown” face powder boomed in the United States and countries like Egypt and Liberia. Overton Hygienic relocated to Chicago’s South State Street in 1911, and the next year went on to manufacture more than 50 products, including hair creams and eye makeup. The face powder expanded from “high brown” to include darker and lighter shades, such as “nut-brown,” “olive-tone,” “brunette,” and “flesh-pink.” Importantly, Overton (who had a chemistry degree) insured that his makeup was safe, unlike many products then on the market.

Valmor Products’ Sweet Georgia Brown skin lightening creams

In 1926, Morton Neumann, a Hungarian American also a chemist who grew up in Chicago, established Valmor Products Co., which largely targeted black customers. A big seller was Sweet Georgia Brown face powder, then available for 60 cents in colors like “tantalizing dark brown,” “aristocratic brown,” “sun-tan,” and “teezum [tease ’em] red.” Sweet Georgia Brown also widely marketed skin bleaching creams, reflecting the continuing trend trend of equating lighter complexions with beauty and desirability.

What does it tell you that one ad for the face powder promised a “lighter appearance in 10 seconds” and pointed out that the powder “is specially made to give tan and dark complexions the BRIGHTER attractive beauty that everybody admires.”

Unfortunately, skin bleaching has not gone away. Many companies still produce creams, powders, and even drugs that cover skin, chemically bleach skin, or disrupt melanin production, often with painful and dangerous side effects.

In 1923, two white, Jewish chemists — Morris Shapiro and Joseph Menke — opened Keystone Laboratories in Memphis. They split up, and Shapiro launched Lucky Heart Laboratories in 1935. Lucky Heart products were sold only by representatives, often community members, to show the cosmetics “to friends, neighbors, people you know at work, church or in social groups.”

“Both Keystone and Lucky Heart are still in business today. They primarily sell hair and skincare products, with some relics of the past, such as Lucky Heart’s beauty bleaching cream. Lucky once offered makeup products like tint cream and a Color-Keyed Cosmetics line. However, another Memphis cosmetics business, the Hi-Hat Company, prided itself on offering “smart shades for every complexion.” Hi-Hat’s Jockey Club face powder came in hues such as ‘Harlem tan,’ ‘Spanish rose,’ ‘chocolate brown,’ and ‘copper bronze.’”

(racked.com)

In the 1960s, mainstream brands like Maybelline and Avon got into the act. During the five years that ended the 1960s, a half-dozen cosmetics lines for black women debuted. One of them, Flori Roberts, bills itself as the first such line that department stores carried.

In earlier years, women of color mixed shades to make the right foundation shade for their skin. But that didn’t address issues of oil or silicone.

IMAN Cosmetics Shade Guide

In 1994, Somali supermodel Iman Abdulmajid started IMAN Cosmetics, to serve women whom other makeup manufacturers had overlooked — blacks, Latinas, Asians. The basic premise was/is that skin tones overlap, so cosmetics companies shouldn’t target one ethnic group.

Today, women of color have more options when looking for cosmetics to match or complement their skin tones. Mainstream brands such as AJ Crimson, B.L.A.C Minerals, Plain Jane Beauty, M.A.C., Bobbi Brown, Cake Cosmetics, Makeup Forever, Nars, Lancôme, and others have widened their color palettes in foundation, eyeshadow, lipstick, liners, and contouring. Ulta Beauty, one of the largest makeup retailers in the country, has an entire section of Black-owned brands of skincare, hair care, and makeup products.

Bottom Line: Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And today women (and men) have more makeup and cosmetic options than ever before.

DECEMBER, IS IT ANYTHING MORE THAN CHRISTMAS?

Why, yes. Yes, it is. No wonder you wonder, given that we are bombarded with ads, decorations, parties, movies, etc., etc., etc. Even if you don’t observe Christmas in any way, you can’t escape.

Some Places Observe Christmas All Month Long

  • Christmas in the Villages: Van Buren County, Iowa
    • Features a house tour, Festival of Trees, bake sale, Santa visits, holiday dinners, lighting displays, soup suppers, as well as the natural beauty found around the county
  • Christmas New Orleans Style: Louisiana
    • Cathedral Christmas concerts, caroling in Jackson Square, parades with Papa Noel, cooking demonstrations, Celebration in the Oaks, tours of 19th century houses decorated for the season, Réveillon dinners, and traditional Creole holiday dishes
  • Colonial Christmas (Christmastide in Virginia): Jamestown Settlement, Williamsburg and Yorktown, Virginia
    • 17th and 18th century holiday traditions
    • At Jamestown Settlement, a film and guided tour compare the English customs of the period with how Christmas might have been observed in the early years of the Jamestown colony.
    • At the Yorktown Victory Center, you can learn about Christmas and winter in a military encampment during the American Revolution ands holiday preparations on a 1780s Virginia farm.

