Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Pursuit of Loveliness

While shimmying and shaking your way into those three-sizes-too-small spanx, extracting the most minute hair follicles crawling back out of your otherwise perfectly shaped eyebrows, and realizing far too late that those extra 4 inches in your shoes are making it so that you may have to amputate your feet when you finally arrive home, do you ever wonder: what would it be like if all female “torture” devices were never invented?

Ever since the innovative Egyptians figured they could use materials from their surroundings to make paints and adorn their face, a vanity insanity has spread over the human race like wildfire. There is almost no place on earth where you can find a civilization which hasn’t adopted a way to decorate themselves, whether it be for religious, cultural or social reasons, it is a fact that connects us all: humans crave ways to alter their physical appearances.

Although it is a characteristic seen throughout our species, women have often been the most attracted to this sort of physical illusion, putting their self-image as well as their bodies through extraordinarily painful, harmful and even deadly methods of achieving the desired “ideal beauty” of the time. From seemingly harmless everyday products such as makeup, to mindboggling surgeries like rib removal, we count down the most bizarre, extreme, and just simply cruel beauty routines of the past and present. Reader discretion is advised.


• 4000 BC :
Used to signify status, shield eyes from sunrays and, ironically enough, protect against eye diseases, Egyptians used crushed Kohl mixed with water to achieve the “almond” shape black line across the eyelids that became signature of their look. Kohl, being a form of lead sulphide does not serve as a disinfectant, as it was the popular belief of the time, instead it causes lead poisoning which can lead to kidney problems, neurological damage, and even death.

• Today:
We’ve gotten quite a bit savvier when it comes to choosing minerals to decorate such delicate parts of our body, such as our eyes. Still, we find mascaras made from petroleum-based formulas, which can cause serious allergic reactions. Other foes include the bacteria that accumulate in mascara tubes from trapped air particles over time as well as the deterioration of sight from mascara flaking into the eye.


• 800 – 146 BC:
If plucking the odd hair from your carefully perfected eyebrows seems like punishment enough, imagine spending hours of your day dedicated to extracting every hair follicle within the first few inches of your hairline. For ancient Greece women, this was no illusion. Higher foreheads were very much en vogue during the reign of the Greeks, a tradition that went on until Renaissance years. The removal of hair did not stop there, the Greeks desired to preserve women’s youth and innocence by the removal of all body hair as well. This meant women would literally run to abolish these unwanted fibres as soon as they could feel them growing! Loss of skin elasticity causing wrinkles on the skin from excessive pulling of follicles, redness sometimes turning into rashes and even infected ingrown hairs were a small price to pay to conserve an image of youth.

The women of the 21st century are not so different from those 6 centuries past. The illusion of the ideal woman is still determined by ideals set in ancient times. Although thankfully not considered indecent or an actual sin to let nature’s stockings grow, exterminating the unruly hairs from foreheads, eyebrows, armpits, legs, genitals, upper lip and even forearms are trends that with time have become increasingly more popular. From plucking to shaving to waxing and lasers, the evolution of hair removal strides on for those who enjoy showing off a little silky smooth skin and be bikini body ready.


• 12th Century:
In the 1270’s it was the trendy who had small feet in China and strutted about with tiny delicately decorated shoes. Women who wished to marry into money bound tightly their three-inch “golden lotuses”. Foot binding was practiced in China to achieve the allure of a petite foot, forcing the bones in the feet to break and binding them tightly to the bottom of their feet until the toes reached the heel and would forever fit the dainty size three shoes of the era. This practice outlawed in 1912.

• Today:
The longer and slenderer the legs, the better! From Manolo to Louboutin, high heeled shoes are the ultimate symbol of femininity for the modern woman. These contraptions which lift the heel to unthinkable lengths, up to 7 inches from toe level, do not only give structure to the leg, toning it and giving it shape, women who do not stray from the clacker shoes are prone to experience inflamed nerves and ligaments, shortened Achilles tendon muscles, toe deformity, bunions, corns, ingrown toenails, and a posture worthy of Quasimodo since adjusting back, hips and shoulders is necessary to achieve balance in what feminists throughout the ages have come to know as mechanisms of incapacitation.

From the time humans discovered how to mutate their physical appearance; extreme practices have been born out of a desire to achieve the utopian beauty imagined at the time. Head binding, neck rings, lip disks, suffocating and organ damaging corsets, crazy crash diets, dangerous intake of sun rays, and an immense dose of plastic surgery are just a small representation of the dedication and pain people, especially women have endured in search of the ultimate ideal beauty standards we have set on ourselves through religious following of figures of power, media and social pressures to achieve the vogue of an era. Today’s woman is more diverse and rejects certain conformist ways of the past, yet we still subject ourselves to daily pain, even if “real beauty shouldn’t require so much effort and so much suffering”, as Dr. Hugo Schwyzer author of Healthy is the New Skinny states “[

No comments: