Book Reviews Books Pop Culture

Forget Santa, his niece Sam Claus can do the job just as well in “Secret Santa” by Megan Leach

Read more of our holiday stories here!

Megan Leach’s first children’s book Secret Santa introduces us to the 11-year-old girl who saved Christmas, Samantha Claus! Samantha is half-human and half-elf, her mother is the sister of Santa Claus, and her father is an elf named Jingle. As the niece of Santa Claus, she and her family live right by the North Pole. Samantha even runs a farm where she raises magic reindeer.

The author of this girl power Christmas story is Megan Leach, a creative based in the East End of Long Island. The release of Secret Santa marked the release of their first children’s book. We all know the classic Christmas stories starring ole’ Kris Kringle, but Megan shares a new narrative. We’re extremely proud of Meg as they are a The Tempest Editorial Fellow alum.

Meg’s love of Christmas and writing inspired them to publish Secret Santa. They have been writing since they were a child and truly value the art of storytelling. Throughout their childhood, one of their favorite activities was writing stories. Although in their everyday life, they do a lot of nonfiction writing, Secret Santa dips into their passion for crafting fiction narratives that are playful and working to write stories that relate to others.

A fun fact about Secret Santa is that it was written in the early hours of Christmas morning two years ago, in 2018. Meg’s motivation, slight insomnia, and love for Christmas were the three key ingredients for writing the first draft for Secret Santa. Additionally, Secret Santa is a work that is completely their own, from the narratives to the drawings.

Historically, the narrative of Santa Claus is typically a masculine dominated narrative, and female roles are often overlooked in Christmas stories. The character of Samantha breaks this pattern and provides readers with a female Christmas narrative. Samantha Claus’s agency and power are rooted in her self-determination and her skills with reindeer. A man is not the only person who can save Christmas and bring joy to young children. This story makes it clear that Santa and the spirit of Santa do not have to rely on a single man. As the book says, “Santa’s in all of us.”

With this story, Meg helps young girls find their place in traditional Christmas narratives and understand that the spirit of Santa is not confined to the constructs of a man in a red suit. Meg also makes it clear that there can be multiple roles and stories for women in the universe of Christmas narratives. If a young girl or woman of any age wants a role in a narrative that excludes them, they can write themselves in and make a space for themselves in that story!

Meg says, “By telling female-forward stories about Christmas, [women] can reclaim that piece of heroism that is in the [holiday].  Christmas is just not a pedagogical story about a man that flies around each night.” Secret Santa is definitely a girl power Christmas story that will put the story of Santa and Christmas into a light that goes against dominant portrayals for young children!

We typically do not get a lot of new Christmas stories, so it is refreshing to see a story that’s goal is to empower and give women agency in Christmas mythology. In the future, Megan hopes to continue writing stories similar to Secret Santa that goes against gender roles and dominant roles.

If you love Secret Santa, look out for more of Megan’s work. From speaking with them, I know that they are planning on writing more children’s books and even releasing a novel, so you can definitely look forward to more of their work in the future!

Get your copy of “Secret Santa”! It could also be the perfect gift this holiday season. The story is available on Amazon.

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History Historical Badasses

Madam C.J. Walker was the first Black female millionaire

Earlier this year, a mini-series on Netflix was released called Self MadeThe mini-series is inspired by the life of the first self-made Black female millionaire Madam C.J. Walker. The life and work of Madam C.J. Walker is an important story to tell because it celebrates the success of a Black woman and the beauty of Black hair.   

A few months ago, Kat Graham from The Vampire Diaries did a morning routine video on Vogue’s YouTube channel called “Kat Graham’s Natural Hair Beauty Routine.” During the video, she explained to her viewers that this is the first time that she has been completely without additional assistance when taking care of her hair. While Graham was talking about a hair care product that she was introduced to that really helped her hair throughout quarantine, she started crying and getting emotional.

Watching the video made me reflect on my own experiences with my hair as a Black woman. It also made me reflect on how having Black hair is an emotional, personal, and empowering journey. Madam C.J. Walker is a woman who truly understood the emotional and empowering experience of having black hair. And ultimately, she was able to use her experience to become a successful entrepreneur and help other Black women. 

Before she was known as Madam C.J. Walker she was born as Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867, on a Louisiana plantation. Her parents were both enslaved before the Civil War ended and later became sharecroppers. At the age of seven, her parents passed away.

After their deaths, she moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi with her sister and worked picking cotton. At the age of 14, she got married to escape her abusive brother-in-law and had her daughter A’Lelia Walker at 18 years of age. Two years after giving birth to her daughter, Walker’s first husband died. After his death, she and her daughter moved to St. Louis, to work for $1.50 a day at a barbershop owned by her four brothers. In St. Louis, she joined the St. Paul A.M.E. Church and the National Association of Colored Women. She also got married to her second husband, but the couple eventually divorced.

