Here gallypots and vials plac’d,
Some fill’d with washes, some with paste,
Some with pomatum, paints and slops,
And ointments good for scabby chops. (Swift, “The Lady’s Dressing Room,” 33-36)
From Bloomberg News: “Cocktails of white lead and chalk or vinegar have been used for thousands of years to lighten complexions and erase blemishes…. Some women used mercury-based products to achieve the same effect. The paste ate at the skin over repeated applications and caused scarring, which often sent users back to their vanities for another layer of makeup to cover the damage.” How far has the beauty industry come since 1732? Well, you can view the rest of the slide show and see.
We may pride ourselves on not using “puppy water” (that’s puppy urine) as a cosmetic, and on bathing more than once a week, but perhaps the difference between Celia’s time and ours is that she knew what was in her dressing room cabinet. Also, the men’s makeup industry is booming.
Speaking of gender equality, shortly after Swift published “Lady’s Dressing Room,” Lady Mary Wortley Montagu retaliated with “The Dean’s Provocation for Writing The Lady’s Dressing-Room,” where she announces that Swift’s poems will “furnish [toilet] paper when I shite.” As I said: the Age of Reason was a pretty filthy time.