The Horrific Beauty Standards Which Were Used in The Past

beauty standards in the past

Contrary to popular belief, fashion is an age-old concept. Each epoch and each nation always had their own fashion trends and beauty standards. In search of beauty, some women even sacrificed their health, appearance, and even lives to meet these standards.

Besides that, different terrible and weird things used to be really normal for fashionable girls of the past. Most of these are not only degrading to a woman but also inhumane.

Here are 10 Terrifying Beauty Standards It’s Hard to Imagine Were Used in the Past:

Dangerous hair dye

In the 19th century, women used dangerous hair dyes. These dyes contained toxic silver nitrate or lead that affected their skin, hair, and lungs. And to top it off, their results were unpredictable and dangerous. For example, instead of black, their hair might turn green.

Creams with cyanide and mercury

Freckle and mole removing creams and lotions contained large amounts of cyanide and mercury that worked well with unwanted pigmentation. Consistently using these creams caused the body to accumulate mercury and shortened women’s lives by causing mercury poisoning.

Mercury (II) chloride, a really toxic substance that affects the central nervous system, was used to make skin smoother and to cure syphilis.

Cinnabar blush

Cinnabar is a mineral associated with recent volcanic activity. It refers to the common bright scarlet form of mercury(II) sulfide and was used to produce blush and powder. It was even used in Ancient Japan, Ancient China, and later served as a hair dye.

Like other mercury compounds, cinnabar is extremely toxic and just breathing in its vapors can cause severe poisoning.

Tapeworms to get rid of excess weight

Women didn’t have to spend time at the gym and follow strict diets, they just had to take pills with tapeworm eggs and they actually did it and lost weight. It came out later that they experienced various health problems: nausea, anemia, weakened immune system, fatigue, and headaches.

Flannelette dresses

During the Victorian era, flannelette dresses, shirts, and pajamas were extremely popular. But unfortunately, not all people could afford them. The expensive fabric was substituted with a cheap one that was very flammable. A person wearing pajamas made of this fabric and standing near or holding a candle could be injured or even die.


Each country has its own beauty standards. Like in Indonesia, women used to sharpen their teeth so that they resembled shark teeth. And conversely, they had their canine teeth filed flat. It’s said that you can even find these women today. The process of filing is rather painful and dangerous since different bacteria can easily enter the body through damaged enamel.

Teeth decorating

Around 2,000 years ago, ancient Mayans used to decorate their teeth with gold and precious stones. Teeth were drilled with small holes so that pieces of jade or gold could be inserted. In Ancient Egypt, there was a very similar technology. These accessories symbolized wealth and the high status of a person.

Skull deformation

There is another strange beauty ritual from ancient times. An elongated head resembling an egg was considered to be beautiful. Archaeologists have found these skulls everywhere: from South America to the Middle East. Apparently ancient people used to transform the shape of their skulls starting in childhood: children’s heads were tightly bound with bandages or wooden boards. These techniques had a really terrible effect on the brain and children often died from this practice.

Breast binding

Beauty standards of the middle ages claimed that women had to have small breasts due to the influence of Christianity. Women’s bodies had to be non-sexual: thin hips, flat breasts, small hands and feet, and thin lips. To achieve these results, girls used to bind their breasts starting in childhood, so much so that their mammary glands stopped developing.


In the middle ages, the cult of Mary made pregnancy together with sagging breasts popular. To be trendy, a woman had to be pregnant or wear a special fake belly. However, giving birth several times or wearing a heavy fake belly affected the spine and was really exhausting for women.

Written by Sandipan Kundu

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