A newspaper Ad for Madam CJ Walker's for Wonderful Hair Grower product that is titled "Is Your Hair Short?" On right is a picture of her and on the left there is an article promoting the product.
[Image Description: A newspaper Ad for Madam CJ Walker’s for Wonderful Hair Grower product that is titled “Is Your Hair Short?” On right is a picture of her and on the left there is an article promoting the product.]  Image Source
Walker’s hair care journey began in the 1890s and early 1900s. She was struggling financially and developed a scalp disorder that caused her to lose her hair. In order to work on growing her hair back, she sought advice from her brothers and experimented with home remedies. She also tried hair products by Annie Malone, another prosperous Black hair-care entrepreneur. After using Annie Malone products, she became a commission agent and moved to Denver in 1905.

In Denver, she met her third husband, Charles J. Walker. Soon after meeting her husband, she began her brand. Her husband encouraged her to use the name “Madam C.J. Walker” so that her brand name would be more recognizable. She began traveling throughout the South and Southeast for almost two years selling and promoting her “Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, which was a scalp conditioning and healing ointment.

By 1910, she was able to settle down in Indianapolis where she built a factory, a hair salon, a nail salon, and a hair care training school. Throughout her life, she used her own personal experience of losing and regrowing her hair to build a prosperous Black business.  Today, she is known not only as the first Black self-made female millionaire, but also as a Black woman who supported her community as a pioneer of hair care for Black women.

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Tech Now + Beyond

Dear Dr Shirley Ann Jackson, thank you for the ‘Caller ID’ function

Imagine that you are sitting at home doing work on your computer with your phone right next to you. All of a sudden, your phone lights up and rings loudly.  The ringing breaks your concentration on the task you were doing. At first, you are excited because you think that it is a friend calling to chat. Or maybe you think that it is an important call from work. It could even be a call from a family member to check on you. However, prepare to be disappointed because it is actually none of those things! You look down at your phone and the Caller ID either says ‘spam risk’ or it’s a random number that you do not know.

We have all had this happen to us. We immediately felt that feeling of utter disappointment and great annoyance when we realize we are receiving a robocall or spam call.  I cannot begin to tell you how many spam calls and calls from unknown numbers that I have received in the past few months.  There was one week where I literally received about two calls a day from unknown numbers.  Very irritating, I know! The sad thing is they have even upped their game by using local numbers to try to trick me into thinking that I possibly know the caller.

Believe it or not, the first robocalls began in the 1850s and were received on the telegraph. So, it is completely safe to say that this problem I am currently having is definitely nothing new and that others are experiencing it too. In 2019, it was estimated that there were over 50 billion robocalls. From my personal experience, they do not seem to be slowing down anytime soon.  My number even seems to be one of their favorites to call.  I am sure that others feel the same.

Caller ID is the friend that is has always got my back against fighting unwanted calls.

While I am sure there a bunch of ways that we can attempt to stop these calls listed on the Internet, there is one strategy that is the most reliable and I must personally thank the person that was instrumental in creating this first line of defense for spotting unknown and spam callers. Caller ID is the friend that is has always got my back against fighting unwanted calls, and it is all because of Dr Shirley Ann Jackson. Yes, I know I just called the facility that displays and identifies phone numbers from incoming calls my friend and I do not regret it.

Dr Shirley Ann Jackson works in theoretical physics at Bell Laboratories which is credited for being the technology behind Caller ID.  During her childhood, she had a natural talent for science and technology. Dr Jackson was the first African American woman to earn her decorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and American physicist.

Dr Shirley Ann Jackson truly enhanced the way we communicate.  I could not even imagine having to pick up the phone all the time just to try and figure out if the incoming call is someone I know or if it is important. Not only can I see who is calling because of her work to fight unwanted callers, but I can see incoming calls when I am already on the phone with someone.  Before her work, if you were on the phone with someone when some else called your phone, the incoming call would have been blocked.  Pretty handy if you ask me! This advancement is called ‘Call Waiting’. Additionally, her work and research enabled others to invent fiber optic cables, portable fax, and the touch-tone telephone. Pretty cool, if you ask me!

Today, when my “Hotline Blinks” and I don’t know the Caller ID, I decline the call.  My thankfulness may seem trivial to some, however, it should serve as a reminder to not take everyday technologies for granted because I am pretty sure I would be answering robocalls all day. Thank you, Dr Shirley Ann Jackson!

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Surviving the Holidays History

Uncovering the history of Thanksgiving Turkey because I have so many questions

Thanksgiving is approaching soon, and those celebrating are most likely looking forward to dinner with friends and family.  Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus and social distancing, Thanksgiving will probably be a little different for most people. However, the Thanksgiving turkey being the centerpiece of many American’s dinner is a factor that is likely to remain the same.

