Suffering for Beauty


Confession: I subscribe to way too many fashion/beauty magazines. I’m addicted to them–my bedroom is full of copies of Vogue, Elle, In Style, Allure. It’s like lipgloss porn. And with a new Sephora open near my house, I have a place to go for a prime “fix.” (The funny thing is, I read about all these new products, make lists, pore over the makeup counters, sometimes even buy stuff. But I always go back to the same things in the end–Clinique eyeshadow, Chanel lipstick, Maybelline Great Lash).

In the January Allure there’s an article called “Beauty Secrets” about some of the extreme lengths women go to in order to look beautiful. Waxing, plucking, Botoxing, etc. One woman slathers herself all over with olive oil and wraps up in a sheet, mummy-like, before going to bed. But her ex-boyfriend was “appalled. I thought we were past this gotta-be-a-goddess stage. But no.”

Of course, suffering for beauty is nothing new. We’ve been doing it since Egyptian women stuck perfumed cones of wax on their heads and let them melt. Maybe cavewomen even set up day spas in open rock formations. One of my favorite “cosmetic history” sources isn’t Regency but Elizabethan, a 16th century pamphlet called “A dialogue of the faire perfectioning of ladies.” I have a modern reprint of this interesting early version of Allure, written as a dialogue between two kinswomen, Raffaella and Margaret, as Raffaella guides Maragret through the intricacies of glamour. She recommends such things as a lotion of “Malmsey wine, white vinegar, honey, lily flowers, fresh beans, verdigris, right silver, rock salt, sandiver, rock alum, and sugar alum.” At least this isn’t quite as toxic as some of the other preparations, like white lead paint for the face and bosom! Or like this one:

“…One takes pure silver and quicksilver and, when they are ground in the mortar, one adds ceruse and burnt rock alum, and then for a day they are ground together again and afterwards moistened with mastic until all is liquid; then all is boiled in rainwater and, the boiling down done, one casts some sublimate upon the mortar; this is done three times and the water cast on the fourth time is kept together with the body of the lye.”

Would you try this sort of thing in order to be fashionable? What about in your modern life? Any favorite beauty products, whether or not it involves olive oil? (because I’m always looking for new things to try!). Or do you have any beauty resolutions for the new year? Mine is to remember to reapply my lipstick, instead of just slapping it on in the morning and forgetting about it…

About Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Writer (as Amanda McCabe, Laurel McKee, Amanda Carmack), history geek, yoga enthusiast, pet owner!
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