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Blue-Blooded Beauties

Oct 11, 2011

by Chappell Ellison

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I’ve watched my fair share of makeover shows; I can’t help but stick around to see what the overworked mom-of-two looks like after a wardrobe update and a trendy haircut. After brows are plucked, hair is straightened, and lip gloss is applied, a fresh woman emerges with a renewed lease on life.

Unlike the majority of the animal kingdom, where the male species are the more colorful, showy counterparts, human females typically go to extremes to appear attractive, often putting their own health in danger (tanning beds, I’m looking at you). The hazardous cosmetic habits of ladies is a long history, dating back to ancient Egypt when women painted their unmentionables with gold. However, a much more recent example from only 200 years ago shows how these trends truly are a product of social attitudes.

During the first three decades of the 19th century, Romanticism was in. Mozart and Beethoven were creating symphonies that practically swooned, while J.M.W Turner’s paint brush seemed to sigh across the canvas. It was a rebellion against the rise of scientific thinking, causing the world’s most creative minds to explore and revel in deep, personal emotions. The trend extended into female behavior in a ridiculous manner — ostentatious emotional eruptions including fainting spells, shrieks and sighs were all the rage. But the most curious trend of the Romantic era was the lengths to which women altered their appearance to maintain the look of perma-melancholy. The more waif-like, the better — pale complexions, white powdered faces and a breakable countenance were prized qualities for many women. By this point in fashion, dresses were designed to further encourage such behavior: bustling petticoats added to dramatic sweeping motions across a room, and shoulders were set so low, women couldn’t even lift their arms over their heads. The trend at its most extreme found women using chemically harmful makeup to create dark circles under their eyes and enhance the appearance of blue veins.

The Butterick Publishing Company released a manual entitled Beauty: Its Attainment and Preservation, a 19th century guide to maintaining a proper appearance. With such sentences as, “Freckles are great destroyers of one’s peace of mind as well as of one’s beauty,” the 21st century doesn’t seem like such a bad place after all. In a chapter entitled “Vein Mixtures,” the manual outlines the best methods of achieving the fashionable palid look of the time. To create a blue tint, it recommends a chalk made into a paste with gum-arabic, water, and Prussian blue powder. It also advises an easier method, a popular blue-colored grease at the time: “It comes in pencil form and is simply drawn over the skin wherever a vein shows through. The mark is then softened down by rubbing, and the veins thus accentuated make the skin seem all the fairer and more delicate.”

Until the 1920s, pale skin was a sign of gentility, proudly maintained by women whose wan features indicated a life above the working class. Fortunately, women no longer have to resort to lead-infused powders and greases to exude beauty. But maybe we shouldn’t be so hasty to scoff at trends of the past; today, women chemically straighten their hair, laser hair out of its follicles, and apply medicated ointment to grow freakishly long eyelashes. As someone with frighteningly pale skin — no need to paint blue veins on this gal — I hope that in twenty years, we’ll look back at fake tans and other extreme beauty trends and say, “What were we thinking?”

What are today’s most ridiculous trends in cosmetics?

Bath and Beauty Category

6 Featured Comments

  • KettleConfections

    KettleConfections said 6 years ago Featured

    It's so fascinating to read about how beauty trends and standards change throughout history. What's interesting now is the mainstreaming of plastic surgery with new alternatives that are cheaper than standard surgical procedures. Many family doctors, opthalmologists now administer botox, collagen fills, and there's now a lifestyle magazine for it at newstands called New Beauty where normal everyday women are featured in articles showing what they've had done.

  • OnlyOriginalsByAJ

    OnlyOriginalsByAJ said 6 years ago Featured

    I used to be a nurse in an OR for over 10 years and some of the women that would come in for plastic surgery.....just sad. There was this one woman, she had several facelifts, a browlift, her eyes done, a chin implant, her lips injected, the list goes on. She looked terrible! Just like a Joker. Now I'm a psychologist and I realize she was obviously sick and her surgeon was unethical to keep operating on her like that. Sad stuff.