For centuries, turkeys have had to suffer a little extra as people across the nation enjoy eating and preparing them during this time of year. I know that are plenty of people out there who enjoy eating the Thanksgiving turkey and love turning the leftovers into countless turkey sandwiches for the days that follow. However, I am not exactly a huge fan of turkey. Typically, I just eat a little piece to say I had some and save room for the apple pie! Despite my own impartiality to eating turkey, I can’t help but wonder: how did the turkey become the star of everyone’s dinner table on Thanksgiving?

Historians have often debated whether or not turkey was present during the first Thanksgiving in 1621. The meal was shared between the Pilgrims of the Plymouth colony and a local Wampanoag tribe in Massachusetts.

Growing up, we are taught to think that the first Thanksgiving was simply an event where different cultures came together to share a meal and build a friendship. This dominant narrative is not the case. The first Thanksgiving took place during a time when the Pilgrims had been starving and dying because they were struggling to harvest crops. Indigenous people provided most of the food for the feast, but the meal was shared by mostly Pilgrims. The friendship between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag did not grow after the Thanksgiving meal. About 16 years later, in 1637, the Wampanoag tribe was massacred by white settlers.

After this “shared” meal, Edward Winslow wrote a letter, and the governor of Plymouth William Bradford journaled about the feast. While the exact mention of turkey remains slightly unclear, they both mention wild “fowl.” (What is a fowl, you say? A fowl can refer to any wild bird native to the area during the time.) Despite the debates, it seems like the turkey was most likely there but was not considered the main dish of the celebration at the time.

Two centuries later, President Abraham Lincoln officially declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 for the second time. It was technically declared a holiday for the first time by the Continental Congress in 1777. Before declaring Thanksgiving as a holiday Lincoln would hold Thanksgiving dinners at the White House. The Lincoln family also began the White House tradition of pardoning a turkey on Thanksgiving Day. I bet the lucky chosen turkeys felt very much relieved!

Following the declaration of Thanksgiving as a holiday, by the 19th century, the turkey had fully cemented its popularity as a Thanksgiving stable and iconic resident of American’s Thanksgiving tables for a few potential reasons. The first being that as a native bird to North America turkeys remained plentiful and sustainable, and affordable. Secondly, some attribute the work of Charles Dickens to who strengthened the idea of turkey as a meal for holidays through his work. Another author is Sarah Josepha Hale, who is credited as well. In her novel Northwood, she wrote a chapter describing a New England Thanksgiving that had the turkey served as the centerpiece of the meal.  She also campaigned to make Thanksgiving a national holiday after the Civil War.

While the turkey may not have been the main dish at the first Thanksgiving, that is certainly not the case now. It is clear that Turkey is here to stay and keep its place on the centerpiece of Thanksgiving tables, to the unhappiness of animalists, vegetarians and vegans all across the US.

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Health Care Health

Okay, so why is my period lighter than normal?

Our monthly friend or not so monthly friend is always surprising us and changing. Understanding what is considered “normal” for your period and your body is no easy feat.

But trust me when I say that you are not alone!

If you’ve noticed that your period is lighter than what you consider to be “normal” for you and your body, there could be a whole list of that reasons for the change in your cycle that results in a lighter period.

If you’re like me, every time I experience something new during my period, whether it be cramps, insomnia, a headache, or nauseous, the first thing I do is go straight to the Internet to see what is going on with me.

So, let’s take a look at some potential reasons why you may be experiencing a lighter period.

1. It could just mean your period is lighter 

A White woman with brown hair and bangs saying, "Monthly vistor? You can say period." to a man.
[Image Description: A White woman with brown hair and bangs saying, “Monthly vistor? You can say period.” to a man.] Via Giphy
Your cycle can be super unpredictable! Sometimes your period just changes for no rhyme or reason. Over the years, our periods change flows and symptoms. For example, some months, I have painful cramps for a few days, and other months it is not that bad.  And sometimes, similar instability like this occurs with your flow. Fun right?

However, if you are concerned, you should consider visiting a doctor. I also recommend keeping track of your period in your notes or calendar on your phone!  Write a note on the start date and end date of your cycle. Also, you should try to note changes or details about your period that you have questions about. This can help you voice your concerns to a physician and keep a good track of what is happening with your body!

2. Experiencing a lack of ovulation

A White woman in a wedding dress and veil running to a man screaming, "Code red!"
[Image Description: A White woman in a wedding dress and veil running to a man screaming, “Code red!”] Via Giphy
A lighter flow could mean that you are not ovulating or releasing an egg. This can cause irregular periods and lighter period flows. When you do not release an egg, it is called anovulation, which is caused by an imbalance of hormones. Anovulation can range in severity and chronic anovulation is a cause of infertility. If you think this could be the case, it is best to see a physician.

