Put Your Best Fault Forward (May, 1942)
Put Your Best Fault Forward
Charm is a state of mind, not a gift from heaven. It shows in the little things you do—how you answer the phone, or put out your cigarette. Here’s wise advice from an expert who has helped thousands to build attractive personality.
by Rose Marie Bourdillon
Madame Bourdillon (she doesn’t insist on the “Madame”) is a leading American authority on the art of personal charm. Thousands have turned to her for advice and instruction on how to turn it on with the aid of make-up, dress, manners, and character improvement. She holds degrees in psychology, art, and pharmaceutical chemistry, having studied in Yale University, the Connecticut School of Pharmacy, and the Sorbonne in Paris. For a time she was employed by Marchal, leading Swiss designer, to counsel women on dress. Today she devotes her talents to boosting the morale of American women.
WALKING along crowded streets, on trains and busses, in shops and offices, and at social gatherings, most of us meet thousands of different people every year, but we seldom encounter anybody who really stands out among his fellows—anybody who makes an unusually favorable impression upon us. The people we meet may be beautiful or handsome, wise or good, but we don’t like them as well as we might, for one simple reason: They are not charming!
I never cease to be surprised by this fact. Anyone can possess charm, yet millions of men and women never even attempt to acquire it. Charm, they seem to feel, is a mysterious gift which heaven bestows upon a lucky few alone. Actually, it is nothing of the sort. It can be created artificially to fit any personality, just as a tailor makes you a suit or a carpenter builds you a house.
Anyone can be a charm-builder, for himself or others, but this work happens to be my business. As a charm consultant and lecturer, and proprietor of a charm school in New York, I advise thousands of people annually on how to increase their personal allure, and my advice concerns many different subjects. I find I have to be something of a Jack-of-all-trades and, often as not, an consultant as well as consultant.
Not long ago, for example, a debutante came to see me. She had a beautiful face and lovely figure, was perfectly dressed and groomed, but she carried her chin at an arrogant angle, strode across the room with what she assumed was the walk of a goddess. When she spoke her voice was high-pitched and affected.
“Mother insisted on my coming to see you,” she declared haughtily. “I simply can’t imagine why. But go ahead and do a job on me.”
I did a job, all right. After a few moments’ conversation I quietly told her that I considered her rude, vulgar, affected, selfish, and utterly devoid of charm. “And what a pity,” I concluded. ” With what you’ve got, you could really be a knockout if you’d only be natural and kind.”
“I didn’t come here to be insulted,” she snapped. ” Besides, what’s kindness got to do with charm?”
“Everything,” I replied. ” If you honestly want my advice on how to acquire charm, I suggest that you start out by doing some entirely unselfish act. I happen to know of a poor girl who is in need of a job. Perhaps, through your connections, you could help her.”
That was too much for my client. “Impossible,” she snorted. “I’m not a girl scout,” and she flounced out.
I shrugged, thinking that the end of the episode. But two days later that spoiled deb called me up for the address of the poor girl I had mentioned. She got a job for her in her father’s company, they became friends, and, believe it or not, the rich girl shows promise of becoming a likable person.
By bluntly insulting her, thus letting her see herself as others saw her, I did more to increase her charm than I could have in any other way, and what I told her about kindness was very, very important.
A habit of being kind in our relations with other people is the best simple definition of charm. To be charming, you need not necessarily be good—all know charming villains and, on the other hand, souls of goodness who are anything but charming—but we must act kindly toward others even if we don’t feel kindly toward them in our hearts.
KINDNESS is not, however, all there is to charm. Our mannerisms as well as our manners—the way we walk, talk, dress, arrange our hair, use colors and cosmetics, eat, drink, answer the telephone, and even smoke a cigarette—all help to create the impression we make on other people.
The other day a young married woman dropped in. At first glance she appeared hopelessly plain, but I noticed that her eyes had an attractive upward tilt at the outer corners. Reshaping her eyebrows, using mascara on the outer edges of the upper lashes, and applying a bit of rouge to the upper bone structure of the eye sockets, I made her eyes appear larger and emphasized their exotic slant. As a result, her other features receded in importance, and attention was focused on her lovely eyes.
Many people don’t know how to accent their best features, others don’t even recognize them, and still others think of them as actual blemishes. Once I asked a schoolteacher why she wore bangs.
“My forehead is too high,” she said. “I have to hide it to keep from looking like a horse.”
She was right about her forehead making her face long, but she had adopted the wrong antidote. I widened her face by painting her a more generous mouth and tracing new eyebrows which were longer at the outer ends. Then I swept her hair back in a sculptured coiffure, and her forehead became her most attractive feature.
When Hilda Booth first consulted me (that’s not her real name, of course) you might have considered her totally devoid of charm. She was a tall girl with uninteresting features and thin hair. With an elementary-school education, she worked as a stock girl in a factory. She was so shy that she seldom spoke above a whisper.