  • nevinackered

    nevinackered said 6 years ago Featured

    The phrase 'pain is beauty' is something that gets thrown around a lot, so it makes you question if that was a phrase we came up with to make us feel better about using the ridiculous methods of lead-infused powders/foot binding/waist training/botox/tanning beads to reach our idealised levels of beauty, or if it's something we actually believe - that we can only achieve beauty through agonising procedures.

  • breadandroses2

    breadandroses2 said 6 years ago Featured

    That pale fashion was indeed that of the gentry and landed classes and class snobbery. Tan skin indicated actual working for a living, frequently doing manual labor and/or being outdoors in the sun. It was a sure sign of those who were regarded as 'lower class'. Humans sure are strange at times.

  • TheWeirdGirlWorkshop

    TheWeirdGirlWorkshop said 6 years ago Featured

    Well- people are currently injecting themselves with Botox, a known toxin, and getting cosmetic butt implants. Have we really changed all that much from lead powders and blood letting?

  • Feille

    Feille said 6 years ago Featured

    What's interesting is how we want what we don't have. Perception is everything. Darker skinned women try to lighten their skin. Paler complexions try to darken (funny about that how people tan now to show a life of leisure!). Those with big lips and tushes abhor them. Those without get surgically augmented. The grass always seem greener on the other side, huh? There's nothing wrong with doing a little somethin' somethin' if it makes you feel better about yourself. The trick is to recognize when you've crossed the line and are harming yourself. For some people, by that time, their perception is warped and they cannot see what's happening. Add buying in to society's constant barrage of images that are non too healthy, and it's no wonder we are where we are! Great article!

56 comments

  • lovelygifts

    lovelygifts said 6 years ago

    So true, the extremes women go through, the idea of a natural beauty is almost nonexistent today!

  • myvintagecrush

    myvintagecrush said 6 years ago

    First off, great article! People rarely contemplate why fashion is, well, fashion; and merely brush it off as fodder. Secondly, where to start with the trendy extremes we take on today?? Plastic surgery, harmful chemical compounds, fur, etc, etc..

  • tensirk

    tensirk said 6 years ago

    It has always been interesting how everything changes throughout the centuries. Style is no exception and I could not imagine myself running around like the women in those days. Kristen http://bodyofyoga.wordpress.com/

  • TheNightjar

    TheNightjar said 6 years ago

    Great interesting article! What freaks me out today are the "fat freezing" things like Zerona...really creepy....but applying blue pencil to look fragile is pretty extreme as well...at least woman don't have to pretend to be weak anymore

  • elleestpetite

    elleestpetite said 6 years ago

    Very interesting. Looks like trends have always been extreme, no matter what time period you look at.

  • MyEverAfter

    MyEverAfter said 6 years ago

    Fascinating!

  • mrusconi

    mrusconi said 6 years ago

    It is interesting to me how we have gone to extremes even centuries back to maintain beauty. I looked at the link provided in the article and skimmed through some of the book too. Fasinating stuff! I can't imagine trying to make dark circles more visible though. I try to hide those.

  • volkerwandering

    volkerwandering said 6 years ago

    Great article! I agree, fake tans are ridiculous! It's one thing to try tanning lotion, but those who flock to the tanning bed should be aware that it is not healthy. I like to call them "wrinkle beds". Embrace your pale skin ladies!

  • RossLab

    RossLab said 6 years ago

    Beauty standards are indeed something changeable and nowadays quite hyperrealistic. I'd be nice if wrinkles could add charms and character to women, too!

  • KettleConfections

    KettleConfections said 6 years ago Featured

    It's so fascinating to read about how beauty trends and standards change throughout history. What's interesting now is the mainstreaming of plastic surgery with new alternatives that are cheaper than standard surgical procedures. Many family doctors, opthalmologists now administer botox, collagen fills, and there's now a lifestyle magazine for it at newstands called New Beauty where normal everyday women are featured in articles showing what they've had done.

  • isforvintage

    isforvintage said 6 years ago

    Pale and proud!

