About Sarah Chrisman’s Victorian Life: A Black Girl’s Perspective

There’s been a lot of buzz lately concerning Sarah Chrisman’s article “I love the Victorian era. So I decided to live in it.”

Some people love it and think it’s charming and fun. Other people are completely peeved  at her for only living the “easy” aspects of Victorian life, leaving out the sexism, racism, classism, consumption, and the general smog and filth. What would happen if she someday needs surgery? What does she do when her period comes? Does she vote???

I agree with both sides. If she and her husband have the money and the means, then let them do it. It makes them happy, it’s not hurting anyone, and it’s kind of cool — even if it is glorified cosplay.

“Black Masquerade Queen Renaissance Victorian Costume.” Okay, yeah. Because those eras are totally the same thing. Not different at all.

I started to wonder what it would be like if I did the same thing. Wouldn’t it be so cool? If I had unlimited funds and means, what era would I bring forth to the present? It wouldn’t necessarily have to be the Victorian era. I could do my own thing. The Renaissance was cool and all, but somehow, I don’t think that would be very possible. Also, I’m black, so having that super ghostly pale skin they so coveted would be a super no-go. And check out these beauty tips from the times:

“Women during the Renaissance Period had an interesting way of applying cosmetics, because they always seemed to have their faces “caked” on with make-up. White lead face paint was very popular among the Renaissance women, because they used it to paint their faces, neck, and cleavage. The lead was mixed with vinegar to conjure up a paste called ceruse. The only downfall was that the white lead made their hair fall out, which explains why Renaissance women had high foreheads and receding hairlines. Even though wide foreheads and receding hairlines may seem weird nowadays, it was considered fashionable during the Renaissance Period. Their eyebrows were usually shaved and replaced with fake ones made of mouse skin anyways. For lips, their form of lipstick was made of cochineal and beeswax. Also for their lips and even for their cheeks, women would wear rouge which was a red powder made of mercury sulphide. To accentuate the eyes, they would use iridescent eye shadow made of a ground mother of pearls.” Source: https://womenhygiene.wordpress.com/the-scoop-all-you-need-to-know-about-the-cleanliness-of-women/

Plus, you know, bloodletting, washing my face with urine, and shitting in wooden boxes don’t exactly appeal to me.

Tudor house toilets…. To make matters worse, these things were rarely emptied and rarely cleaned. Ugh.

Sooooo… Let’s skip ahead. Like, way ahead. What about the ’20s? ’60s?

Well, the ’20s was definitely booming. Blacks and whites could sometimes be seen at the same night clubs. Some Hollywood actors came out as gay. Harlem was jumpin’. But, I can’t really get behind the Prohibition. (I like my wine, damn it.) And even though women could vote, it was mostly only white women who could vote freely in 1920. Until the 1960s, black women faced disenfranchisement and high hurdles to get to the ballot, especially in the South.

All right! So what about the ’60s?

Well, it was definitely a time of change. Free love and protests were ubiquitous, and the Civil Rights movement was in full swing….. But I love ’60s fashion. And oh. My. God. I fucking love Twiggy.

And check out this article about health, happiness, and well-being in the ’60s!

But on a more serious note:

  1. Flying was dangerous, insanely expensive, smoky, and boozy. (Plus, planes wouldn’t have TVs or music. BOOORING.)
  2. Blacks had shorter lifespans than whites.
  3. Black Americans were also far less likely to finish high school, let alone go to college.
  4. Blacks were twice as likely to be unemployed as whites.
  5. We were pretty much still treated like second-class citizens.

But, flying is no longer as hazardous to one’s health as it was in the Golden Age of flying. And if you ask me, and many other African-Americans, we pretty much are still treated like second-class citizens in some aspects of society. If you’ve been following the Black Lives Matter movement, you’d know that a lot of issues we’re facing are setting us back fifty years. Is it 2015 or 1964? Sometimes I can’t tell.

Suddenly I didn’t feel so giddy about the idea of living in a past era anymore. My boyfriend pretty much said it in a nutshell: “Going back in time would only be fun for whites, because they’re the only ones who’s always had it good.”

Alas…

My boyfriend said even if we romanticized the past eras, we’d end up living like middle-class whites of the times, and somehow that seems wrong. It really is sad that the only era I could think to travel to would be the 1960s, because we have to fight for civil rights again. I could buy a house that was build in 1962, have all my clothes made to match fashions of the era, listen to the music and go swing dancing (I do those anyway). But somehow, picking up a Black Lives Matter sign and marching, all while pretending to live like it’s the ’60s would seriously just fuck with my brain. I guess time travel to the past just wasn’t meant for us. Maybe I’m giving this too much thought.

But there’s always tomorrow. I’ve got my smart phone and my Wii U, my ballet flats and leggings. No one’s ever stopped me from voting, and my masters degree sits over my fireplace. Looking forward, I feel optimistic.

And Sarah Chrisman, have fun. ❤

(But seriously, that 60s fashion tho:)

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