3. Fluctuation in your weight and exercise

A White woman holding a tampon in her left hand upside down and from the string. She dangles it back and forth. The bottom of the gif says, "That time of the month." A tiny white drawing of a calendar appear in the right corner.
[Image Description: A White woman holding a tampon in her left hand upside down and from the string. She dangles it back and forth. The bottom of the gif says, “That time of the month.” A tiny white drawing of a calendar appears in the top right corner.] Via Giphy
Weight gain, weight loss, and changes in your exercise routine can all contribute to a lighter flow or even cause you to skip your regular monthly period. Especially if you think the change is sudden or in a short period of time. If you have gained weight, hormonal imbalance and other stressors can lead to a light cycle. If you have lost weight, stress can also alter your hormones levels and result in a lighter flow.

4. Age and early signs of menopause

Five purple tampons applicators lined up at the bottom of the gif. The tampon is fired out of each applicator one by one.
[Image Description: Five purple tampons applicators lined up at the bottom of the gif. The tampon is fired out of each applicator one by one.] Via Giphy
Age is an important factor when it comes to your period. It is no surprise that your period does not stay the same throughout your entire life. For example, in my teens I never experienced any cramps. But now I am not so lucky. Like I said before, a lighter flow could just be a lighter flow.  It does not necessarily mean that you are premenopausal. So, just make sure you don’t get ahead of yourself and make assumptions too quickly!However, menopause could be the reason why you are experiencing a lighter flow and saving money on period products. Menopause typically occurs when you are in your 40s, but it can occur in your 30s as well. Menopause can last anywhere from two to eight years.  Perimenopause is the first stage of menopause. It is when your body will start slowly producing less estrogen. In addition to changes in your flow, menopause symptoms include difficulty sleeping, hot flashes, changes in your sex drive, and joint pains.

5. The hormones in your birth control

A gif from the show That's So Raven. Raven is saying,"OH SNAP!" The bottom of the gif says, "When you forget to take your birth control."
[Image Description: A gif from the show That’s So Raven. Raven is saying,”OH SNAP!” The bottom of the gif says, “When you forget to take your birth control.”] Via Giphy
Ah, birth control. We all know that multiple methods of hormonal birth control can cause a whole boat load wanted and unwanted changes to our bodies. It can do nice things like help acne, cramps, and irregular periods. However, it can also cause changes in our weight, mood, and breasts. Hormonal changes from birth control can cause of a lighter period. It is typically considered usual to experience a lighter flow, small amounts of blood, or even skip a period cycle altogether.

6. You could be experiencing stress

A Black woman holding a bowl pasta and a fork, while saying "Menstruation."
[Image Description: A Black woman holding a bowl pasta and a fork, while saying “Menstruation.”] Via Giphy
Life is often filled with ups and downs that can cause you stress. Unfortunately, this is unavoidable sometimes! Stress can have unexpected effects on your body.  If you have been stressed at work or school, a lighter period could be how your body is responding to what is going on in your life.  If you are feeling stressed, try doing something that relaxes you and brings you joy!  Watch some Netflix or order your favorite takeout! You deserve it!

7. You may be pregnant

The actress Shay Mitchell holding up a pregnancy test. She pretending to be shocked because is visibly pregnant in the gif.
[Image Description: The actress Shay Mitchell holding up a pregnancy test and saying “I’m Pregnant!” She pretending to be shocked because is visibly pregnant in the gif.] Via Giphy
In mainstream media, we are accustomed to seeing women realizing that they missed their periods as a sign of pregnancy. Despite this dominant portrayal, a lighter period or light spotting can be a sign of pregnancy as well. So, if you can experience a light period and you believe that there is any possibility that you could be pregnant, you can always take a pregnancy test or see a doctor!

8. After pregnancy

I woman holding her baby while walking in living room at night. The gif says, "Sleep?...ahhhh I remember sleep."
[Image Description: I woman holding her baby while walking in living room at night. The gif says, “Sleep?…ahhhh I remember sleep.”] Via Giphy
After pregnancy, you can also experience a lighter period for two reasons. The first is you can lose a lot of blood during or after childbirth. The loss of blood deprives your body of oxygen. This can damage your pituitary gland and cause Sheenan syndrome.  Sheenan syndrome can affect your hormone levels and other parts of your body. This includes the hormones that control your menstrual cycle.Secondly, breastfeeding after pregnancy can contribute to you having a lighter period.  The production of milk can prevent your body from ovulating and affect your cycle.