  • wolfatc

    wolfatc said 6 years ago

    This was fascinating, I didn't know the dedication to that look was so extreme. But right now I am going to go google that gold paint thing because THAT is fascinating too!

  • peshka

    peshka said 6 years ago

    Interesting article

  • jessicabeyer

    jessicabeyer said 6 years ago

    This was a very interested read. I would love to go back in time and see for my self what women looked like and what there normal routines were and to get some tricks for my self :) like how their hair is always so beautiful in pictures and the way they made perfumes :) :)

  • dianecostanza

    dianecostanza said 6 years ago

    Fascinating!

  • seaandstonestudio

    seaandstonestudio said 6 years ago

    Anti-aging anything.

  • tinselizzi

    tinselizzi said 6 years ago

    Though the beauty tips may be a little strange to us, the book actually offers great advice about healthy sleep habits, maintaining a positive outlook on life, and learning to eat wholesome foods. It even discourages the use of heavy cosmetics if they aren't desired. It's an interesting, intimate window into the usually hidden life of Victorian women!

  • PattiTrostle

    PattiTrostle said 6 years ago

    Great article!

  • PattiTrostle

    PattiTrostle said 6 years ago

    Great article! Interesting.."fads" have been around for centuries!

  • TheMillineryShop

    TheMillineryShop said 6 years ago

    Women, at least leisure class women, were encouraged to be ill, yes,sick, with doctors racking up patients by the dozens and classifying them as neurotic and asthenic or weak. We women certainly jumped through many hoops to get where we are today.

  • VermontFairies

    VermontFairies said 6 years ago

    "During the first three decades of the 19th century, Romanticism was in. Mozart and Beethoven were creating symphonies that practically swooned..." Mozart died in the 1790s. Interesting article, though! :)

  • LittleWrenPottery

    LittleWrenPottery said 6 years ago

    I hate tanning beds! Where I live has a horrible medical records for young women with skin cancer. One fashion trend I found fascinating is from the 1800's when large foreheads were popular. Women used to shave their hairlines back!

  • peaseblossomstudio

    peaseblossomstudio said 6 years ago

    Oh my! I inherited Scottish skin from my grandmother, and am very freckly! Further enhanced by the south Texas sun, I am both tan and freckly. Egads! :)

  • HibouCards

    HibouCards said 6 years ago

    that was a very interesting article and it shows us women that the tyranny of beauty (according to what is considered beautiful at different times in our history) is not new! I guess we are somehow willing participants to perpetuate such attitudes....

  • elegantjewelz

    elegantjewelz said 6 years ago

    im in the beauty industry and what i notice is that women just want to be noticed in a positive way so the more we get fix up the more attention we get..the sad part is when they get plastic surgery and end up looking like the joker..

  • OnlyOriginalsByAJ

    OnlyOriginalsByAJ said 6 years ago Featured

    I used to be a nurse in an OR for over 10 years and some of the women that would come in for plastic surgery.....just sad. There was this one woman, she had several facelifts, a browlift, her eyes done, a chin implant, her lips injected, the list goes on. She looked terrible! Just like a Joker. Now I'm a psychologist and I realize she was obviously sick and her surgeon was unethical to keep operating on her like that. Sad stuff.

  • JewellerybykateAus

    JewellerybykateAus said 6 years ago

    So true - it seems that everywhere people (especially women) are striving for what they consider to be "perfection" - without realising that in many ways they already are.....

  • Iammie

    Iammie said 6 years ago

    Interesting article!

  • nevinackered

    nevinackered said 6 years ago Featured

    The phrase 'pain is beauty' is something that gets thrown around a lot, so it makes you question if that was a phrase we came up with to make us feel better about using the ridiculous methods of lead-infused powders/foot binding/waist training/botox/tanning beads to reach our idealised levels of beauty, or if it's something we actually believe - that we can only achieve beauty through agonising procedures.

