30 Unimaginable Things Women Did In The Past Just For The Sake Of ‘Beauty’
People will do almost anything to look and feel young and attractive which is why the beauty industry is thriving. And it doesn’t matter if the trends are incredibly strange, as long as others are following them—you’re likely to jump on the bandwagon. However, when you look back in history, there have been some very weird beauty practices in the past that have left us puzzled. Suntan vending machines and using a literal iron to iron hair are just the tip of the beauty iceberg.
Bored Panda has collected some of the best vintage photos of women doing very peculiar things, all in the name of beauty. So scroll on down, upvote your fave photos, and let us know which of these activities you personally thought were the most bizarre, dear Pandas. Oh, and be sure to let us know which modern beauty practices you think are objectively weird! According to Forbes, the global beauty industry is worth 532 billion dollars. The US is the world’s largest beauty market with around a fifth of the share. While China is in second place and Japan is in third place.
To learn more about the history of beauty and the beauty industry, Bored Panda reached out to Dr. Jane Nicholas from St. Jerome’s University at the University of Waterloo. According to Dr. Nicholas, the global beauty industry has grown “substantially” over the 20th century. “Its expansion reveals the importance of beauty in people’s lives as it shapes their identities, especially in regard to gender.”
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A Full-Faced Swimming Mask Helped Protect Women’s Skin From The Sun, 1920s
A Woman Having A Seam Painted Onto Her Leg, To Make It Appear That She Is Wearing Stockings, 1926
Rita Perchetti And Gloria Rossi Try Out Their New Portable Bathhouse So They Can Change Their Clothes After Sunbathing On Coney Island Beach, 1938
Dr. Nicholas explained to Bored Panda that modern culture is a visual culture. Meanwhile, modern living meant finding yourself in an increasingly-dense but anonymous city. And that means that appearance becomes more important than ever. After all, when you’re a stranger to someone, they judge you by your appearance.
“So how one appears is often presumed to be who one is. Historically, the rise of the modern city was seen as the place of quick judgments on appearances in places that were crowded but also built for observation. Evaluation by one’s appearance, then, took on new importance. This has only intensified,” the history expert explained.
10th Century Chinese Tradition - Foot Binding
Faceless Beauty Contest In Cliftonville, 1936
"Ironing" Hair, 1964
She pointed out that beauty is (at the same time) deeply personal, as well as culturally driven. That means that the beauty industry is relational to the consumer.
“It provides products and images for consumption and how consumers take those up largely determine its success. Beauty products and practices have to resonate with consumers, who are not simply dupes but often thoughtful and measured in what they want and can consume,” Dr. Nicholas said.
“Gaps in services and products lead to further innovation. Throughout the twentieth century, for example, women of color struggled to be appropriately represented and struggled to find appropriate products. In multiple ways, the industry was forced to grow and expand to respond properly to their needs. Black entrepreneurs often led the way,” she said.
Before The Invention Of Sun-Screen In The Mid 1940s, Bathers Wore Garments Like This Freckleproof Cape To Protect Themselves From The Sun. The Cape Also Features Built-In Sunglasses
French Breast Washer, 1930s
Portable Hair Dryer, 1940s
It’s no surprise that some vintage beauty procedures, treatments, and practices seem strange to us now. “When dislocated from their context, what was typical in one time period seems strange in another. Today, we see the highly filtered, fully made up selfie as quite ordinary. When you pause to consider it though, it is interesting to think about how those reflect changes in technology (both digital and in cosmetics), as well as in dominant presumptions of what is considered beautiful. It can also be reflective of the democratization of techniques in lighting and makeup application that were historically reserved for insiders within modeling. Now, anyone can use them.”
Dr. Nicholas said that beauty is deeply interwoven with the wider social and cultural context. That means that it reflects more than just beauty itself. “Using X-rays for hair removal, for example, also reflects the fact that technology emerges before the full impact of its use is known,” she gave an example.