9. Other medical conditions

A white woman lying down on the couch with heating pad over lower stomach. She is saying, "I was sabotaged by my baby box."
[Image Description: A  woman lying down on the couch with heating pad over lower stomach. She is saying, “I was sabotaged by my baby box.”] Via Giphy
Numerous medical conditions can contribute to your period being lighter. This includes cervical stenosis when your cervix becomes narrow or closes up. There is also polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) when your ovaries produce too much androgen. Or even hyperthyroidism, which causes issues with your heart, blood pressure, and more.
Overall, a lighter period does not have to mean that something is wrong necessarily. But if you feel that something is not right, trust yourself and talk to your doctor. I know it’s easy to forget, but it is important to note changes in your cycle and keep track of what is happening with your body!
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History Lost in History

So you know Mozart and Beethoven, but do you know any female composers?

When I was in college, one of the best courses I took was a class on women and music.  During one of the first sessions of the semester, my professor asked the class to write down as many male composers as we could name on a sheet of paper. Then she asked the class to write down all the female composers that we could name as well on the same piece of paper. Many of us could name a decent number of male composers like Mozart, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky. However, most of the class could not name even one female composer.

Historically, female composers have often been overlooked and underappreciated. This is something that needs to change.

Their work is often lost in history. Let’s take a look at the life and work of Cécile Chaminade, so when someone asks you about female composers, she can be first on your list!

Throughout her lifetime, Cécile Chaminade composed over 400 pieces. She was born in August of 1857 in France. Her upper-middle-class family loved the arts, as both her parents were musicians. She began taking piano lessons from her mother at a very young age. Then she began composing music at the age of seven, can I get a wow?

At the age of eight, Chaminade played some of her composed pieces to George Bizet. George Bizet was a French composer for operas in the Romantic Era. He is most known for his four-act opera Carmen. I am sure you would recognize the Habanera and Overture from Carmen, even if you are not that into classical music! You must at least have heard them in a commercial or two. Google it, I dare you!

Bizet was impressed by Cécile Chaminade’s talent and recommended that her family make sure that she received a music education. Despite her talents and Bizet’s suggestion, her family did not allow her to study music at the Paris Conservatoire. Going to the conservatoire would have allowed her to network with other music professionals. However, her father believed that it would have been “improper” for a young lady of her social class to formally attend school. At least she was instructed privately by instructors from the Paris Conservatoire.

A black and white head shot of Cécile Chaminade. Her dress has a high neck line and she is looking slightly to the right.
[Image Description: A black and white head shot of Cécile Chaminade. Her dress has a high neck line and she is looking slightly to the right.] Via BBC
She performed her first recital at the age of 18 and began making a name for herself.  By 1878, she began traveling and performing across Europe, in Austria, Britain, and Belgium. When she toured in the United States, she performed at Carnegie Hall, Symphony Hall, among other venues. Her performances across Europe and in the United States were received well, she rose in fame and became internationally renowned. In the United States, many musical performance clubs were named after her during the time of her performances.

Despite her the admiration that was received abroad, her work and accomplishments were ignored in France during most of her life. Her compositions her mainly character pieces and melodies. These pieces were popular in other parts of Europe and America, but they were referred to as mere “salon music” in France. In the 19th century, the salon referred to the gathering of elites for intellectual conversations away from the masses. Elites and aristocracy would meet in salons and listen to music that was romantic piano music. Salons were typically associated with the gathering of elite women as well. Critics of Chaminade’s music used the term to suggest that her music was too emotional and meant for the “simplistic” entertainment of women.

Critics unfairly judged her music. Ultimately, to me, they seem to have ignored Chaminade’s talent for sexist reasons. They coded her work as “feminine” in an attempt to degrade it and dismiss her talent. Her work was described as dainty, lacking variety, and sentimental. Those critics chose to disregard the character, accessibility, and aspects of the French Romantic Era in her music that made her music popular. They were focusing on the fact that she was not male. Thankfully, later in her life received some of the recognition deserved for her work and performances. In 1913, she was the first female composer in France to be awarded the Légion d’Honneur.

Cécile Chaminade’s compositions and work is something that should not be forgotten in history, and we should be listening to her music. With over 400 compositions, you have plenty of material to listen to! I recommend her Flute Concertino Op. in D major, Op. 107, which she composed in 1902 if you are looking for a place to start!

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Makeup History It Happened Once

The history of eyelash extensions is actually so scary

Okay, the thing is I have never really been in love with my eyelashes and have envied people who don’t need eyelash extensions for years. It is just unfair! My eyelashes are short, they point in all different directions, and they make putting on mascara difficult sometimes. Now, I bet you think that I wear fake eyelashes daily because of this. Well, I don’t! For some reason, I have never been into wearing fake eyelashes. I tried them once and failed, so I never tried again.