Christmas Isn’t the Only Religious Observance

Other Christian Observances:

  • Dec. 6: St. Nicholas Day
  • Dec. 8: Immaculate Conception
  • Dec. 12: Feast Day of our Lady of Guadalupe
  • Dec. 16: Posadas Navideñas
  • Dec. 27: Feast of the Holy Family
  • Dec. 28: Holy Innocents Day
  • Dec. 31: Night Watch

Non-Christian Religious Observances:

  • Dec. 8: Rohatsu (Bodhi Day, when Siddhartha Guatama achieved enlightenment), Buddhism
  • Dec. 10-18 in 2021: Hanukkah (anniversary of the rededication of the Second Temple), Judaism
  • Dec. 21: Solstice (shortest day of the year and start of winter), Wicca/Pagan
  • Dec. 26: Zarathosht No-Diso (Death of Prophet Zarathustra), Zoroastrian

Observances That Have Nothing to Do With Religion!

N.B.: Observances that cross categories are listed only once.

Kwanzaa

“Matunda ya kwanza” means “first fruits” in Swahili and is the origin of the holiday’s name. Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga, creator of the holiday, wanted to celebrate family, community, and pan-African cultural traditions. The seven days and nights of Kwanzaa are full of significant sevens. The seven Principles (unity, self-determination, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and joy) and seven Symbols (Kinara candleholder, seven candles, crops, corn, unity cup, gifts, all on a traditional mat) were celebrated by nearly seven million people last year.

  • Food Related
    • Buckwheat Month
    • Cooked Grasshopper Month
    • Exotic Fruits Month
    • National Eggnog Month
    • National Fruitcake Month
    • National Pear Month
    • Noodle Ring Month
    • Quince and Watermelon Month
    • Root Vegetable Month
    • Tomato and Winter Squash Month
    • Tropical Fruits Month
  • Recreation and Leisure Related
    • Bingo Birthday Month
    • National Closed Caption TV Month
    • Read a New Book Month
    • Sign Up for Summer Camp Month
    • Stress-Free Family Holidays Month
    • Write a Friend Month

BOTTOM LINE: December doesn’t have to be all about Christmas! Live a little, along with other like-minded folks.

Happy Solstice!

HABITUALLY LATE

Virtually everyone is late sometimes. Flat tire, flight cancelled, wreck on the interstate, call from child’s daycare, slept through the alarm—it happens.

But some people are perpetually late – perhaps just a few minutes, but always. Why? There is no one answer, and therein lies the richness for writers.

Cultural

Some people grow up in a family, culture, or subculture where precise timing just isn’t considered important. For example, in Mexico being 30 to 60 minutes late is entirely acceptable. A Vietnamese friend refers to “elastic hours” — they stretch to fit as much as you need in them. In Morocco, it’s okay to be late by an hour or more—even a day!

This concept shows up linguistically in South Africa. Elements of multiple languages have made their way into modern slang, making time estimation especially difficult for visitors. “Right now” means pretty soon, probably. “Now” refers to something that will likely happen before too long… but not now. “Just now” is an indeterminate amount of time later: maybe in a few minutes, maybe next month, maybe never.

Ever showed up to a party ten minutes late and still been the first guest there? Understanding the variations in punctuality among communities can be crucial to avoiding social awkwardness. It’s even more vital for people working in the entertainment industry: you don’t want to schedule multiple gigs in a day if one of them is likely to start two or three hours late.

Status Statement

When where you’re from doesn’t line up with where you are, the likelihood of negative encounters—anything from awkwardness to hostility—skyrockets.  In general, status is related to privilege, and that includes timeliness.

The CEO, president, or queen has more latitude; underlings, as a group, feel pressed to be present before their “betters.” Thus, people who are prompt may resent their habitually late peers or colleagues for “putting on airs.”

Said another way: they assume that tardiness is a passive way for a person to say that his/her time is more valuable than the time of others.

Mindset

According to therapist Philippa Perry (Jan. 1, 2020,theguardian.com), “The reason may be the opposite of arrogance. It could be that they don’t value themselves enough. If this is the case, might they be unable to see how others could possibly mind their non-appearance?”

