• Culture

This Timeline of Women's Fashion Proves Beauty Standards Are Arbitrary

When you stop to think about them, female beauty standards are pretty bizarre. When did hair-free limbs become the norm, and where was hair dye invented? The history of women's beauty is as fascinating as it is strange.

The ancient Egyptians started many of the grooming habits that women still follow today. It's not surprising - after all, Egyptian culture was considered highly advanced. The heyday of ancient Egypt might mark when shaving started, though it was largely for hygienic rather than cosmetic reasons. As for plucking one's eyebrows, that procedure is a bit more modern; thank the ladies of the 16th century court for it. Once you hit the 20th century, everything speeds up. New innovations in makeup, hair styling, and hair removal meant that women began spending a considerable amount of time on personal grooming.

Whether you consider grooming a chore or a treat, it's interesting to read about how - and why - women began altering their appearances.

  • Unknown: Women Threaded Their Eyebrows

    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Threading is likely one of the oldest beauty practices still used today. It's unclear when exactly threading came to be, but it is believed to have originated centuries ago in Asia and the Middle East. For Persian women, brow shaping was often considered a mark of adulthood.

    During a threading session, an aesthetician uses a loop of knotted cotton thread. By expertly moving it across the skin, they can quickly remove hair from the root.

  • 1500 BCE: Women Dyed Their Hair

    Photo: Maler der Grabkammer der Nefertari / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Egyptians were likely the first civilization to popularize hair dye; they used henna to mask unwanted gray hair.

    Around the same era, the Greeks and Romans began coloring their hair with plant extracts. They also developed a permanent black dye, but it was toxic. As a work-around, they began using a dye made by steeping leeches in lead vessels. Black was the only color available.

    The Phoenicians, meanwhile, reportedly used gold dust to give their hair a blond shimmer.

  • 1500s: Women Reddened Their Lips And Cheeks

    Photo: George Gower / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    When Queen Elizabeth ruled, women strived to have very pale skin. Skin problems and pox were common, so those who had unblemished white faces were considered very beautiful. Those who could afford it used ceruse, a mixture of white lead and vinegar, to lighten the skin on their neck and bosom. Sixteenth century women also used vermilion (mercuric sulfide) and other products to redden their lips and cheeks.

    Unfortunately, there were side effects. Ceruse made the skin gray, and toxic ingredients in cosmetics could cause lasting skin damage.

  • 1500s: Women Plucked Their Eyebrows

    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    In addition to pale white skin and ruby-red lips, women during the Elizabethan period strived for a high hairline with perfectly formed eyebrows. In order to achieve the desired aristocratic look, they plucked their eyebrows into high, thin arches. Sometimes, women removed their eyebrows and eyelashes entirely, the better to highlight their foreheads; big foreheads were all the rage then.