storia della belleza (the history of beauty)

In the natural world generally the males of a species are endowed with glorious beauty. Think of the peacocks that dazzle with their breathtaking tails. Unbeknownst to many, the females of their kind look quite ordinary, with sparse feathers and frazzled heads. Similarly, while lions sport to-die-for manes, lionesses stay on the sidelines lacking magnificent crowns of fur. This inner working of the animal kingdom is quite clear: Males need to look attractive and alluring to ensure mating with as many females as possible. Dashing good looks guarantee bounteous reproduction.

When it comes to human beings; however, the simple logic of multiplication becomes somewhat convoluted. Since the human offspring needs significantly longer time to reach maturation, the homo sapiens male needs to take on the role of the caretaker in addition to the progenitor. And when you are out in the wild trying to kill a bison or a mammoth with a spear, what really matters is strength, not beauty. In the meanwhile back at the cave, after nursing the babies and lighting the fire, the woman is left with a lot of time on her hands to groom and pamper. Then there is the competition for the guys capable of slaying enough meat to see a family of four through the cold and harsh winter. Thus, looking clean, healthy, disease and pest free is especially imperative to bagging a good “catch” capable of providing.

The exact sociological and zoological roots of women’s need to beautify are unclear, but one thing is certain. The aspiration to kill with looks has been around for a looooong time. Those in awe of the latest surge in plastic surgery, Botox and filler injections should not be surprising. In all reality female nature has not changed with the passage to modernity. Instead, technology has caught up with women’s insatiable desire to look ever more youthful and attractive.
The fairer sex has taken risks in the name of glamour throughout history. For example Italian entrepreneur Signora Tofana’s silky face powder had a cyanide additive that killed upwards of 100 adoring husbands and lovers with a single kiss. But that is not where the search for the fountain of youth really began. Experts agree the roots of makeup go back to the Middle East. In papyrus documents dating back to ancient dynasties like the Hittite makeup is often mentioned.
When archaeologists opened King Tut’s tomb in 1922 they found terracotta pots filled with scents, eye shadows and cosmetics. In fact wealthy Egyptians women would not be caught dead (literally) without lipstick and hennaed nails. Further, these “original fashionistas” waxed their entire bodies regularly and on special occasions painted both breasts blue and dipped the nipples in gold dust. Eye shadow was another beauty sine qua non in the land of the Nile. Emerald lids accentuated with carbon-darkened lashes were all the rage back then. And let’s not forget the wigs of different lengths and styles that would make Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra green with envy.

Ancient versions of beauty tools like tweezers and eyebrow brushes have been found in Babylonian gravesites. The fad in this particular empire was big, voluminous curls. In addition to premium hair care, painting the eyes, brows and lashes was also quite popular. In Greece, however, the trend was more au natural - the exception being Crete. There the ladies covered their faces with white mercury for a flawless finish and reddened pouts with red berries.
Romans cultivated the pale, withered look. That is why donne Romane pasted a special concoction made from daffodils, flour, honey and eggs on their faces during the day. As for the evening they preferred chalk dust. Of course the lips needed to be red as could be. Additionally, the Egyptian custom of painting the veins on the face and décolleté was also embraced. Don’t misunderstand; they were not trying to cover up the veins, to the contrary, they were enhancing them with blue or green paint.
With the rise of Christianity makeup lost its widespread appeal. But even under the shroud of zealous faith women continued to practice certain cosmetic habits. To stay milky white the femmes of the middle ages avoided sunshine like the plague — a tanned complexion denoted the labor classes. A true aristocrat stayed inside stone walls and engaged in refined activities like needle pointing and music. (It was not until the 1900s that a woman with an unbridled spirit and revolutionary ideas named Coco Chanel changed the misperceptions surrounding a golden glow.) While women continued to obsessively pursue a porcelain complexion, bleeding the body by means of sticking leaches on the arms and back was considered au courant.
Towards the end of the 17th century makeup application was once again revived. In addition to pallid visages, blood red lips and cheeks, men and women alike took to pasting star, heart, and crescent moon shaped velvet beauty marks all over their faces. Perfect for covering up imperfections like blemishes and pock marks, these archaic cover-ups worked wonders in the absence of concealers. In fact, the French liked these handy little beauty fixes so much that they devised a secret language for them. Placed next to the mouth a beauty mark meant a lady was open to romantic advances.
During the 18th Century, thanks to powdered wigs and marbled faces, the obsession with cosmetic transformations hit an all time high. Royals like Mary Antoinette not only squeezed their slender bodies into impossibly constraining whalebone corsets, but painted the veins in their temples blue to show they were bluebloods, incontrovertibly different than vulgarian red bloods. Thankfully, today one does not need to trace an aristocratic genealogy to enjoy the delights of cosmetics and makeup. This ancient source of pleasure is available to women of all ages and ethnicities. Simply put on crimson red rouge and relish your hard earned right to look gorgeous.
beauty and health The Spa Report

© 1998-2007 All rights reserved.