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Weird beauty rituals- function or fad?

By Grace Gerardi

Humanity has valued beauty for millennia.  However, the definition of beauty is nebulous. Every culture has developed its own standards of attractiveness- standards which change over time. The tan, slender woman that rules modern America’s vision of beauty would have been unattractive in Renaissance Europe, which valued curvy, fair-skinned bodies. In fact, she would have been encouraged to use any methods necessary to conform to the ideal, just as modern women alter their appearances. So, what would it look like if one combined the weirdest standards of beauty throughout history? The answer: not pretty.  

The basis for any effective beauty routine is healthy skin. In ancient Egypt, this was achieved using a variety of face masks. One such mask was thought to be utilized by Cleopatra two thousand years ago, and consisted of crocodile dung, honey and the milk of a donkey. Milk was a popular astringent, and by combining it with dung it was able to be used as a face mask. Today, this practice would be abhorred- the health risks definitely outweigh any potential benefits!

Oral hygiene is also important. The whitening properties of many modern toothpastes are the biggest part of toothpaste advertisements. However, during Japan’s Meiji period, which spanned from 1868 to 1912, black teeth were favorable. Married women used a solution of iron filings dissolved in vinegar and vegetable tannins to create an obsidian sheen on their teeth. This practice, called ohaguro by aristocrats, was a symbol of marriage and may have represented a woman’s maturity. The pearly whites that are desired today would not have compared to the inky luster of ohaguro.

To complete the look, makeup must be applied. In many cases in history, this meant powdering the face. During the time of Queen Elizabeth I, whose rule lasted from 1558 to 1603, a combination of skin-whitening tools was used. Darker skin and freckles were supposedly proof of manual labor and lower class status. Many women applied egg whites to their faces in order to achieve a glossy complexion. On top of this, white lead powder was applied, which significantly lightened the face. This powder was supplemented with arsenic pills taken orally. According to New York Magazine, arsenic would whiten the skin by destroying red blood cells. Although these practices may seem extreme, modern women will undergo invasive surgery to conform to society’s beauty ideals.

So, are these practices all that different from those used today? Weird beauty trends emerge daily- snail facials, fish pedicures, and snake massages are popular in modern beauty markets. In the end, beauty trends are just fads, and people should not put too much pressure on themselves to achieve them. Centuries, even just decades from now, the aesthetic expectations of women will be entirely different. Because they are not functional nor permanent, women should feel no pressure to conform to standards of beauty. 

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