Since my failed attempt with fake eyelashes many years ago, my eyelashes are something that I have learned to accept and love. But occasionally, I still want to live out my lifelong dream of having lashes that are so long that it looks like I am about to take flight. Therefore, when I heard about eyelash extensions, I thought it would be perfect! They last for almost a month, and I would not have to worry about trying to glue them on every day.

I know there are many people out there who want to try lash extensions like me. There are probably even more people who wear false lashes and eyelash extensions daily, but have you ever wondered how long people have been getting fake lashes and eyelash extensions?

People’s obsession with long lashes may seem like a rising trend to some, but it turns out that people have been wanting long lashes for centuries. Different techniques for applying fake lashes, attaching eyelash extensions, and making eyelashes appear longer has been around for quite some time.

Let’s go back a couple of centuries to Ancient Rome, where long lashes were fashionable and had a specific meaning. Eyelashes were seen as symbols for youth, morality, and virginity.

The Ancient Roman author Pliny the Elder claimed that long eyelashes were a representation of chastity because the author believed women’s eyelashes fell out during sex. So apparently if you had short eyelashes, that meant that you had a lot of sex. I don’t really know how I feel about his hypothesis, but either way, it did influence Roman women to try to use eyeliner to make their eyelashes appear longer and worked hard to achieve the long-lashed look.

Moving forward to the 1400s, there was a shockingly brief period during medieval times and middle ages where foreheads were more fashionable than eyelashes and even eyebrows. The church had linked women having hair to eroticism. Yes, just having hair at all was erotic. Therefore, women would pluck out their eyelashes and eyebrows to showcase their forehead.

Fortunately, this trend ended because our eyelashes actually protect our eyes from things like dust and debris. They even shield our eyes from the sun a little.  By the 1800s, long lashes were desired once again! However, people took their yearning for long eyelashes a little too far.

Here is where it gets a little scary.

In the late 1800s, a dangerous procedure to achieve long eyelashes was introduced to the public. While some women were gluing human hair to their eyelids, other women were looking for a more permanent route. The process involved taking strains of hair from your head and sewing the hair into their eyelids. Scary, I know! Apparently, they even attempted to use a rubbing solution of cocaine to numb the area before the procedure, but I have a feeling that it was still painful.

I’d take mascara over that any day. Thankfully, in the 1900s, artificial lashes were patented by Karl Nessler, a famous hairdresser from England. By the 2000s, modern eyelash extensions became a growing beauty service. Now anyone who wants to try out having longer lashes has great temporary and, most importantly, safe options to try.

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History Ancient Practices

Do you know how pumpkins became the jack-o-lanterns we know and love?

In the spirit for more spooky stories? Check out our Halloween series!

Pumpkin season is officially in full swing. Tons of pumpkin-themed products and pumpkin-flavored goods hit the market as Halloween and Thanksgiving approach. You have the beloved Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks and pumpkin-scented candles popping up everywhere. There are even an array of pumpkin-based goods at your local grocery store. But one of the most important parts of the fall season is pumpkin carving for Halloween in October!

Jack-o-lanterns are a fun Halloween activity that is enjoyed by many, but the tradition of making jack-o-lanterns did not originally begin with the pumpkin and was not necessarily made for just decorative purposes.

Okay, before we jump into talking about jack-o-lanterns, let’s talk a little bit about the history of pumpkin first! Technically, no one is one-hundred percent sure when and where pumpkins originated. However, it is believed that pumpkins originated in Central America more than 7,000 years ago. Oaxaca Highlands in Mexico is where the oldest domesticated pumpkin seeds were found. The earliest domesticated pumpkins were not large and bright orange, but actually small and bitter. During this time pumpkins were not grown just for eating. They were instead hollowed out, and their thick flesh provided protection for certain items like food during colder months and times of scarcity.

In addition to using the rind, pumpkins seeds were eaten as snacks in ancient civilizations. Along with their presence in ancient civilizations in Central and South America, there has been additional evidence of early pumpkin domestication in Missouri and Mississippi. Before colonial settlements in North America, Indigenous cultures were known to harvest, utilize, and eat pumpkins too. For example, they dried pumpkin flesh and wove them into mats. In the Americas, the sap and pulp of pumpkins were used for burns and other medicinal purposes.

At the beginning of the era of colonial expansion in the Americas, pumpkins were one of the first grown crops. John Josselyn included one of the first American pumpkin recipes in a book that was published in the early 1670s. Colonists in Northern America derived the word pumpkins from the Greek word “pepon,” which means large melon. Along with making pumpkin pies and other pumpkin recipes, Irish colonists began using pumpkins to carve jack-o-lanterns in the Americas.

