Historically the quest for beauty has oftentimes led to pain and sometimes-even death. But one mustn’t forget that beauty is indeed pain. In 1903, Mary Halliday’s autopsy revealed that she had two pieces of corset whalebone in her heart. As strange as this may sound, she was not the only woman to fall victim to the extreme fashion trends that dominated eras of the past centuries.
The look of dilated eyes during the Renaissance era was considered beautiful and seductive and Belladonna eye drops worked like magic. Many achieved the desired seductive look by administering the toxic eye drops, but it was not without sacrifice. Belladonna is an extremely toxic herb that often led to skin irritations, heart problems, and potential blindness. During Elizabethan Era tan and pigmented skin was unfashionable and an indicator of low social standing so many women turned to lead face paint to achieve the pale look that was a clear indicator of nobility. Lead paint did have some unpleasant side effects that included hair loss, stomach pains, rotting teeth, headaches, and sometimes death but anything is better than a farmer’s tan.
In Japan, the color black has always been considered beautiful. The practice of dyeing women’s teeth black, which is also known as ohaguro, started as early as 250AD. Black teeth were considered a sign of beauty and as soon as a young lady got married, she would dye her teeth black. The teeth were dyed black by placing pieces of iron into a cup of tea. The piece of iron would be left to oxidize, turning the tea into a very dark black color. Women would then drink the tea as often as possible; the black tea would ultimately stain the teeth, often causing bad breath and enamel erosion.
Emerald dresses were the dresses to die for in the eighteen hundreds. Unfortunately, these dresses would literally cause death because although their bright green color known as Paris Green was beautiful, the color was achieved by dyeing the dresses using arsenic, a poisonous compound. The arsenic in the dye would be slowly released into the skin of the wearer. This would cause diarrhea, skin sores, headaches, and cancer, which would ultimately lead to death.
Fashion has clearly evolved over the years. Whether it is for the better is debatable because even in today’s world we still have some strange fashion trends but at the very least there’s a slim chance of them killing us.
Story by Jen Ruane.