After I had won her confidence, however, she raised her voice to a natural tone and I made a discovery—her voice was pleasingly rich and vibrant. I persuaded her to avoid slang, to acquire the dictionary habit of learning ten new words daily, and to read aloud for at least half an hour every evening.
As Hilda’s vocabulary increased and her voice became truly beautiful, she gained self-confidence and followed my suggestion that she buy a transformation for her hair, a step she was too timid to take before. As a result of the transformation, Hilda’s personality blossomed out still more, and now she tells me that she has been promoted from the stock-room to a job as receptionist.
Like Hilda, all of us possess at least one good characteristic. If we dramatize that one gift, the others will often take care of themselves.
Dorothy Larkin was a good-natured, short, chunky girl who had been nicknamed “Butch” at the fashionable women’s college she had attended. As a result, Dorothy had taken on a distinctly “Butch” personality. She wore loosely cut sports clothes which made her appear dumpier than she was, she took little interest in make-up, and at parties she generally folded up with a good book, disregarding all the fun around her.
“No use trying to make a glamour girl out of me,” she said. ” I’m the phlegmatic type.”
But Dorothy did not understand her own best characteristic. She wasn’t phlegmatic— her record at college had proved her alert and clever. After prescribing a new hair-do and new clothes, which made her appear taller and brought out a few curves, I went to work on her state of mind.
“You’re not really phlegmatic at all,” I said. “You’re the quiet type—a good listener. You’re that divinely restful kind of girl on whom men just love to unburden their troubles. When you’re out with other people, don’t retire into yourself. You don’t have to act like a glamour girl or try to be the life of the party—that would be affectation. But if you’ll simply display a sympathetic interest in the things which interest the people around you—put your quietness on parade—you’ll get along fine.”
Dorothy was a bit skeptical, but she took my advice. At the very next party she attended she had men literally sitting at her feet, and within six months she was married. Now her whole life has changed, merely because she learned to accent her best quality —that of being a serene and lovely receptacle for the enthusiasms of others.
NOT long ago I met an attractive but unhappy-looking woman of forty. I wondered why she appeared so strained, but when she sat down I learned why. She sat on her hands.
“Let me see them,” I said.
Flushing painfully, as though I had asked her to bare some dreadful secret, she placed her hands on my desk. “They’re ghastly,” she whispered.
I studied her hands. They were large and bony, with square nails clipped to the quick, but there was nothing ghastly about them. They were, in fact, strong, clever, useful hands, but she was suffering from an inferiority complex concerning them.
I persuaded her to practice a few simple hand exercises daily, including that of snapping her fingers like a hula dancer. These loosened the muscles of her wrists and fingers. Then came a lotion and skin cream, nail polish, and, last of all, a large but simple ring and white cuffs.
As a result, an almost incredible change has come over that woman. Today, the furtive, jerky manner which formerly characterized all her movements is gone; the strain has left her face.
Millions of people, especially women, go through life with their natural charm handicapped or their personalities warped by totally unnecessary complexes about their personal appearance. They imagine they are too tall or too short, too fat or thin, or they labor under the misapprehension that they have some one very unattractive feature—beady eyes, a large nose, a weak chin, a poor bust line, bowed legs, or thick ankles. Nine times out of ten, the defect can be eradicated or minimized by clever make-up or costuming.
“I buy my clothes at the best shops in town,” an elderly and outspoken dowager once told me bitterly, “but I always look like a tugboat. My hips are so broad.”
“No, you don’t look like a tugboat, madam,” I told her frankly. ” You look like a turtle, but your hips haven’t got much to do with it. It’s that hat.”
For years the dowager had insisted on wearing small, close-fitting hats on her small head. These peanut chapeaux made her hips seem broad. A new hat with a brim brought her head into balance, and her hips receded at once.
Most defects in our appearance are just as easily remedied and, even if they’re not, it’s foolish to feel doleful about them. Self-pity is a fatal enemy of true charm.
ONE middle-aged woman, whom I shall call Mrs. Burton, had cause for sympathy, I will grant. Her husband had left her for a younger woman, but she gave herself up to a continuous orgy of self-pity. She stayed at home day after day, paid no heed to her appearance, and, since she took no interest in them, her former friends seldom came to see her. ” I suppose it’s because I have no charm,” she told me, weeping.
I felt sorry for her, but annoyed with her, too. She was such a coward. Then I quoted a Chinese proverb: “No matter how black the night, it is wiser to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”
Detecting a flicker of interest, I asked her if she had ever had any hobbies. She said that at one time she had been fond of sewing but, well, she hadn’t taken any interest in clothes since her husband left her.
“Mrs. Burton,” I said, “I want you to go to the public library and get a book with colored illustrations of the stained-glass windows of the Cathedral of Chartres. Study those colors until you can duplicate them with water colors or crayons. When you can do that, come back and see me.”
Two weeks later Mrs. Burton was back with a portfolio of water-color samples, and already her face was more animated.
“Now I want you to study some current dress designs,” I told her, “and, using those lovely colors of Chartres, start designing some spring dresses.”