The tradition of jack-o-lanterns originated in Ireland with the myth of “Stingy Jack.” In the myth, Stingy Jack has a drink with the Devil and tricks him into turning into a silver coin, so he does not have to pay for his drink. The Devil became trapped in the form of a silver coin in Stingy Jack’s pocket. To be released, the Devil had to promise not to bother Jack for the entire year and not to collect his soul when he died. The next year, he tricked the Devil again by having the Devil climb a tree to pick some fruit.  Once he had climbed the tree, Stingy Jack drew a cross on the tree so the Devil could not come down until he promised Stingy Jack that he would leave him alone for another ten years. 

When Stingy Jack died, God would not allow him into heaven because of the tricks that he played on the Devil and his seedy character. Since the Devil could not collect his soul and bring it to hell, he sent Stingy Jack into the night with a single piece of burning coal. According to the myth, Stingy Jack put the coal into a carved turnip and still roams the Earth. In Ireland, they referred to his ghostly soul as the “Jack of Lanterns.” In Ireland and Scotland, they would carve potato and turnip lanterns to ward off tortured souls, wandering spirits, and frighten “Stingy Jack” away.

While pumpkins were originally used for storing food, its versatility allowed it to become a staple for the fall season and be the perfect crop to carve into jack-o-lanterns in the Americas. It also allowed a small flame to fit inside. So, make sure you go out and find a nice pumpkin to carve if you can this Halloween to ward off the Jack-o-Lanterns!

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Makeup Skin Care History Ancient Practices Beauty

Did women in Ancient Greece have a skincare routine?

Throughout quarantine, I have become mildly obsessed with skincare and taking care of my skin. And by mildly, I mean I have completely changed my skincare routine about 20 times in the past few months. I’ve learned a lot about skincare over the summer, and used that information to alter my routine accordingly. And unfortunately, I cannot even tell you how many hours I have spent watching YouTube videos on skincare and reading the endless amounts of beauty reviews on Sephora’s website.

My newfound love for skincare made me curious about what skincare and beauty ingredients have been used throughout history. So, as a lover of skincare and Greek mythology, I thought I would take a look at the beauty and skincare beliefs, practices, and techniques used in Ancient Greece. And most importantly, try to figure out how to make my skin glow like a Greek goddess!

Skincare has been important in many different cultures and each culture has its own unique techniques to keep their skin glowing and healthy. Cosmetics and physical beauty were especially important in Ancient Greek culture, so having clear, smooth, and soft skin was a must. Clear and smooth skin is something that I definitely strive for at all times.  I’m not always successful, but I give it my best try.

Unfortunately, not all the tips and tricks I found were super helpful. Ancient Greek societies did have some unsafe practices. For example, they used harmful chalks and lead to whiten their skin due to their society’s beauty standards that idolized light skin.  With that exception, a majority of the ingredients that they used are still found in plenty of products today.

Women in high society in Ancient Greece culture wore makeup daily. Their cosmetic products used different flowers, herbs, pigments, and natural resources. To make eyeliner, they would use olive oil and charcoal. They even used olive oil and charcoal to fill in their brows. For their lips, they would mix beeswax and red iron oxide for a shiny lip balm. Iron oxides are still used in cosmetics products today,  but, thankfully, are now made in a lab for safety! Naturally produced iron oxide in uncontrolled settings typically contain heavy metals. Beeswax is still a popular ingredient in lip moisturizing compounds and products today. The Mayo Clinic reported that it is one of the best ingredients to lock in moisture and even helps block the sun.

In terms of taking care of the skin, Ancient Greek women certainly had impressive DIY skills. Olive oil was an essential ingredient in Greek skincare. In products today, olive oil is still used to moisturize and renew skin cells. Herbs, flowers, vegetables, and fruits indigenous to Greece were used in addition to olive oil. The rose was considered to be the “queen of flowers.” Rose oil and rose water were used in a lot of products to soothe, cleanse, and nourish dry skin. Additional benefits of rose oil and rose water include anti-aging, hydration, repairing skin cells, and balancing pH levels.

Along with beeswax, honey was another beneficial and well-used ingredient in their skincare products. It was used in their face masks and body scrubs. Honey has anti-inflammatory properties and helps with the removal of dead skin cells. Lastly, milk and yogurt were considered to be luxury ingredients in Ancient Greece because of their skin-softening properties. Milk was often mixed with honey in many products, while yogurt was viewed as a special ingredient that soothed sunburns and helped remove dead skin cells.

With the help of modern technology and sciences, skincare and cosmetics brands have found their own ways to incorporate the key ingredients of  Ancient Greek skincare into their products. In actuality, the basics of skincare in Ancient Greece and today are not that different, which means I’m basically already a Greek goddess. There are plenty of rose water toners, olive oil lotions, and milk and honey scrubs out on the market for us to try. At this point, I’ve probably tried about half of them, but cannot wait to try more!

