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Suffering for Beauty

Since the beginning of time, women have suffered in the name of beauty. In this article, I will share the beauty secrets of some of the most famous women through history.

Elizabeth I washed her hair in lye and cleaned her teeth with a cloth of linen. She used a bright white make-up, a concoction of lead, egg whites, and poppy seeds, to hide her flawed complexion. She was a thin woman and wore many layers to give the appearance of bulk. She kept her figure by engaging in hearty walks, riding horses, and dancing. She wore fine clothes and decorated her person with jewels and flowers.


Cleopatra has long been considered the beauty of antiquity. She worked hard to achieve this reputation, though. Cleopatra wore a lot of make-up, and even wrote a volume on cosmetics. She sat for hours as paints were applied to her face. She wore exotic perfumes, bathed in donkey's milk, rubbed her skin with aloe vera, and put oil of cinnamon in her hair. Old Cleo knew that being a beauty meant looking good and smelling good...


...Not so for Isabella of Spain. Though she was a marvelous dresser, wearing richly embroidered gowns, velvet gloves and gold embellished hats. She stunk to holy hell. Rumor has it that she only took two baths in her entire life. (Eww)


Marie Antoinette was the ultimate slave to fashion, rivaling even the outrageously image-conscious Cleopatra. During the beginning of her reign, the French Queen spent lavishly on elaborate gowns and bejeweled accessories. Her widely hooped and panniered dressed required the assistance of many servants. The queen was fond of rose water and orange water, which she used for perfume and to revive herself after a swoon. Perhaps the greatest pains she took for appearances-sake, was to endure hours in a chair while her physiognomist spun her hair in wild concoctions. Her complicated hair-do's included vases with sprouting flowers or toy ships in full-sail. These hair-raising works of art stood several feet high and were painful. Some women, including Marie Antoinette, fainted from the pain of having their hair pulled so tight. The hair, which was powdered, would remain styled for days, which meant women oftentimes slept sitting up to avoid messing their stylish do's. Frequently, lice and bugs would nest in the hair and scalps were broken and bloody. Marie Antoinette would sit for hours having her hair spun into wild concoctions.

To read more about Marie Antoinette's hair trials and tribulations, please read HAIR RAISING FACTS.
 Queen Victoria of England, whose very name is synonymous with a period of respectability and strict moral values, was a bit of a renegade. Women in Victorian England were supposed to be delicate and lilting, some even resorted to placing leeches behind their ears to drain the color in their faces. Victoria, a stout woman with a ruddy complexion, loved the outdoors and believed brisk hikes were good for the skin. She kept a closet full of beautiful, lacy gowns and loved trinkets, including brooches and lockets. Despite her love for feminine "pretties" Victoria had a very practical side. As one contemporary fashion magazine wrote, "One point of dress has been much amended lately, owing to the good sense of our Queen. It was formerly thought ungenteel to wear anything but thin Morocco shoes, or very slight boots in walking. Clogs and galoshes were necessarily resorted to. Victoria has assumed the Balmoral petticoat, than which, for health, comfort, warmth and effect, no invention was ever better. She has courageously accompanied it with the Balmoral boot, and even with the mohair and coloured stocking."

8 comments:

stephanie said...

Yikes! I would NOT have fared well during those times, not well at all. What some women did for "beauty" is simply amazing and definitely has a "wow" factor. Wow... :)

Jill Domschot aka Arabella said...

Oh, dear, what we women will do for beauty. I've always found shaving to be barbaric (no pun intended because women don't have beards!) Yet, I still do it. And that's not to mention sunscreen! Gwenneth Paltrow was recently diagnosed with early signs of osteoporosis due to a severe vitamin D deficiency, all in the name of keeping her skin fair and wrinkle-free!

Amalia K said...

Hello Leah! I don't think I've ever cringed so much from reading a blog post. I suppose the way you write also gave a fuller impact to that! Hahaa!

Well, thank God we now live in a world where women could wear hiking boots with a skirt and stripey stockings with a dress! And to be frowned upon? Ah, they could frown upon all they like and it wouldn't matter a bit!!

Love this post. :))

Rowenna said...

I love seeing what was considered attractive and fashionable centuries ago...makes me wonder which of our modern beauty ideals will seem ridiculous in a few decades!

Leah Marie Brown said...

I am so glad you all enjoyed this post. I will be posting a similar piece with more gory details on my Marie Antoinette site (but about 18th century beauty practices). I'll let you know when it is posted.

Have a fabulous day!

BonjourRomance said...

Bonjour Leah,
Wow, I love history, antiques and anything vintage, and often think I was born in the wrong era - I have changed my mind!
Thank you for your visit and follwoing along. You have such an intersting blog. I'm a new follower and will be back soon!
Bon week,
Mimi

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Anonymous said...

Hey Vickie, lol...

-Thank You
Domingo