| Seeking Ideal Beauty
There seems to me to be definite parallels between this era, and the Elizabethan Age, when it comes to women, and their desperate struggle to either halt the natural aging of their appearance, or, to discover a miracle age-reversal method. During the sixteenth century, well-born women were obsessed with achieving, and maintaining, 'ideal' beauty, as they perceived it, to the point of what we would call 'madness'. What was this ideal they so longed to possess? Youthful unlined alabaster skin, overly bright eyes, red cheeks and lips, and the fairest of hair colors. Add to these attributes, a high, arched, pale eyebrow, and high brow line. To achieve the 'look' of perfection, these women made use of the period’s highly respected skin care techniques, and the finest cosmetics available to them, at the time.
First, the hairline was plucked back, an inch or more. Next, the eyebrows had to be plucked and arched, and the hair of the head and eyebrows was then bleached out using a variety of the most up-to-date bleaching agents, including urine, and sulfuric acid. Women, who could afford the high cost, purchased the top of the line skin whitener, 'ceruse', a mixture of white lead, and vinegar. This was used on the face, neck, bosom, and often the hands and arms as well. This concoction was used in conjunction with the 'skin firmer' of choice, uncooked egg white. This noxious mess was then spread on the face, neck and bosom, and allowed to dry, to tighten, and hide wrinkles, and give the face a white, unlined, mask-like finish. To imitate a blush and pout of youthful beauty, vermilion (mercuric sulfide) was THE choice for lips and cheeks. Faintly traced veins were then added to the skin surface of the bosom, for that 'natural' look. Drops of belladonna were then administered to the eyes, to achieve that desired 'sparkle', and the eyes were outlined in kohl. To care for their complexions, the ladies made use of what was highly touted as the best cleanser. Mercury mixed with alum, and honey. Of course, a common practice was the 'facial peel', and the most widely used, and highly regarded peel agent, was mercury.
These were the commonly accepted 'beauty' practices, of women over four hundred years ago, and yet, how 'in the moment', it all seems! We may not use mercury for chemical peels, but glycolic acid, salicylic acid, or lactic acid; trichloroacetic acid (TCA), or carbolic acid (phenol) - are used. We don't spread raw egg white on our complexions as a temporary skin firmer, but modern women may be surprised to learn, they could very well have used 'skin firmers' containing formaldehyde. We may gasp in horror over sixteenth century women applying poison to their faces; yet, Botox injections seem perfectly mundane, and safe, to us.
What were the long-term results of the use of their miracle beauty and facial products, for the classy Elizabethan lady? Complexions more rapidly aged, gray, shriveled, and mummified.
When I read of young women still in their twenties, opting for ‘beauty treatments’ that require they have their complexions chemically treated, or otherwise ravaged, I am appalled. I can only wonder at the long-term effects of such drastic measures. Mature women, obsessed with seeking some elusive anti-aging/age-reversal miracle, become nothing more than willing test-subjects for any new facial product/procedure that hits the market. Often, they have no idea as to the ingredients in the products they are smearing on their faces. Nor, do they take into consideration future effects of certain procedures. Perhaps, we modern women should consider the lessons of the past, and proceed with caution, and common sense, when choosing our ‘beauty’ regimens.
About the Author
Jeannine Schenewerk is a freelance writer residing in Atlanta, Georgia. Her recent article, 'Self Image and the Mature Woman', has been published on numerous sites. She maintains an informative, inspirational, website, 'In Touch With Jeannine', for mature women.
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