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History It Happened Once

I Googled the Salem Witch Trials so you don’t have to – and they are hella confusing

As a part of our Halloween series this year, since we’ll be mentioning witches a lot, let’s talk about the Salem Witch Trials and how the events that took place do not make any sense.

Honestly, after reading a bunch about the “trials,” I still do not really understand what happened or why it happened. Suggestions about fungus causing illnesses and other analyses on political issues within Salem at the time are speculations that are often used to try to explain the trials. But, you have to admit that there are a bunch of missing pieces in the story. The whole thing sounds like complete chaos to me!

I have so many questions. Like, why did they randomly believe the claims of young girls without any true evidence? Who really thought that allowing spectral evidence was a good idea? How were the accused supposed to prove to a court that they were not actually witches? And lastly, what were the true reasons and motivations behind this tragedy?

So let me explain what all went down in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 and 1693.  It all began when the daughter and niece of Reverend Samuel Parris, the minister of Salem Village, began having violent fits, intense contortions, and uncontrollable outbursts such as screaming. After a local doctor in Salem could not find anything physically wrong with 9-year-old Elizabeth Parris an 11-year-old Abigail Williams, he diagnosed them and other young girls within the community that showed similar behaviors and symptoms with bewitchment. This first diagnosis of witchcraft led to the imprisonment of over 200 people and 20 hangings throughout Massachusetts.

Puritan pioneers first settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. During this time, the Puritan communities established their own theocratic government systems. Theocracy is a form of government largely led and structured by those who believed to be divinely guided. The government and legal system are structured based on religious law.

You still with me?

The Puritans believed that the Devil could give individuals on Earth powers in return for their loyalty. (and that isn’t even the most ridiculous claim) Those who received powers from the Devil were called witches. The principle of witchcraft became prevalent in 14th century Europe, where between the 1300s and 1600s, thousands of people, the majority being women, were executed for accusations of witchcraft. Under the legal structure in Salem, an individual who consorted with the Devil was considered a criminal. The punishment for committing such a crime was hanging, yikes!

During the time of the Salem Witch Trials, the community was stressed and struggling. The King William’s War put a strain on the community’s resources. Additionally, there was a rivalry between wealthy families and the working class that depended on forms of agriculture. There was also an on-going smallpox epidemic and fear of attack from neighboring Native Americans. The stressful and anxiety-fueled climate of the community led to ongoing tensions and suspicions among the Puritan villagers.

After the diagnosis of bewitchment, a few of the “bewitched” young girls blamed three women for bewitching them. The first is Tituba, an enslaved woman from the Caribbean bought by the Reverend Parris. The second woman was Sarah Good, a homeless beggar.  And lastly, an impoverished elderly woman named Sarah Osborne. Of course, all three of the accused women were considered “outsiders” based on race and/or class. (Is anyone shocked?)

It remains unclear if the girls were persuaded or forced to accuse these three women. However, I think that the social statuses and positions of the women in society should be considered when trying to interpret the potential reasons that these three women in particular were actually accused of the crime of witchcraft.

This is where the whole thing launched full speed into a downward spiral to me. The imprisonment of the three women led to further paranoia in a society that already suffered from numerous stresses. Good and Osborne claimed that they were not guilty; while Tituba confessed and named other witches who were working along with her against the Puritans to receive repentance. In response to Tituba claiming other individuals were also practicing witchcraft, the governor of Massachusetts ordered the establishment of the Court of Oyer and Terminer to pass judgment on witchcraft cases.

The accusations of witchcraft continued to spread across the Massachusetts colonies against mostly women and a few men (which I did not know). Similarly to Tituba, those accused confessed and named others who practiced witchcraft. The court allowed testimony based on spectral evidence. This refers to evidence that is based on visions, dreams, and a person’s spirit. The testimony was based on witnesses claiming that they interacted with or saw a person’s spirit, in place of basing testimony on a person’s physical actions. The trails lacked focus on truth and investigation. Under religious practices, the courts preferred that the accused confessed, asked for forgiveness, and vowed to not engage with the Devil again.

After years and the (unlawful) deaths and imprisonment of so many people, the Court of Oyer and Terminer was finally replaced with the Superior Court of Judicature, the testimony of spectral evidence was no longer allowed, and the trials were deemed unlawful. In 1697, the General Court ordered a day of fasting and soul-searching due to the events that had occurred during the trials. Additionally, in 1711, the families affected received reinstitution and the restoration of the names. However, it was not until the 1950s that Massachusetts formally apologized for the event.

The whole story is definitely a lot to digest, but it did give me a lot to think about.

While many aspects of the Salem Witch Trails are perplexing, within this tragedy remains lessons that should be reflected on and questioned today. It remains crucial to have objectivity, to think about the consequences of unjustly punishing individuals, to be cautious of the use of fear within the justice system, and to foresee the damages of groupthink going unquestioned.

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