To Be Taken With A Full Glass of Water

Word of the Day Challenge: DRINK

During the Victorian Era, when Consumption or Tuberculosis had infect 70-90% of the Urban populations of North America and  Europe and it  had killed 80% of those infected with the ” White Death ”  a morbid  fashion trend began to take place.

By morbid fashion trend,  I don’t mean the  kind of trend where French women and men wore red ribbons tied around their necks, resembling chokers, to stand in silent solidarity for those who had lost  their heads to the guillotine.

I mean that there was a trend to look like somebody who had been infected and was in all likelihood going to die from Tuberculosis

“The Common Lot,” lithograph by J. Bouvier. Wellcome Collection

To achieve this new standard of beauty- pale skin, dilated pupils, red cheeks and red lips and most important of all a skeletal frame ( yeah, anime and avatars on FB have adopted these looks ) it became necessary to ingest and bath in poison- to paint a picture, the same things that were being used to kill rodents were now ‘beauty aides’.

People drank and bathed in arsenic to achieve that  pale ‘ one foot and most of your body in the grave look ‘.  They created eyedrops out of nightshade in order to dilate their pupils. They even created face masks made out of lettuce leaves and dusted with Opium that they washed off  their faces with a splash of water mixed with a  enough arsenic to choke a horse ( I’m guessing )  in the morning.

A sickly young woman sits covered up on a balcony; death (a ghostly skeleton clutching a scythe and an hourglass) is standing next to her; representing tuberculosis. Watercolour by R. Cooper, ca. 1912. Credit: Wellcome Collection

In order to complete this transformation- the most important part of all- was to be thin.

Before I go on, the people who used these ‘potions’ knew they were poison and they did not care. So it should come as no surprise that in order to attain the perfect body- which until this point happened before death or a week later- people were willing to take The Tapeworm Diet.

Despite the skin crawling thought  of purposely ingesting a parasite into your body that would stop most of us from trying this, there  were reported cases or stories that had tried it and that  they had died  trying to swallow the worms live- which is the only way this stomach turning plan would work.

With that being said, those two red flags did  nothing to stop those trying to perfect their bodies who lived ( if they survived their other ‘beauty treatments ) in hope that the tape worm method would work.

I have read that the entire Tape Worm treatment was a myth. Nobody was swallowing live Tape Worms or even trying too.

But the story was out there at the time, it created a demand for the treatment, so someone began manufacturing pills said to contain the worm that were easy to swallow. Of course a dead worm wasn’t going to ‘help’ you so I guess people were being dosed with something that ate  away at their bodies in the same fashion as a tape worm.

Cropped from:
A sickly young woman sits covered up on a balcony; death (a ghostly skeleton clutching a scythe and an hourglass) is standing next to her; representing tuberculosis. Watercolour by R. Cooper, ca. 1912. Credit: Wellcome Collection

Before we close, I want to put it out there that the Victorian Era men and women who poisoned themselves and horribly damaged their bodies or died from their ‘beauty treatments’ didn’t do these things because they were ignorant, that they didn’t understand that arsenic was bad for them.
I want to remind you about a little fad called ” Heroin Chic”
Heroin chic is a style popularized in early-1990s fashion and characterized by pale skin, dark circles underneath the eyes, emaciated features, androgyny and stringy hair—all traits associated with abuse of heroin or other drugs.
Healthy people starved themselves using various methods to acheive that look.
I remember it well because I was young woman in my early twenties when Heroin Chic was a thing and you BET I would look at those images and think, ” I could never be that beautiful. ” The scary thing is, I tried. But at the time I was lifting weights and I didn’t want to  loose my muscle tone. I had to work hard for it. That’s the only reason I didn’t go for it. Plus I liked food- A LOT.
After Heroin Chic passed, I thought nobody would EVER try to do that again. It was stupid and ugly.
But guess what: like a moldering corpse of a Victorian Era TB inspired Fashion Victim returned from the grave to haunt our nightmares, Heroin Chic is back.
I’m not even going to ask why. It’s pointless to ask why.

A model walks the runway during the Annakiki Ready to Wear Spring/Summer 2023 fashion show as part of the Milan Fashion Week

2 thoughts on “To Be Taken With A Full Glass of Water

  1. I was an anorexic in my teens. It was not heroine Chic; it was ballerina normative but it was the same disease that has haunted us since the nineteen sixties.
    I had given up on the Victoria Secret gift cards my mom keeps buying me until I saw some amazing real-body ads lately. There might be hope for us humans yet.
    I’m writing daily posts for OctPoWriMo, Writober, and a Halloween Photography Challenge that I think you’ll enjoy. Please join me.

    • I’m sorry you went through anorexia. It’s a brutal disease because it gets into your head and does It’s damage there too. I’ve seen the new VS line- very promising.
      I will check out the challenge you mentioned. Thank you for asking me.

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