  • MindfulCrafts

    MindfulCrafts said 6 years ago

    I hear you girl, Whoever decided cancer-beds and fried hair was hot may have been fried themselves. I'm a true believer in natural beauty. Show off your attributes and highlight your true radiance. Don't be brain-washed into believing your not good enough the way you are. If you want to come off sexy sprits on a little confidence instead of going to the tanning bed. Confidence in who you are and radiant happiness are sexier than any cosmetic procedure. Remember, what you think about you bring about, so avoid thinking negatively about yourself and start thinking positive thoughts instead. This mental shift is the perfect remedy for a beautiful and radiant look . :) Peace&Joy, Cass

  • MissyNite

    MissyNite said 6 years ago

    Chappell - thank you for including the link to the free eBook,'Beauty--its attainment and preservation" ... what a wonderful curiosity!

  • Thewomblequeen

    Thewomblequeen said 6 years ago

    What strange creatures are human beings..

  • kathyjohnson3

    kathyjohnson3 said 6 years ago

    Amazing how the times have changed. I think that women today are more empowered and that beauty lies within. Sure it would be nice to have a smooth wrinkle free face but I feel Iv'e earned every one of them (I like to call them laugh lines) :)

  • breadandroses2

    breadandroses2 said 6 years ago Featured

    That pale fashion was indeed that of the gentry and landed classes and class snobbery. Tan skin indicated actual working for a living, frequently doing manual labor and/or being outdoors in the sun. It was a sure sign of those who were regarded as 'lower class'. Humans sure are strange at times.

  • FreakyPeas

    FreakyPeas said 6 years ago

    Who has time for all these beauty trends? I barely can get a shower in!

  • blevison Admin

    blevison said 6 years ago

    Such a great piece. As my high school hair stylist used to say, "Beauty is pain." Always has been / always will be.

  • AdornmentsNYC

    AdornmentsNYC said 6 years ago

    great post! Fascinating!

  • TheWeirdGirlWorkshop

    TheWeirdGirlWorkshop said 6 years ago Featured

    Well- people are currently injecting themselves with Botox, a known toxin, and getting cosmetic butt implants. Have we really changed all that much from lead powders and blood letting?

  • HopePhotoArt

    HopePhotoArt said 6 years ago

    Great article and the link to the manual regard Beauty is really interesting to read.

  • MissHildebrandt

    MissHildebrandt said 6 years ago

    The hazardous cosmetic habits of ladies is what sometimes drives me to paint. Great right up, totally up our ally! Cheers, X CL

  • tatteredrouge

    tatteredrouge said 6 years ago

    Wouldn't it be remarkable if we could just "be ourselves" glowing from our internal beauty, rather than feel the need to upgrade, snip and tuck up and upset our natural self? As long as there's beauty products to be sold, we will respond to the marketing...driven by the need to beautify at whatever physical cost. We've become highly trained to jump through those marketing hoops.

  • Parachute425

    Parachute425 said 6 years ago

    Where would we be without freckles?!! Freckles rule. I think Botox injections will give people a laugh in the future. They will shake their heads and wonder what were these people thinking!

  • NellieFellow

    NellieFellow said 6 years ago

    I've always said I was born in the wrong era. My hair naturally does large tight curls and my skins makes me look like Snow White!

  • katrinaalana

    katrinaalana said 6 years ago

    Interesting article. I never knew that they enhanced veins or dark circles under their eyes. Makes me think of all the crazy beauty trends we have these days.

  • thenakedbird

    thenakedbird said 6 years ago

    I've always thought that was funny too, how with most other animals, the males attract the females with bright feathers or dances but it's opposite in humans! I think the most ridiculous thing women do today is bleach their skin! I'd like fuller lips, a smaller nose and narrower hips... but I am who I am, and I'm not going to change. Jennifer gray was so adorable and as soon as she changed her nose she blended right in. What may seem horrible to us may be the very thing that makes us memorable to others, in a very good way!

  • SweetSincerity

    SweetSincerity said 6 years ago

    Today, women are the first to say that they believe that true beauty comes from within, yet the beauty industry STILL makes billions of dollars from fake tans, wrinkle creams, and diet pills. So, it's one thing to say that we don't subscribe to cultural concepts of beauty, it's another thing entirely to TRULY believe it.

