Beauty’s Bizarre Baboonery
Asses’ milk, crocodile poop, lion’s urine, bee venom, nightingale feces, crushed ants, your own blood, or a dead criminal’s collagen. That’s just some of the stuff celebrities use in their never-ending quest to achieve patriarchal notions of beauty.
When I began writing this month’s column, I was on an all-time high! After all, beauty has bewitched many a great mind from Albert Einstein to Rabindranath Tagore to George Bernard Shaw. It has drawn in its embrace the alcoholic Edgar Allan Poe and the convicted homosexual Oscar Wilde. Beauty has inspired great men to an even greater greatness (although it has sometimes shoved them into the depths of moral perfidy). And so it has always been, from Aristotle to the Brothers Grimm.
Beauty is at the core of innumerable fables and myths. Amongst the gods, there was the beautiful and amorous Aphrodite; amongst the epical, there was Helen of Troy, and amongst fairytales, were Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. And these stories have driven us mere mortals to extreme steps in the vain hope of attaining the unattainable: perfectly perfect perfection!
But how far can you go to get supple skin, luscious lips, and lustrous locks? Fret not, for that shall be the discourse of the present article. But before I begin, let me remind you that what you will read comes with a daunting disclaimer, borrowed from the infamously famous occult magician, Eliphas Levi: “When one creates phantoms for oneself, one puts vampires into the world, and one must nourish these children of a voluntary nightmare with one’s blood, one’s life, one’s intelligence, and one’s reason, without ever satisfying them.”
Well, then…if you think that disclaimer was weird, wait till you have reached the end of this article.
And so, with the warnings in place, enter the ugly world of beautiful people.
Back in the day, women went to great lengths (and breadths and depths) to live up to society’s beauty ideals. Hence, Cleopatra bathed in sour donkey milk for soft supple skin. Women in ancient China bowed in reverence to the painful customs of foot binding, and women in Europe asphyxiated themselves in tightly-laced corsets. But if you think that’s bizarre—think again!
Can you guess the secret ingredient in Cleopatra’s face mask that gave her…her radiance? Well, I am sure your guess won’t even come close, so here’s the answer—it was crocodile dung! That’s right—croc poop! Then again, crocodile crap wasn’t the only thing in fashion…in order to achieve their beautiful blonde highlights, Venetian women sat in the sun after pouring lion’s urine on their tresses. (Of course, it does make one wonder how they went about collecting a lion’s piss or an alligator’s excrement.)
While these beauty treatments were not particularly life-threatening, there were some that would have put you straight on to Dr Death’s To-Do list. For instance, Middle Eastern women used powdered lead—that would eventually lead to lead poisoning—for showing off striking eyes. Lead was also used as a whitening face powder for the pleasingly pale complexion.
Similarly, women swallowed arsenic—the deadly poison—in order to achieve the popular pale pallor. And the toxic plant belladonna (which means “beautiful lady”) was used by women as eye drops to dilate pupils of their eyes, which gave them a sexy seductive stare.
Of course, the feminist movement gave women some respite from these restrictive rituals, but beauty still baits the bevy of beautiful belles. And they have once again resorted to the strangest and the weirdest and the ickiest and the ticklishiest beauty treatments of all time! So, suck in your breath (so your tummy tucks in without contour surgery). Read.
Pearly Whites: So, did you think pearls were only good as a classy fashion accessory? Well, not according to Chinese herbalists, who have been swearing by the product for the last 3,000 years. Pearl powder, which is a finely milled powder obtained from seawater or freshwater pearls, is rich in amino acids and trace minerals. Whether consumed internally or applied externally, pearl powder helps slow down the ageing process by regenerating collagen, giving you a wrinkle-free youthful soft and supple skin. In reality, unbeknownst to many, pearl powder is a secret ingredient in many top-selling skin lotions and creams.
Vampire Facelifts: Before you go and start imagining gorgeous vampires sucking on your slender necks (the Twilight after-effect), let me bust the bubble, crush the reverie. That’s never going to happen! So, what’s this crazy-sounding treatment all about? Well, the procedure entails re-injection of your own blood back in your face (and other surfaces) to get a rejuvenated wrinkle-free look. Besides, if you have been following Kim Kardashian and her crazy family in Keeping Up With the Kardashians, you already know of this fad. After undergoing this expensive beauty treatment ($1,500), Kim tweeted a scary snap of hers with blood spattered all over her face. Eew! EEEEww!
Bee Venom Mask: Once upon a time, a bee stung a beautiful girl. So radiant was her glow that the handsome prince fell in love with her. Soon, they tied the knot and lived happily ever after. Well, almost…for they still have a long life ahead of them.
The prince (in our tale) is none other than Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge and the girl, the precious Kate Middleton. Since then, celebrities have been buzzing about this stinging new sensation that gave Kate her famed wedding glow. Thus, the bee venom mask became Nature’s alternative to Botulinum Toxin (or Botox) and the secret to eternal youthful beauty.
A swarm of A-listers—Victoria Beckham, Simon Cowell, Kylie Minogue and so on—are rushing to their nearest beehives—OK, just kidding!—the nearest beauty spas and stores. And if you’re game, there’s a variant of the venom mask that comes from poisonous snakes, such as the cobra (and some vipers and rattlesnakes).
Geisha Facial: Old superstition: If a bird poops on you, it brings you good luck. Well, how if I smear some bird poop on your face?
Let me tell you about the long-kept beauty secret from Japan now making its foray into the western markets. Yes! A bird poop facial (using uguisu no fun which literally translates into “nightingale feces”) helps whiten the skin, giving you an even skin tone and an iridescent complexion in an hour. Victoria Beckham, who has long suffered from acne, is a convert when it comes to the Geisha facial. So is her husband David Beckham. Please line up and behave well.
Juicy Hair Conditioner: Even before Rapunzel let her endless tresses down, beautiful hair was the epitome of feminine beauty. So, what has been the weirdest natural product you have used for bouncy shiny hair—lemon, yogurt, henna, banana, or other assortment of herbs, vegetables and fruits?
Well, how about rubbing some semen into your tresses? But wait before you head for the nearest sperm bank. This latest beauty craze uses only organic “bull sperm” to give your hair the deep conditioning treatment it needs.
Collagen Cuisine: A healthy diet is the cornerstone of a healthy complexion. But the latest collagen-rich anti-ageing cuisine is neither for the faint-hearted nor for the easily nauseated. The collagen cuisine includes pig’s trotters (that’s pig feet for you) and turtle’s blood. Of course, in my case—the only time I will chomp down on some collagen cuisine will be the day the pig has wings and flies.
Ant Body Wash: Another popular beauty fad that is going to leave you ticklish (but radiant) is the now-popular “ant” body wash. These tiny crawling creatures are a rich source of formic acid—that removes dead skin and oil residue—and will leave you feeling fresh and flushed. Sluggish metabolism? Oily skin? Give the ants a go.
Collagen from Corpses: Finally, the one that created the maximum furore for ethical reasons was the collagen injections prepared from the skin of corpses of executed Chinese criminals. These cosmetic collagen treatments from cadavers, apparently, are nothing new and have been around for ages. So, the next time you admire a celebrity who’s looking alive and well, remember, there was a dead Chinese man who made her complexion come alive (That’s beauty “Made in China”)!
Mallika is a professor-cum-author, doing her PhD in marketing from IIT Kharagpur, and author of three management books which are prescribed textbooks in universities across India. She has taught in India and abroad. She is also the author of the crime novel I’m a Woman & I’m on SALE.
As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.
Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.
We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.
Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.