They say beauty is pain, but this saying isn't a recent adoption. Plucking the hair from one's eyebrows and chemical peels that burn away a layer of skin for a smooth face seem like a tiny pin prick compared to some of the things women have done throughout history to look beautiful. Some of these practices are downright barbaric, but the fashion of the time demanded that old timey fashionistas conform or be ostracized from their social circles. Today is not so different in that respect, but those who constantly demand to be in the fashion should be glad there is no need to bind their feet or crack their rib cages.
Warning: Some images may be disturbing.
Today, corsets are seen as classical and a quick way to look slimmer. In the 19th century they were essentially used the same way, to make the tummy look slim, the hips look big, and give the bosom a healthy lift. While many women used them properly, like any beauty practice some women abused them to the point of disfigurement and death. By tying them as tight as they possibly could the corset, which was made from whale bones at the time, could crack rib cages, collapse lungs, prevent breathing, and rearranged internal organs permanently from overuse. Some women tied them so tight that they fainted frequently from only being able to take shallow breaths. This interestingly enough gave way to placing fainting couches in the women's restroom, a trend that has stuck around to this day.
Too bad the practice of using corsets fell out of style, though. I don't know how men today fall in love with women with their lungs all hanging out in the proper position.
Face Powder Made From Lead
The 1700s were a gross time. People had the worst possible hygiene in the world as they believed that taking a bath removed the protective layer from the skin and made them vulnerable to germs. Since catching a common cold back then was usually a death sentence, much of the aristocracy avoided bathing. However, the fashion back then was to have pale and fair skin, tans were for the laborers in the fields. The problem was, even if they stayed out of the sun, the dirt on their face prevented pale skin from showing through.
So what did the rich and powerful do? They covered their face in white powder…made from lead. They thought it was great stuff back then. It was cheap, it coated well and had a silky finish. Of course, there are those nasty side effects of insanity, paralysis, and complete system shut down. Not to mention the lead turned their actual faces terrifying shades of grey and black.
Foot binding started in China around the 10th century as a way for women to attract husbands. After all, husbands love tiny feet on a woman, especially when it cripples them so they cannot run away. Foot binding is the practice of breaking a baby girls toes and tying them under the foot as tight as possible. This was referred to as turning a girl's foot into a "golden lotus." Of course, this extremely painful practice was only for the wealthiest women in China. Her wobbly, slow walk told everyone else she was too good to work.
This practice went on until 1949 where the Communist did rich Chinese women a huge favor by making work a virtue. Since one can't very well work with your broken deformed toes tucked under one's foot, it had to be stopped.
Belladonna in the Eyes
In the Italy during the Middle Ages, having dilated pupils was all the rage. Apparently, women attempted to attract husbands by making their pupils as big as possible to have that oh-so-desirable lost and sad puppy look. Of course, all they could have done was blown the candles out to have this effect but then men would not have been able to see them. So instead, they started dropping the juice of Deadly Nightshade, also known as Belladonna, into their eyes. Belladonna is quite poisonous if ingested, but it did achieve the effect of dilated eyes in women.
Of course, it also resulted in blindness from extended use. So here is hoping those sexy big pupils attracted men quickly back then. I'm sure the ones who couldn't get a husband had a terrible time dying alone, unloved, impoverished, and blind.
Unfortunately, in this modern world where women will do literally anything but exercise to be super thin, this practice is still used in some circles. However, that doesn't make it any less gross. Women ingest tapeworm eggs in pill form, which would then hatch and attach in the intestines. They would proceed to eat the nutrients of their host to grow big, which effectively makes the host grow small but also malnourished. As the tapeworm feeds, it can grow up to 100 feet long.
When the host is either nicely thin or dangerously malnourished, the worm needed to be removed. Apparently, today there are pills that kill it, but for the longest time the only alternative was to have a doctor remove it. Even with the pills that kill this parasite, removing it still involves dragging a potentially 100 foot long flat piece of fishing line that is actually a worm from your sphincter. For those potential readers who are thinking "this sounds like a really great idea to lose weight easily," then I especially want you to sit here and imagine the removal process.
From the 1930s to the 1950s, nuclear was all the rage. They won wars with nuclear bombs, fighting men settled down and started nuclear families, and women smothered themselves in nuclear cosmetics to look beautiful. Many cosmetic companies during this time added thorium chloride and radium bromide into their products to give the wearers that little extra something for their husbands to come home to. That little something extra was, of course, cancer. Many boasted claims like their products stimulates cellular vitality, activates circulation, firms skin, eliminates fats, stops enlarged pores forming, stops and cures boils, pimples, redness, pigmentation, protects from the elements, stops ageing and gets rid of wrinkles, conserves the freshness and brightness of the complexion. Of course this was at the price of dying early from cancer, having your face rot off, or potentially glowing in the dark.