episode 11. Beauty & Poison: Not your typical beauty standards’ podcast

Imagine smearing white lead poison on your skin and lips as a way to be more beautiful. Sound crazy? Well this was an actual practice in the ancient world and is not that far off from what we do to ourselves today in many ways. Welcome back for seasons 2 of From Skirts To Scrubs! We’re starting our second season talking about beauty standards of the past and present, covering Ancient Egyptian makeup, foot binding practices of the Chinese Han dynasty, supermodel vibes of the ‘80s and more! We also take some time to explore the impact that beauty and beauty products have on our physical and mental health and wellbeing as women living in a modern world. Tune in with us to kick off 2021 together!

Feminist Corner:

I tried to give us little snapshots of beauty standards over time, was there one of them that stuck with you or that you liked a lot? 

There’s a precarious relationship between being “healthy” and being “beautiful” especially when it comes to weight. From a medical perspective, there are a lot of medical issues associated with being overweight and obesity. How do we reconcile that?

Beauty standards have come a long way and we are more inclusive than ever. That may be true, but what are some things you think we need to work on as a whole? And is there anything medical professionals can do at all?

Listen to the episode, discuss these questions with friends and family, let us know what you think!

Show Notes:

This episode kicks off our second season as we sit down to talk about beauty, beauty standards, and their impact on physical and mental health.

Ancient Mesopotamia

  • Because Ancient Mesopotamia was so long ago, there isn’t much information about beauty standards or how they impacted women
  • But Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt overlapped a lot in time periods and makeup in particular

Ancient Egypt

  • The ideal woman was described as slender, with narrow shoulders, a high waist and symmetrical face
  • Everyone wore kohl to protect from the evil eye
  • Women wore eye shadow, blush and lipstick
  • The lipstick was often composed of iodine which would poison the men these women kissed

Ancient Greece 

  • The ideal woman was plump, full-bodied and with light skin
  • Ancient greeks thought that the man was the ideal so actually, men apparently faced a higher standard of beauty and perfection than women
  • But there were a few features that were valued on women like having a straight nose, a low forehead, perfect eyebrows with a delicate arch just over the brow bone

Han Dynasty, China

  • The ideal women had slim waists, pale skin, large eyes and small feet
  • Foot binding was a common practice by which girls’ feet were kept very small
  • Nowadays in a lot of East Asian countries, plastic surgery is a major part of the beauty culture there

Ancient Rome 

  • Ancient Romans had a beauty guide written by Roman poet Ovid and all the upper class women had their makeup made according to his formulas

 Italian Renaissance

  • The ideal woman had an ample bosom, rounded stomach, full hips and fair skin because it was a wife’s duty to reflect her husband’s status and being on the heavier side showed people that her husband was providing for her well

Ancient India

  • For a long time they had cosmetology practices created to cleanse their skin and cover up imperfections
  • They would make things like lip balm, skin lightening and exfoliating scrub, a cure of dandruff, depilatory agents to get rid of body hair, and breast developers, among other things

Victorian England

  • Valued women that were desirably plump, full-figured and had a cinched-waist
  • In the Victorian era, women had to be both seductive and innocent at the same time


  • Brought an emphasis on a flat chest, downplayed waist, short bob hairstyles and boyish figure. Basically they were going for a very androgynous look


  • Thinking about Marilyn Monroe and the Golden Age of Hollywood: curves, hourglass figure, large breasts and slim waist


  • Ideal body type was willowy, thin, long slim legs and a more adolescent body type


  • This was the supermodel era
  • Emphasis was on an athletic body type, slim but curvy, tall, toned arms


  • The ideal body type was extremely thin, translucent skin, androgynous and waifish

2000s and later

  • Current beauty standards are described as being a woman with a flat stomach, who is ‘healthy’ skinny, has large breasts, a big butt and a thigh gap. 

Beauty and physical harm

  • 12 chemicals that need to be banned and why: 
    • Formaldehyde, Paraformaldehyde, Methylene glycol, & Quarternium 15: all of which are related to Formaldehyde a known carcinogen
    • Mercury, which damages our kidneys and nervous systems
    • Phthalates and Parabens which disrupt hormones and harm the reproductive system
    • PFAs which are substances associated with cancer
    • M- and O-phenylenediamines which are used in hair dyes and irritate the skin and can also cause cancer
  • In an article published December of 2019 in the International Journal of Cancer, researchers found a link between hair dye and breast cancer
    • Women in the study who used permanent hair dye at least once a year had a 9% higher risk of developing breast cancer than women who didn’t use hair dye.
    • African American women were found to be at a 45% higher risk of developing breast cancer compared to women who didn’t use dye, regardless of how often it was used
    • Similar findings came up with perm products like relaxers; using these products was associated with breast cancer risk among all participants
    • Considering racial disparities and expectations we have of Black women is important to consider when talking about beauty standards and health issues


Like the episode? Send us your thoughts and questions!

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