  • Zalavintage

    Zalavintage said 6 years ago

    Have any of you read books such as When Drummer's Were Women, talking about how we lived 5 thousand years ago, the global goddess worship of the 3rd millennium, Venus dolls found in early settlements, Egyptians painting themselves gold, it actually connects to these crazy beauty trends studying the history of women. An enlightening read.

  • Feille

    Feille said 6 years ago Featured

    What's interesting is how we want what we don't have. Perception is everything. Darker skinned women try to lighten their skin. Paler complexions try to darken (funny about that how people tan now to show a life of leisure!). Those with big lips and tushes abhor them. Those without get surgically augmented. The grass always seem greener on the other side, huh? There's nothing wrong with doing a little somethin' somethin' if it makes you feel better about yourself. The trick is to recognize when you've crossed the line and are harming yourself. For some people, by that time, their perception is warped and they cannot see what's happening. Add buying in to society's constant barrage of images that are non too healthy, and it's no wonder we are where we are! Great article!

  • VictoriaWest

    VictoriaWest said 6 years ago

    Very interesting article - I had no idea there was a time where veins were "in". I don't really like how some of mine show, and I always have a hint of dark circles because of my fair complexion - it's funny how these attributes were once desired, and now we cover them up with makeup. Too bad I can't read more of the book you linked in the article!

  • unfortunatecookie

    unfortunatecookie said 6 years ago

    The extremes women go through to feel more beautiful and/or confident is frightening and really is quite sad. Thanks to the media, there are girls/boys and women/men everywhere that do crazy things to feel attractive. An example would be people developing eating disorders to be more thin... It's all very dangerous, and could eventually kill you... I don't think society has changed all that much over the years. The trends of those times have faded away and new ones have started, but the extremes people will go to achieve a certain look remains. We may not use powders with lead in them anymore, but I don't see it being much different than the dangers of tanning beds and other cosmetic procedures.

  • ToothNailTail

    ToothNailTail said 6 years ago

    Seriously fabulous article! I love the guidebooks that have been written throughout eras long passed about female beauty and maintenance, I have one from the 40's but Beauty its Attainment and Preservation blows it out of the water! Great illustrations, too. Thank you for writing this :)

  • AriaCouture

    AriaCouture said 6 years ago

    I've been called Casper in the summer, but we'll see who gets the last laugh when I'm not the one with skin cancer. I'm already often mistaken for several years younger. While women don't have to appeal weak anymore, it's important to realize that it's not a sign of women being stronger. The whole point to beauty regimes is to appear attractive to others. 200 years ago it was a pale skin tone with visible veins. Today it's fake tans and boob inplants and chemicals on the eyes. Different look, same reason. To appear attractive, usually to men.

  • BanglewoodSupplies

    BanglewoodSupplies said 6 years ago

    Very interesting.

  • HiddenMeadows

    HiddenMeadows said 6 years ago

    My hair forms loose ringlets if not straightened "my straightener doesn't even get them all the way out", i have super pale skin too. I try to use all natural makeup and barely any if i do. I'm still phasing out black eye marker and nail polish. Even though i have such a light skin tone i wouldn't dare go to a tanning salon. Fads are fads, people shouldn't have to suffer for something that will pass by in the briefest of moments. … Great article by the way! I had never heard of such things. ^_^

  • AJourneyThroughTime

    AJourneyThroughTime said 6 years ago

    I liked the blog, especially the history of it. Very interesting. A lot of the extremes people go to scare me. It comes down to self acceptance. Knowing that if you don't have those perfect whatever your still a beautiful individual and you. Unfortunately society doesn't promote that, it something you have to find within yourself. And I think we will all look back when we are grandmas and thank ourselves. All those procedures will ruin your body over time, and will need to be maintained through the years. That's a lot of money. And for what? A false sense of security.

  • xxcemetarygirl420xx

    Rachael Tickner from xxcemetarygirl420xx said 4 years ago

    Not a lot of women notice but there's arsenic in many hair colors my aunt has suffered poisoning from Garnier Nutrisse. I liked your article and I thought it was relevant.

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