The history expert also told Bored Panda that we can expect some of the practices that we take for granted today to seem outdated and peculiar in the decades to come. “It’s quite ordinary today to inject a form of botulism into your face or to dress in the skin of another animal. Over time, though, as our collective beliefs and values change, these ordinary acts might come to be seen as extraordinary.”
Tape Worm Diet, 1900s
I will say that this is worse than having leeches suck your blood in the hopes of improving blood flow. Tape worms can attach themselves to other internal organs and other parts of the body. If they want to leave a body, they will exit where they please. It is not a pretty sight. The damage can also be quite extensive.
Freckle Removal. A Complicated Apparatus Is Employed. Eyes Are Covered With A Special, Air-Tight Piece, And The Nostrils Filled In. Breathing Is Done Through A Special Tube. Sensitive Parts Of The Face Must Be Treated Separately, 1930
A Perm In Germany In 1929
What I find the weirdest, personally, is the size of the hairdryers in the past. They’re absolutely humongous and they look like something straight out of a sci-fi flick.
The very first hairdryer was invented in 1890 by French stylist Alexander Godefroy. His seated version had a bonnet that attached to none other than the chimney pipe of a gas stove. You read that right, dear Pandas! Imagine going to a beauty salon and being told to put one of those stove-connected bonnets on your head.
We got the very first handheld hairdryers around 1920 due to technological innovations at the time. However, these were nothing like our modern-day equivalent: they weighed around 2 pounds (that’s 0.9 kilograms) and were very difficult to use. They were also prone to overheating and electrocuted people from time to time.
A Policeman Judges An Ankle Competition At Hounslow, London, 1930
“Yes these are the winning pair of ankles; congrats little lady. NOW COVER THOSE YOU LOOK LIKE A WHORE”
Max Factor's 1931 Ice Mask
Woman Tans Using A Suntan Vending Machine, 1949
Before you rush to poke fun at these vintage beauty practices, keep in mind two things. First of all, even if something is trendy, far from every person follows the newly-minted flavor of the month beauty techniques.
Second of all, if you think that we’ve ‘advanced’ much beyond silliness, turn on the TV and flip to an infomercial channel! The things you’ll see there are just as weird (and maybe even weirder).
Contestants In The Miss Lovely Eyes Beauty Pageant In Florida Wearing Masks To Obscure The Rest Of Their Faces, 1930
Customers Have Their Legs Painted At A Store In Croydon, London, 1941
This was during the war. At that time, nylon had only just been invented. Both silk and nylon were needed to make parachutes and were either just about impossible to get or were prohibitively expensive.
A Traditional Japanese Sign Of Beauty- Black Teeth, 17th – 19th Centuries
Women used to put a white powder on their faces (made with rice, not lead) and that would make the teeth look yellow. So they dyed them black instead.
X-Ray Of Female Torso With Corset (Left) And Female Torso Without A Corset (Right), 1908
Hair Dryer, 1920s
Wooden Swimsuits, 1929
If Rose had worn one of those on the Titanic, Jack could could have had the door and the film would have had a happy ending.
Rubber Beauty Masks Used To Get Rid Of Wrinkles In The 1920s
A Fruit Mask From The 1930s
And even today some people or articles will recommend using straight up lemons and lemon juice to "even out skin-tone" or better yet, "to lighten the skin".
The Bra Claimed To Develop And Strengthen The Bust And Was Designed To Vibrate While The Person Wearing It Was At Work. Brussel, 1971
You Have A Beautiful Face But Your Nose?
Dimple Machine In 1936
OK, I've got an idea... So, you attach wire to the inside of your cheeks (oh, I don't know. Superglue, maybe. Details. I'll work it out later). Then you wrap the wire around your teeth. Brilliant, huh? I'm going to be SO rich!
Women Who Had Just Given Birth To A Baby Weren't Prohibited To Smoke In The Hospital. 1940s Ad
Facial Warming Mask, 1940
A Young Woman Holds Her Arms And Legs In Four Water Bathes With Electric Current, To Improve Blood Circulation, Circa 1938
Taking Precise Measurements Of A Beautiful Young Woman's Head And Face With A Contraption Like An Instrument Of Torture, 1933
1933? He may be looking for the measurements of the master race....