Our perception of lateness—its importance and its meaning—is strongly influenced by setting. Different expectations apply at work versus in social settings. And just consider medical settings!

Perry also notes, “Late people often have a sunny outlook. They are unreasonably optimistic about how many things they can cram in and how long it takes to get from the office to the restaurant, say, especially if it is nearby.” 

This is my personal bugaboo when walking: somehow I never build in enough time to chat with a neighbor, return for a mask, or whatever. I’m not late when driving!

Also according to Perry, “Lateness can also be caused when we have a reluctance to change gear – to end one activity and start another.  We don’t like getting up, we put off going to bed. Stopping something we are absorbed in to do something else can be annoying. It takes willpower to carry out.” 

Professional

One important area where tardiness can be detrimental is the workplace. So why be habitually late? One possibility is that, at some non-conscious level, that person is avoiding success.

Results of my dissertation research indicated that “fear of success” depended on whether a woman saw success in this situation, on this task, as consistent with her perception of appropriateness for women. More generally, if one expects negative responses from spouse, family, or social group if one is “too good,” that fear would undermine or depress performance.

For such people, lateness is probably one of many self-sabotaging behaviors.  Perry reported on one client who fits this model. “When we unpicked what success would mean to her, she uncovered an old family belief that people with money were evil, bad people.” Then there are people who are just oblivious of or inaccurate about the passage of time.

And FYI, as we age we become less accurate in judging the passage of time, erring on the side of underestimating how much time has passed. Learning to overcome this handicap requires major effort.  And a conscious determination to take the necessary steps, not just a generalized intention to try to do better.

Bottom Line: Habitual lateness has reasons and consequences. Consider how everything from self-perception to interpersonal relationships, tension, even disasters, might be related. 

COLLECTING: A FINE OLD THING

According to Wikipedia, “Collecting is a practice with a very old cultural history. In Mesopotamia, collecting practices have been noted among royalty and elites as far back as the 3rd millennium BCE. … Collecting engravings and other prints by those whose means did not allow them to buy original works of art also goes back many centuries.” 

Carl Jung—to drop a familiar name—suggested that the appeal of collecting is connected to hunting and gathering for early human survival.

Collections of art and antiquities often form the basis for museums or galleries/wings within museums. Donating such a collection is often an intentional or unintentional path to prestige, usually a wealth marker. Just look at James Smithson, who would have been just another wealthy Englishman if he hadn’t founded the Smithsonian Institution.

Sometimes these museum collections are the result of are generational family collections. The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures in Arizona began with a dollhouse passed down to founder Pat Arnell from her mother. The museum is now a series of exhibits arranged to transport the visitor to various times and places all over the world, like a time machine.

N.B. the difference between an antique and a collectible is age.

  • In general, antiques are at least 100 years old.
    • The DMV classifies vehicles as antique when they are 25 years old.
  • Collectibles are “vintage,” meaning old but not that old.
  • Of course, everything old was once new, so…

A collection must be valued at least… ?

A lot of Depression Glass collections started with free pieces of glassware in bags of flour.

Neither age nor monetary value define collections for ordinary people. Virtually anything can be collected—and probably has been! 

My mother collected salt and pepper shakers. My sister collected dolls. One aunt collected Swanky Swigs Kraft Pimento Cheese Jars, free when she bought the cheese for her son’s favorite lunch sandwich.

Aunt Lena took pride in collecting them all and decades later used them as juice glasses.

I’m probably the most varied collector I know. I started as a preschooler collecting “pretty” pebbles—and collecting them again after my mother dumped them back into the driveway. Then it was paper dolls.

As an adult I have several collections.

Perhaps my jewelry collection could be measures by the branch.
  • Carved wood Santas (>450)
  • Hundreds of cookbooks ranging from newly published to one from 1840
  • Depression Glass table service and flower vases
  • Mahjong sets approaching antiquity 
  • Gold and cloisonné napkin rings
  • Mineral skulls as both shelf art and jewelry
  • Jewelry that can be measured only by the pound.

The general consensus among those who know me is that having grown up poor, as an adult objectively enough is never psychologically enough.

Why do people start collecting?

Imelda Marcos’s shoe collection probably provides enough material for a dozen psychological studies.

Collecting can reflect a fear of scarcity, or of discarding something and then later regretting it. No doubt many collections are connected to deep-seated personality or psychological issues.

