Throughout history, both women and men have done some pretty outrageous things to adhere to the beauty standards of their day, and let’s face it, that definitely hasn’t changed. Today, we’re still bleaching our teeth, lying in tanning beds, straightening or curling our hair, and pushing up our breasts with all sorts of contraptions.
Lipstick made of bugs and ants (Ancient Egypt)
Perhaps it was in Egypt where lipstick was the most popular. Here, almost the entire population, except for poor people, wore lipstick — and it wasn’t even for vanity but for protection from the burning sun and harsh winds.
Foot binding (from the 10th century until the early 20th century, China)
Foot binding was used for changing the shape of young girls’ feet so that they would remain small. These feet were called “lotus feet” and symbolized the high status of a woman. Since this practice immobilized women, they usually ended up developing a number of disabilities that remained with them for their entire life.
Hairline plucking in the medieval England
According to Women and Girls in the Middle Ages by Kay Eastwood, this beauty ideal of a long and oval face first became popular in the 1300s. In addition to hairline plucking, women also accentuated the look by plucking their eyebrows until they achieved a “barely-there line.” Though this was the trend of the day, the church was not happy about it. It was considered a mortal sin for a woman to pluck hair from her face and head unless she did it to “remedy severe disfigurement or so as not to be looked down on by her husband.”
Cosmetics based on radioactive elements (1930’s)
For example, a popular line of Tho-Radia creams allowed its manufacturers make big money despite the fact that there were radium and thorium in their ingredients. The manufacturers promised women shining and radiant skin. Authorities of that time probably didn’t realize the dangerous side effects of these ingredients.
Bleeding in 6th century Europe
Throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, ladies wanted super-duper pale skin because tanned skin was associated with outdoor labor. Pale skin meant you were affluent and could just hang out inside all day. The pale look was popular for many hundreds of years, but it was achieved by many different means throughout time. One of the weirdest and most dangerous methods was popular in the 6th century. During this time, women would often bleed themselves with leeches to achieve a pale complexion.