The passionate quest for beauty is one whose beginning may be as far from us in time as it’s end probably (or lack thereof) will be. Women have since the dawn of civilization been held up to unrealistic standards of the society’s idea of beauty. And it would probably even be a safe gamble to say that it was this struggle to meet these standards that gave rise to the phrase ‘No pain, no gain’ amirite, ladies?
You might feel bad for women that end up spending 2 hours every day contouring and colouring their faces to perfection and getting their hair to submit to their every will to meet the world’s idea of beauty. Well, we’ve got a list of the most horrifying of practices from history in quest of that ever-elusive perfection that our human female ancestors have put themselves through across time, that’ll make you feel like women these days have it easy.
The seductive tapeworm diet advocated for the supposed benefits of consuming tapeworms to stay trim without modifying your food intake or exercise regime. However, after swallowing a number of tapeworm cysts in pill form (then enduring a nice bout of vomiting and diarrhoea to reach their desired weight) the lucky dieter would then need to excrete the tapeworm, which could lead to serious abdominal and rectal trouble. Not to mention other constant troubles like headaches and eye issues to epilepsy, meningitis, and even dementia.
Thought you were relatively A-OK with the way your face looked? Not on the Micrometer’s watch. Originally designed to help make-up artists accurately measure actors’ facial structure, this became mankind’s historical new way of making women feel inadequate. “Flaws almost invisible to the ordinary eye become glaring distortions when thrown across the screen.” Not only were the screws oftentimes painfully tight, but just think of all the psychological damage.
In complete contrast to the modern aspiration for a perfectly whitened set of teeth, tooth blackening or “Ohaguro” is the custom of dyeing your teeth black. It was practised in Japan as an aristocratic sign of beauty for hundreds of years. The process was, however, long and arduous and required multiple applications of dangerous chemicals to a child’s teeth every day and wearers would often suffer very painful allergic reactions to the chemicals, leading to the banning of the practice in 1870 by the Japanese government.
Want to recreate the illusion of eight hours of undisturbed slumber after a gin-fuelled night? The 19th century trend of Arsenic eating is your answer. Turns out it was consumed to produce “a blooming complexion, a brilliant eye, and an appearance of embonpoint” (aka busty). Even though it could lead to arsenic poisoning and symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting, bloody pee, cramping muscles, hair loss, stomach pain, and convulsions. Did we mention, that if you didn’t die from consuming it, then you would surely die if you stopped.
Originally a tradition for upper class court dancers in 10th century China, these bound-up, doll-like feet and the wobbly walk they cause later suggested that a person was too wealthy and valuable to undertake manual labour. For this, mothers would fold the toes of their 2-year-old toddlers under their feet and tie them as tightly as possible. The process was extremely painful, and permanently crippled the wearer.
Thanks to the abundance of disease in the 16th and 17th century, if they were still alive past 30, women saw plenty of pox scars among other blemishes that they keenly sought to cover up. In addition to being affordable, lead powder was quick and easy to make, provided even coverage, and had a silky matte finish. However, prolonged use also caused brain swelling, paralysis, and eventually multiple organ failure. In fact, flawless pale skin was so important to women, another strange way they achieved it was with leeches ever-so-slightly draining the blood from their faces through their ears.
It’s true, women would squeeze eye drops prepared from the deadly nightshade plant’s nectar directly into their eyes to dilate their pupils, creating the illusion of wide-eyed purity and innocence. Unfortunately, their beauty came at a dear price. Namely, heart palpitations, loss of the ability to focus on close objects, and eventually complete blindness.
Yep, you read right. The Lysol we now use to squeaky-clean our bathroom tiles was once a commonly used hygiene product. It was claimed vaginal douching with a diluted Lysol solution prevented infections and vaginal odour, and thereby preserved youth and marital bliss. Never mind that it also happened to cause inflammation, burning, and even death.
Circa 1890, the ‘Harness Magnetic Corset’ promised to turn the most awkward figure graceful and elegant. X-rays of women who used them, however, revealed displaced ribs and other internal traumas. If you’re mad keen on that tiny waist, who even needs them ribs? Cosmetic rib removal, a painful way of beauty since quite long now, lives on in the modern world.
Got one too many chins? A little fat accumulating or even worse, sagging around your chin? Sounds like a job for the ‘Chin Reducer’. The uncomfortable (to say the least) contraption claims to prevent the development of a double chin and to restore that ever-elusive youth.
It was in vogue in the 18th century for women to sport enormous decorative wigs that were secured with lard, and lots of it. They’d wear these hair-draped wooden frames that were glued on with beef lard for extended periods of time even though they’d often become infested with lice and wait for it, rats!
This device promised many the perfect nose, but sadly delivered little other than the perfect headache. The device would require to be strapped on to one’s face tightly and needless to say, painfully and allegedly led to the eventual reshaping of the nose. Because a real beauty would rather have a migraine than an imperfect nose.
Getting facials from humans is passe. Siberian beauty mavens know what’s up. Turns out letting a family of snails crawl over your face and letting their gooey slime cover is the secret to pretty skin. If snail slime isn’t for you, then maybe you could go the sheep-placenta facial (it’s a real thing!) way.
One of the weirdest in this weird line-up of appearance-enhancing inventions would have to have been the alleged ‘Dimple Machine’ for ladies that just could not live without those little dints in their cheeks. Unfortunately for the inventor, the dimple fad didn’t last very long. Which is just as well, ’cause that thing could NOT have been easy to wear.
Padaung women of the Kayan people in Myanmar and Thailand have become famous for the practice of wearing neck rings. Young girls belonging to the ethnic minority start wearing the brass coils at around five years old. More rings are added as they grow older, until as many as 20 coils encircle the neck. The pressure from the rings pushes the clavicles down, giving the illusion of an elongated neck – considered beautiful in the Kayan community.