Hey Good Looking!

Beauty has been considered of great importance, in most cultures and civilisations at most periods of history. Much time and effort was and is expended, to look attractive, captivating and hopefully bewitching. However, some of these beauty methods were curious, particular and downright strange.

The ancient Egyptians considered make-up and cosmetics as being very important, even after death. Egyptian ladies, kept their precious cosmetics in small clay pots, they would have pots for eye paints, usually green and black in colour and other pots for galena powder, which was made of crushed rock and used for eye-lining. The cosmetics, were mostly made of crushed rocks and minerals and needed to be mixed with a substance like animal fat and then applied with bits of wood, bones or the hands. Henna, which came from the red leaves of a dried shrub, was made into a paste and used as a hair dye and lip colour.

Fond of Fragrance

Cleopatra by WaterhouseCredit: Flickr deflam

The Egyptians, were also fond of fragrant perfumes, which were made with spices and aromatic flowers, mixed with fats or oils. One method of applying perfume, was to put great lumps of solid perfumed fat on top of their heads, which would melt and run down through their hair and over the body (these oils, as well as emitting musky or fragrant aromas probably provided sun protection.)

The Birth of Venus, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1879)Credit: Wikipedia

The Birth of Venus, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1879)

A Roman lady would have a legion of slaves to attend to her beauty. One slave would bring a mirror made of silver, or bronze and pots of cosmetics and perfumed oils. Another slave would attend to hairstyles or the application of a wig and as the fashion was for a pale complexion, chalk or poisonous lead was applied to the face (Lead powder has in fact, probably contributed to many a death, all in pursuit of the pale and interesting look). Lipstick was often made from the sediment of red wine and eye paints from saffron or ash.

Donkey Milk!

A special treatment used for skin problems, like acne, was made using bird poo, which was probably quite effective, as the high nitrogen content may have killed bacteria and exfoliated the skin. Another interesting beauty treatment was used by Poppea, the wife of the Emperor Nero, who applied the milk of a donkey, mixed with breadcrumbs to her face every night!

Portrait of Elizabeth to commemorate the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588),Credit: WikipediaPortrait of Elizabeth to commemorate the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588)

Royalty has often had a strange relationship with beauty. On the one hand, they have generally adored sumptuous and opulent fashions and yet on the other, they have often had an uneasy relationship with hygiene. Queen Elizabeth I of England for example, only bathed once a month and plastered her face with white make-up, made of white lead and vinegar in an attempt to cover wrinkles and the scars of small pox. Also, she was probably almost bald and had a vast wig collection, but was most famous for her elaborate red wig. Elizabeth I also supposedly lost most of her teeth and would often pop a bunched up piece of cloth into her mouth, so as not to look too sunken in.

Dangerous Bathing

Henri IV of France thought bathing was a fairly dangerous behaviour and was renowned for “stinking of sweat, stables, feet and garlic” and Louis Xlll of France is only reputed to have taken  five baths in his whole life time.  Frederick the Great of Prussia, really did not like water or bathing at all and when he got old, he refused to change his clothes, which rotted on his body!

And Also

 lady from the Karen tribe of ThailandCredit: WikipediaWoman of the karen tribe in Thailand.

The Kayan people of Northern Thailand have a most interesting idea of beauty, which involves the wearing of brass coils around their necks. The weight of the brass pushes the collar-bone down, compressing the rib cage, making the neck appear elongated. The rings are first added when girls are about five years old and are seldom taken off. Over time, the neck muscles become weakened and the skin under the coils discoloured and bruised. Marco Polo described the neck ring practice in c.1300, which sought to create elongated necks,as they are regarded as an ideal of beauty.

 Mursi woman, Lower Omo, Ethiopia with lip plate.Mursi woman, Lower Omo, EthiopiaCredit: Wikipedia

Amazingly, archaeological evidence shows that lip plates have been invented six times throughout history, in Kamchatka (8700 BC), Iran (6400 BC), the Balkans (5000 BC), Sudan (3700 BC), Mesoamerica (1500 BC), and Coastal Ecuador 500 BC) [1] . In Africa the lip plate is also combined with the removal of two, or four of the front teeth and is generally considered a sign of wealth or social importance. Among the Surma of Ethiopia the lips of a young woman is usually pierced around six to twelve months before her marriage, by other women of the tribe and progressively larger pegs are used to stretch the lip. When the lip opening is around a diameter of four centimetres, a clay plate is added, which the young woman makes herself.

Beauty it seems is best summed up by that famous saying, which goes back to the 3rd century B.C to ancient Greece and has been expressed by many, in different forms and has more than a smidgen of truth in it:

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder"


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