This form of collecting can very easily cross the line into hoarding, a mental disorder connected with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Psychologists differentiate between collecting and hoarding in several ways.

Pet hoarding is one of the most tragic forms of hoarding, both for the keeper and for the animals. The ASPCA has information and resources on how to help.
  • Collectors tend to organize and display their collections.
    • Hoarders are more likely to have so much that everything is piled together, often becoming crushed or ruined beneath other piles.
  • Collectors are specific about the items they collect and know the monetary value of items in their collections (if there is any monetary value).
    • Hoarders may collect categories of items, but these categories are more likely to be vague, regardless of monetary value.
  • Collectors have a sense of pride in the uniqueness or size of their collections, creating displays to share with visitors and to preserve everything in the collection.
    • Hoarding is often a source of shame, leading hoarders to attempt to downplay or hide their hoarded possessions from visitors.
This photo of a collection of BDSM and fetish gear is one of the very few that is not X-rated!

One might wonder about sex collections, those who own dildos in various sizes, shapes, and materials; fetishists who collect shoes, handcuffs, or leather. Collections of marble, glass, clay, and leather sex toys have been found in Roman ruins and Viking burials. This is certainly not a modern phenomenon. (There are actually books out there that talk about sex collectors, fyi.)

But surely many—most?—are not related to deep-seated needs or issues.

What explains collecting belly button fluff?  At 22.1 grams, Graham Barker has the largest collection of belly button fluff. It’s his own fluff. He started the collection in 1984, and keeps a daily log of color, amount, and what towel he was using or clothes he was wearing that yielded the sample.

The fact that Mr. Barker has the largest collection implies that there are other people out there who collect belly button lint.

And what about the guy who keeps his ABC (already been chewed) nicotine gum balls to make one giant one?

Personally, I think a lot of collections begin by happenstance. 

Becky Martz shows off her collection with help from the Chiquita Banana Lady.
(Image from Chiquita.com)

For example, that seems to be what happened for Becky Martz: in 1991 she noticed that label on the newly purchased Dole bananas (from Honduras) was different from the one already in her fruit bowl (from Guatemala),  and voila, a collection of >21,000 banana stickers from around the world was begun. 

What else would explain collections of

  • 730 umbrella covers/sleeves
    • There is a museum of umbrella covers in Maine.
  • Rubber door stoppers
  • Bars of soap

And some collections start as free-bees. Many people keep mementos of their travels in the form of free items with the location printed on them. These sometimes depend on quantity rather than variety:

In case you’re curious, collecting matchbooks is technically known as “phillumeny.”
  • Water bottle labels
  • “Do Not Disturb” hotel tags
  • Airline barf bags
  • Sugar packets
  • Drink coasters
  • Matchbook covers
  • Bottle caps
  • Seashells
  • Cigar bands 

Pure whim?

  • Artificial Christmas trees
  • Pink hats
  • Coke memorabilia
  • Old cast iron cookware and utensils
  • Pens or pencils
  • Chicken/pig/cow memorabilia
  • Barbed wire
  • Bells

Examples I know of circumstances leading to collections:

  • A home brewer who collect beer glasses and steins
  • A woman who bought an historic home on a railroad track and started collecting train memorabilia
  • A firefighter who inherited her father’s and grandfather’s firefighting badges and helmets
  • A collection of 30,000 toenail clippings for medical research

Collecting socially

Znachki are all over eBay these days.

In Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, and many Eastern European countries, there is a tradition of znachki – trading pins. During the end of the Imperial Era and throughout the time of the Soviet Union, people were given pins in commemoration, in celebration, as congratulations, to note achievements, and pretty much any other occasions. When meeting in public, people could ask about pins and medals worn as a way of breaking the ice. Pins were often traded and collected.

A meeting of antique doll collectors hosted by DOLLS magazine.

Disney parks and Olympic Games have similar customs of issuing commemorative pins to be collected and traded by strangers and friends.

Many hard-core collectors can also find societies and organizations of like-minded individuals. Dollhouse furniture, Star Wars memorabilia, and Pokemon cards all bring people together online or in swap meets to buy, sell, and trade to perfect their collections.

Collecting Christmas cards is one of the most social collections imaginable.

Bottom line: Whatever the source or start point, what might a collection add to your plot or character? You can go online to find about about these and innumerable other collectables and their collectors, associations, meetings, swaps, and collecting venues.