CLOSE
Original image
Wikimedia Commons

7 Terrifying Beauty Practices from History

Original image
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.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
Why Do Shorts Cost as Much as Pants?
Original image
iStock

Shorts may feel nice and breezy on your legs on a warm summer’s day, but they’re not so gentle on your wallet. In general, a pair of shorts isn’t any cheaper than a pair of pants, despite one obviously using less fabric than the other. So what gives?

It turns out clothing retailers aren’t trying to rip you off; they’re just pricing shorts according to what it costs to produce them. Extra material does go into a full pair of pants but not as much as you may think. As Esquire explains, shorts that don’t fall past your knees may contain just a fifth less fabric than ankle-length trousers. This is because most of the cloth in these items is sewn into the top half.

Those same details that end up accounting for most of the material—flies, pockets, belt loops, waist bands—also require the most human labor to make. This is where the true cost of a garment is determined. The physical cotton in blue jeans accounts for just a small fraction of its price tag. Most of that money goes to pay the people stitching it together, and they put in roughly the same amount of time whether they’re working on a pair of boot cut jeans or some Daisy Dukes.

This price trend crops up across the fashion spectrum, but it’s most apparent in pants and shorts. For example, short-sleeved shirts cost roughly the same as long-sleeved shirts, but complicated stitching in shirt cuffs that you don’t see in pant legs can throw this dynamic off. There are also numerous invisible factors that make some shorts more expensive than nearly identical pairs, like where they were made, marketing costs, and the brand on the label. If that doesn’t make spending $40 on something that covers just a sliver of leg any easier to swallow, maybe check to see what you have in your closet before going on your next shopping spree.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Original image
Musee YSL Marrakech
arrow
Design
A Pair of New Museums Will Honor Fashion Icon Yves Saint Laurent
Original image
Musee YSL Marrakech

In 2008, the legendary Yves Saint Laurent—the 20th century fashion luminary whose designs were inspired by fine art, menswear, Moroccan caftans, and peasant garb, among other influences—passed away at the age of 71. Now, nearly a decade after his death, fashion fans can pay homage to the iconic designer by visiting two new museums dedicated to his life and work, according to ARTnews.

Morocco's Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech pays homage to the designer in a place he famously loved. (He first bought a house in the city in 1966, and his ashes were scattered there after his death.) In 1980, he and his partner Pierre Bergé bought Marrakech's Jardin Majorelle to prevent its destruction by developers, turning it into an immensely popular public garden. Located near the garden—along a street that is named after him—the new museum's permanent and temporary exhibits alike will feature clothing items like the designer's influential safari jackets and smoking suits along with sketches, accessories, and other archival items.

The Moroccan museum will serve as a sister institution to the new Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris, which is located at the site of Saint Laurent’s historic atelier and office in France. Following an extensive renovation of the building, the Paris institution will house thousands of sketches, photos, and fashion items related to the designer. The first exhibition will be a themed retrospective, “Yves Saint Laurent’s Imaginary Asia."

Both museums are scheduled to open in October. We’re already donning our smoking jackets.

[h/t ARTnews]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios