156: Esther Williams and the Birth of Waterproof Makeup (Make Me Over, Episode 5)

02.18.2020 - By You Must Remember This

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Esther Williams single-handedly helped popularize the pastime of swimming — first as the star swimmer of the San Francisco production of Billy Rose's Aquacade, and then as the star of Hollywood films like Bathing Beauties and Million Dollar Mermaid. Williams’s stardom — and the necessity to maintain her image as a grinning glamour girl, even while submerged underwater — led to the creation of several waterproof products and swimwear innovations, from waterproof foundation and eyeliner to bathing cap couture. Despite two decades of sustained celebrity and brand power, Williams eventually struggled to maintain the pristine bathing beauty facade. She lost her MGM contract in the 1960s and had to pay millions to the studio in damages. On her way down, she slapped her name on swimming pools and exercise videos, stumbled through four unhappy marriages and started to experiment with LSD for her depression. Drawing on previously untapped resources, Rachel Syme will tell the story of Williams' rise and fall, and the innovations in aqua-beauty she inspired, while also analyzing why we want to be waterproof, why we want to be so invulnerable to the elements and why putting swimming on-screen led to pressures for women to look put-together, even when sopping wet. This episode was written and performed by Rachel Syme, a writer, reporter and cultural critic living in New York City. She writes a regular column for The New Yorker on fashion and beauty. She is also a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, GQ, Vanity Fair and Esquire. She often writes about the complex intersection between fame, glamour, beauty and feminism.
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