From stomach-churning salves like facial masks made with bird poop to practices that amount to nothing less than self-inflicted torture—breaking and stretching bones—there are no boundaries in the pursuit of beauty, nor is there cultural immunity. All over the globe, our vain species engages in unsavory and often painful beautifying regimens.
Improving the Epidermis … with Entrails and Excrement
In the quest for beauty, it seems that everything that’s part of or comes out of an animal is fair game. Placenta treatments are said to keep the Hollywood glitterati gorgeous. Sheep are often, but not always, the source. One Los Angeles dermatologist says he procures placenta from a Russian maternity ward. The afterbirth is treated to prevent contamination and disease transmission. While smearing the remnants of an organ that was once part of a uterine wall on your face may seem extreme, placenta purveyors say it restores elasticity, eliminates toxins, and leaves skin glowing.
Epidermal etiquette is anything but orthodox in Japan where women are renowned for their clear, porcelain-like complexions. Said to be a centuries-old Geisha secret, facials and creams made from nightingale droppings have recently developed a following in the United States. The bird poop products got a boost when Closer magazine reported that Victoria Beckham gave the fecal facial a try while on a trip to Japan and now uses a bird-dropping cream to keep her skin blemish-free. The guanine enzyme in the excrement purportedly cleans, brightens, and exfoliates. The facial is not (quite) as nauseating as it sounds; the songbird droppings are sterilized and powdered before being made into a medicinal-smelling paste that costs some $200 at posh Manhattan and Beverly Hills spas.
To fight aging, Japanese women practice another unusual ritual: drinking collagen. Derived from pigs, chickens, and cows, the carnivorous beverage can be made from powder or bought ready-to-drink in a can for $2 a pop. Using collagen-infused creams and injecting the fibrous protein to flesh out wrinkles and lips is nothing new in the West, but by ingesting concentrated collagen, the theory goes, the skin is getting a boost from the inside. Foods with added collagen are also popular in Japan and are often advertised on restaurant menus.
Collagen drinkers, however, have nothing on Demi Moore. In her quest for the fountain of youth, she has left no stone—or swamp—unturned. The forty-seven-year old traveled to Austria to be sucked by leeches. She said that four leeches fed on her blood until satiated and then, off they rolled. The creatures, she claims, emit a detoxifying enzyme.
No Pain, No Gain
When it comes to enduring physical pain for perfection, a stature-obsessed China ranks among the most masochistic. To add a few inches to their frames, some well-off Chinese are enduring a procedure that makes facelifts and tummy tucks look like child’s play. A doctor breaks both legs and inserts steel pins into the bones just below the knees and above the ankles. The pins are then secured to metal cage-like devices that span the lower leg. Every day, as the broken bones try to mend, the height-seeking patient turns an adjustment knob to pull them apart, forcing new bone to grow in the gap. The agonizingly painful procedure takes six months—all for a typical gain of three inches. It may seem like the payoff is not worth the pain, but in China “heightism” is so extreme that some jobs have height requirements.
In the Karo tribe of southern Ethiopia, pain is also endured in a ritual that defies prevailing Western notions of beauty. Elders make cuts on young girls’ stomachs that heal into prominent scars, which are considered beautiful and make the girl more attractive to men. When a girl receives her last cut, she is considered ready for marriage and children.
Tried and True?
Odd beautifying techniques are not just practiced by the rich and famous or in far off lands. Americana culture has its share of do-it-yourself remedies, too. They’re often based on little or no fact, but have a certain brand of logic to them.
Facial exercises have been a mainstay in the battle against wrinkles for decades. There are even facial workout videos that claim to erase years of age with exercises such as “the forehead raise.” Don’t expect immediate results.
Mayonnaise, the oil-and-egg concoction long a staple of French cooking, has also had a long run in Americana lore as a beautifier. The condiment is touted as a cure-all for every skin problem under the sun, from reducing the appearance of wrinkles to getting rid of acne and soothing sunburns. It’s also recommended in some circles as a hair conditioner.
Ever since Preparation H came on the market, it seems to have been applied to as faces as backsides. Hemorrhoid cream has a loyal following who swear by its ability to rejuvenate a tired-looking face by reducing under-eye puffiness. After a Norwegian male stylist said on television that models use hemorrhoid cream as a beauty product, German drug maker Schering saw a spike in demand for Sheringproct, their version of Preparation H. The company put a message emphasizing that the cream is “a pharmaceutical that is used on hemorrhoids and around the opening of the large intestine.”
The warnings for this and other bizarre beauty treatments will likely do little to deter users from trying them. And the next big “beauty discovery” will find a following no matter how nauseating or costly. After all, women and men are having paralytic toxins injected their faces during their lunch breaks. What could be more bizarre than that?