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7 Terrifying Beauty Practices from History

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Wikimedia Commons

Chemical peels that burn layers of skin from your face. Appetite suppressants that cause heart failure. Surgery to make a woman’s most intimate parts resemble those of a Barbie doll. Noses de-bumped with a scalpel and breasts slit and stuffed with whatever filling is currently considered least dangerous. 

When we reflect on the quackery of the good old days, we usually have the smug luxury of increased wisdom. We can click our tongues at the values of yesteryear that were infantile and ill informed. However, when it comes to women desiring to be beautiful at any cost, values haven’t changed much. Here are seven primitive beauty practices that are almost as scary as modern ones.

1. Corsets 

via iStock

You know what really turns men off? Internal organs in healthy alignment. Why do you think they were out there all through the 19th century killing whales? So women could use the dang whalebones to wrench that spleen into a more attractive position, that’s why! In fairness, a corset was a viable support garment, and not all women tightened them to the point of injury. Though how those slobs ever thought they would catch a husband with their lungs all just…hanging out there is beyond me.

2. Arsenic Eating

via iStock

In the 19th century and earlier, people ate arsenic to “produce a blooming complexion, a brilliant eye, and an appearance of embonpoint (sexy stoutness).” There were rules of course; you could only take it while the moon increased, only a single grain at first (until you built a resistance), and if you ever stopped, you’d die. But wait, there was a downside. It also caused goiters, because arsenic blocks iodine in the thyroid, causing swelling. Blooming, brilliant, embonpoint goiters. And sometimes death.      

3. Tapeworms

via iStock

In this case women not only did something dangerous to be thin, it was also…really gross. Tapeworm eggs, taken in pill form, would hatch and attach in the intestine of the poor, plump host. There they would eat the nutrients that would otherwise be processed by the host’s digestive system. This makes the host malnourished, but it makes the tapeworms grow. And grow. Some species of tapeworm can grow up to 100 feet. There were deworming treatments to remove them, but wow, you are not going to like how they come out. Imagine having to coax them out, as if gently hand reeling in a flat, slimy, wriggling fishing line, inch by horrible, sphinctery inch.  

4. Foot binding

Many historians think the Cinderella story originated in China. In other cultures, it seems odd that a woman could have feet of such a unique size that they would distinguish her from every other woman in the village. But if it were coming from China during the last millennium, that plot point makes sense. A tradition that likely started around the late 10th century, foot binding turned feet into “golden lotuses.” Stinking, rotten lotuses with folds so deep they couldn’t be cleaned. (Men never saw that part. Women kept their feet covered in the presence of even their husbands). Lotuses began their blooms when mothers folded under the little toes of their toddler daughters, tying them there as tight as possible. It was extremely painful. The practice permanently deformed and crippled the women who it was done to, but that was the point. Her wobbly walk and doll-feet told the world she was too wealthy and cherished to labor. The practice wasn’t completely stamped out until the communist revolution in 1949, when labor became a virtue. You can see a photo of it here, but beware—it's gruesome.

5. Tho-Radia Radioactive Cosmetics

Kelly Michals, Flickr // CC BY NC-2.0

The best thing about the 1930s French cosmetic line Tho-radia wasn’t that its manufacturers added thorium chloride and radium bromide for extra pep! It was that one of the names on the box was “Curie.” Of course Dr. Alfred Curie had absolutely no relation to the genius scientists who pioneered (and died from) radioactive research, Marie or Pierre Curie, but so what? With any name, Tho-radia would still provide a woman with every possible beauty miracle imaginable. “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.” It’s all vitality and freshness till someone’s jaw falls off. 

6. Deadly nightshade

Plbmak, Flickr // CC BY NC-ND-2.0

Deadly Nightshade is also called Belladonna, or “Beautiful Woman.” In one of those cases where the question, “who ever thought to even try this?” arises, women would squeeze drops of Deadly Nightshade into their eyes. This caused the eye to dilate, because big innocent pupils are sexy. The blindness that was reported to result from extended use? Well, if it’s that or dying alone impoverished and unloved…here’s poison in your eye.  

7. Lead face powder

The 1700s were rough on your complexion. Even if you don’t count the miasmic filth in which even the richest of people lived, there were an untold number of pox diseases a person had to avoid or more likely survive to make it to adulthood. These pox left scars, and the best way to cover these and other imperfections was lead face powder. It's great stuff—inexpensive and easy to make, coats well, and has a silky finish. But then, alas. Your brain starts to swell, paralysis creeps in, and pretty much every system in your body starts violently shutting down. But what a lovely, pale corpse you’ll be.

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11 Classic Facts About Converse Chucks
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iStock

Converse’s Chuck Taylor sneakers have been around since the early 20th century, but they haven’t changed much—until recently. In 2015, The Chuck II—a new line of Converse that looks much the same as the original shoe but with a little more padding and arch support—hit stores. In honor of the kicks' staying power, here are 11 facts about Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars.  