Head-Shaped Hair Dryer, 1935
A Form Of Folk Medicine Called Cupping Therapy Being Performed In A Sauna, Finland, 1935
Backscratching Monitoring Visor, 1940s
I can wash my own back 100% complete without using a tool. My arms just reach I guess.
Weight Loss Fraud In 1940s
This Shower Hood Was Used To Protect Hair From Getting Wet, 1970
The Wave Machine, 1939
A Woman Having Kemolite Mud Treatment At A Beauty Parlour, 1922
Aren't women doing that yet? I mean, not all women, but some of them
Ancient Roman Make-Up Technique Consisting Of Crocodile Dung
Ewww imagine going hunting for crocodile poo 🙈 I wonder how much they charged for a treatment 😁
100 years later: Weird things women did for the sake of social media
"Weird things women are conditioned to do thanks to the unrealistic af beauty standards on social media" would be more apt.
I don't think u can blame others now. All this progresss & If women still can't make up there mind then it's on them. Entertainment industry I understand. But common people r not some jobless education less fools . They can choose to attach importance to intellect or skills. Looking good is not a crime. Overdoing it at cost of ur peace is. I m overweight. I m trying to bring it down nd be more beautiful but that is for me. Nobody else's. I want to like what I see in mirror. But I m also not going crazy over it. Not on instagram documenting it or obsessing over makeup and surgery. Even if in this age women aren't even trying to break free from The image .than it's on them. I know it's hard. But dude life is hard. People will get nowhere by being snowflakes
In the end women make the choice themselves to do those things. You can't put the responsibility for your actions on some fool on the internet telling you that ingesting poison is going to improve your skin or that implanting silicone in your butt is making you more attractive.
Those unrealistic beauty standards are set by women. Don't like it quit buying Cosmo. Stop following those "Influencers" on twitter etc etc.
Yes, women seem like they are creating their own problems with beauty. But, here in Germany we have a chancellor, Angela Merkel. Back in the day, when she was just a common politician, and i was a vulnerable teen, i remember reading about her looks, and after that, of her opinions. Never ever i read about the looks of a male pilitician, ans after that about the opinions. A man is okay to look like a toad and noone says anything, his opinion is validated. Merkel was always first addressed for her looking bad or something, after that her opinion was heard. So, a womens worth lies in her beauty. This is something our society teaches girls, and after that, we're being advised not to be as shallow and do not have to care about our looks. While seeing thirty six year old american actresses playing the moms of thirty one year old male actors. I'm puking...
Inga Viviane love
Inga Viviane +
Inga Viviane -
also, commercials in general. Tho this part is slooowly, but steadliy, changing for the better lately.
I think 100+ years from now, we know what the list will look like: Waxing, liposuction, collagen injections, breast augmentation, eyelash braiding, skin bleaching, Botox, stiletto heels, "shapewear", spray tans, acrylic nails, not to mention darker body changes like genital mutilation.
You forgot butt implants. :-)
You're right... :)
tuo Good response!
And But hole sunning
...and tattoos. It seems like every woman I see has them. It sad that so many women are convinced by tv and movies that they have to ink their skin (just like every other woman on the block) so that they can fit in. Dare to be different.
Turkey Vulture lol
Turkey Vulture follower
Wht t fucck is genital mutilation .who does that
Look it up - it a very very sad real thing done to girls in many countries.
you also missed extreme tattoos
EXCUSE ME EYELASH BRAIDING?!?
We’re there NOW !
Daft eyebrows would get my vote but what about the fellas...w***y augmentation, it's not just us wimmin! Every time the UK Mayor of Manchester is on I can't take my eyes off his eyebrows...at least he doesn't have a unibrow.
This whole thing reminds me of an old tattered notebook that we found among my great-grandma's stuff. It contained many recipes for homemade makeup and cosmetics (since they weren't sold at stores back in the years of her youth).
Do you still have it? Would LOVE to see those!
Hazel Waring lol
Hazel Waring ?
You should do a BP article on that. Sounds interesting. Hazel would certainly be down.