Since she was enthusiastic over the idea, I saw that my experiment was working. Interest was all she needed, interest in something besides her own troubles. Today she is employed as a designer by a dress manufacturer, is fascinated by her work, and, consequently, as charming as she has ever been.
Nervous mannerisms always tend to make an unfavorable impression. Many people who use their hands quite properly on other occasions get into trouble when they start to smoke. A man isn’t being charming when he scratches his head with a pipe stem, massages his nose with the bowl, or devours a cigar. Women commit countless crimes with cigarettes, puffing them too daintily, holding them lighted end downward and thus appearing as though they are about to stab you with their thumb. After finishing her cigarette, many a woman fails to dispose of it correctly. She either leaves it smoldering in an ash tray or crushes it out viciously. The best way to extinguish a cigarette is to detach the burning coal from it in an ash tray.
The way we walk and stand also has a bearing on the public-relations job we do for ourselves. A common fault in the carriage of women is that of walking from too wide a base. They appear to waddle, ducklike, when they should keep their thighs together and swing their legs freely from the hips. Others seem to find it difficult to stand on two feet with their hands at their sides. They assume a one-legged stork stance, a corkscrew pose with one foot behind the other, a butcher’s attitude with arms folded, or a Carmen pose with hands on hips.
Anyone, man or woman, can straighten his back and improve his carriage by consistently practicing the West Point exercise known as “bracing”—standing backed up against a wall with heels together and as much of the back as possible touching the wall—or by lying flat on the floor.
The movies, I fear, are responsible for some of our most affected postures. I have noticed women swinging their hips in what they imagined was a Dietrich manner, and others who sway as if they were sleepwalking, but actually are under the influence of Hedy Lamarr. Anybody is always more lovely by being herself.
Other equally unattractive postures are assumed by people who sit on one foot, hug their knees, embrace their stomachs, or sit froglike, with their heels together and their knees wide apart. Then, at the dinner table or in the theater, many people seem to forget that they have muscles in their waists. It is always more graceful and gracious to turn your whole torso toward the person you’re talking with, than merely to turn your head.
In conversation, the way we speak is often just as important as the things we say. A high-pitched, affected voice invariably makes a poor impression, and it is just as bad to let your words or sentences droop wearily at the end, because that indicates a lack of interest in what you’re talking about.
A few weeks ago I encountered a clever young career woman who had none of the conventional speech defects, but another which was worse. She swore like a trooper. When a woman peppers her talk with profanity it sounds affected, or vulgar.
One simple speech habit which, if generally adopted, would greatly boost our national charm quotient is that of saying “yes” or “no” instead of muttering, grunting, snorting, or purring our affirmatives and negations. Yes, and I personally would like to hear more people say “Yes, sir,” and “No, ma’am.” There’s always a touch of fine deference in this form of address. The principal reason why Southerners are often considered more charming than Northerners, I am convinced, is simply because they make a practice of using ” sir ” and ” ma’am.”
THERE is no one section of the nation, of course, nor any one country which has a monopoly on charm. I have met charming men and women everywhere, in America and abroad, and among all classes of people. I know a distinguished scientist in New York who in a quiet, modest way is the very epitome of charm; I recently met an elderly farm woman from the Middle West who, because of her bright and unselfish interest in the world around her, was a perfectly delightful companion; and a few months ago I was helped across a street in San Francisco by a traffic policeman who was so friendly and gracious that, as I stood beside him between two lanes of moving traffic, he made me feel like a princess.
Which brings us right around to where we started—kindness. To be really charming you’ve got to be kind, and anyone can be kind if he tries.
** TEN KEYS TO CHARM
1.—Discover your one best feature, and then dramatize it with cosmetics, hair-do, and the clothes you wear. Don’t be afraid to consult beauty experts and your friends about what you can do to improve your appearance.
2.—Listen to what your dressmaker or tailor tells you about your figure. Clothes can work as much magic as proper make-up, and no one should trust his own taste too far.
3.—Keep your hands immaculate —and quiet. If you’re a woman, use colored nail polish and, whoever you are, manicure your nails at least once a day.
4.—Watch your posture and carriage. You can improve both by standing for ten minutes daily with your heels, back, and shoulders against a wall, or by lying flat on your back on the floor.
5.—When seated, keep your feet on the floor and your hands in your lap. When you turn, turn from the waist.
6.—Speak always in a natural tone, say “yes” and “no” instead of grunting, and, to improve your enunciation, make a practice of reading aloud as often as possible.
7.—Be kind. Even if you’re not naturally magnanimous, make a habit of being friendly and sympathetic toward everyone you meet.
8.—Be natural. Affectations of all kinds are easily detected, and display a lack of faith in our true selves; so leave the play-acting to other people.
9.—Have an interest. Enthusiasm about almost anything, so long as it isn’t ourselves, is an appealing quality, but boredom never attracts friends. If you haven’t a hobby, acquire one.
10.—Build up the self-esteem of the people you meet. You don’t have to flatter them. A sincere display of interest in them and in the things which interest them will do the trick.