1. They were originally athletic shoes. 

The Converse All-Star debuted in 1917 as an athletic sneaker. It quickly became the number one shoe for basketball, then a relatively new sport (basketball was invented by James Naismith in 1891, but the NBA wasn't founded until 1946). By the late 1940s, most of the NBA sported Chucks. They remain the best-selling basketball shoes of all time, even though very few people wear them for basketball anymore. (Many teams switched to leather Adidas in the late ‘60s.)

2. Converse previously made rain boots.

The company started in 1908 as a rubber shoe company that produced galoshes.  

3. The All-Star design hasn’t really changed since 1917.

The updated Chuck II is Converse’s first real attempt to update its flagship product since the early 20th century. The company is understandably reticent to shake things up: All-Stars make up the majority of the company’s revenue, and like any classic design, its fans can be die-hards. In the 1990s, when the company tried to introduce All-Stars that were more comfortable and had slightly fewer design inconsistencies, hardcore aficionados rebelled. “They missed the imperfections in the rubber tape that lines the base of the shoe,” according to the Washington Post. The company went back to making a slightly imperfect shoe.

4. Chuck Taylor was a basketball player and trainer ...

Chuck Taylor in 1921. Image Credit: North Carolina State University via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Taylor was a Converse salesman and former professional basketball player who traveled around the country teaching basketball clinics (and selling shoes) starting in the 1920s. His name was added onto an ankle patch on the sneaker in 1932

5. ... And though he sold a lot of Chucks, he wasn't always a great coach.

Taylor is in large part responsible for the shoe’s popularity with athletes (the company rewarded him with an unlimited expense account), but his training advice wasn’t always the best. As former University of North Carolina player Larry Brown told Spin in an oral history of the shoe:

My greatest memory of Chuck Taylor—probably ’61 or ’62—is that he told Coach [Dean] Smith that he’d make us special weighted shoes in Carolina blue. The idea was that we’d wear the weighted shoes in practice, and then during the games, we’d run faster and jump higher. Well, we tried them for one practice and everyone pulled a hamstring.

6. Converse didn’t intend for their shoes to be punk.

“We always thought of ourselves as an athletic shoe company,” John O’Neil, who oversaw Converse’s marketing from 1983 to 1997, told Spin. “We wanted to sell a wholesome shoe.” The company was still touting its shoes as basketball sneakers as late as 2012, and some of its non-Chucks sneakers still have pro endorsers.

7. The company owns a recording studio.

Finally embracing its role in the music scene, the company launched Rubber Tracks, a Brooklyn-based recording studio where bands can record for free, in 2011.

8. Not all the Ramones were fans. 

Chuck Taylors are associated with punk rockers, especially the Ramones, but not everyone in the band wore them. “Dee Dee and I switched over to the Chuck Taylors because they stopped making [the style of] U.S. Keds and Pro-Keds [that we liked],” Marky Ramone told Spin. “Joey never wore them. He needed a lot of arch support and Chuck Taylors are bad for that.”

9. Chucks were initially only high tops. 

In 1962, Converse rolled out its first oxford Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Previously, it had just been a high-top shoe. Four years later, the company would introduce the first colors other than black and white.

10. Rocky ran in them.

In 1976, All-Stars were still considered a viable athletic shoe. If you look closely at the training montage from Rocky, you’ll see the boxer is wearing Chucks. 

11. Wiz Khalifa loves them. 

The rapper named his record label Taylor Ganag Records, in part due to his appreciation for Chuck Taylors. In 2013, he launched a shoe collection with Converse featuring 12 styles. 

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Adidas, Mari Orr
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Adidas Collaborates With Artists to Create Sneakers for All 50 States
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Iowa
Adidas, Mari Orr

For a recent project from Adidas and Refinery29, artists were given a women’s running shoe to use as their blank canvas. Their only prompt: Design the sneaker to represent one of the American states. The results are as varied and colorful as the nation itself.

As Adweek reports, the initiative, dubbed BOOST the Nation, takes an all-American look at Adidas’s UltraBOOST X footwear line. Refinery29 selected several artists—all women—to put their regional stamp on the plain white shoe. Some have been decorated with state flora. For instance, the Florida sneaker sports a tropical frond and the shoe for North Carolina is embellished with Venus flytraps. Food is also a popular theme: Wisconsin cheese, Maine lobster, and Tennessee barbecue have all been incorporated into sneaker designs.

Each sneaker is one-of-a kind and only available through auction. All proceeds raised will go directly to Women Win, an organization dedicated to bringing sports to adolescent girls around the world. The auction runs through Tuesday, July 11, with current bids ranging from $110 to $2000. Check out the artists’ handiwork that's for sale below.

Sneaker designed to look like a peach.
Georgia

Checkered running shoe.
Indiana

Adidas, Jen Mussari

Yellow running shoe with cracker tag.
Wisconsin

Sneaker designed to look like a mountain.
South Dakota
Adidas, Mari Orr

Sneaker decorated with wheat.
Oklahoma

Adidas, Jen Mussari

Sneaker embellished with fake roses and leaves.
Kentucky

Pink running shoe with lobster claw.
Maine

[h/t Adweek]

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