beauty was associated with a white face — the so-called white mask, or o-shiroi. This was achieved with lead-or mercury-based powders, which were applied to the face. Red tints (beni-bana) then colored the cheeks. As in Japan, Chinese women powdered their faces white, and applied color to their cheeks. A pale complexion was the accepted aesthetic ideal. In 1671 the writer Li Yu praised the wearing of dark blue clothes, since “it makes light complexions even lighter, and if those with darker complexions wear it, the darkness of their complexion is less easily discerned.” Fair skin remained highly valued in Europe. During the reign of Louis XIV (1638-1715), members of the Sun King’s royal court strove for a flawless, white complexion. Fashionable French society avoided the sun, and also used skin-whitening cosmetics to help conceal scars that were so common in an era when diseases like smallpox left the skin covered in blemishes and pockmarks. Powders such as “Spanish white,” made of mercury, and “pearl white,” which contained white lead (we know now that those weren’t great health choices either!), were combined with greasy substances like wax, whale blubber and vegetable oil, and applied to the face. Over this base layer, rouge was painted onto the cheeks all the way up to the eyes. The red coloring agents (such as red lead and cinnabar) were also toxic, and long-term use could lead to skin damage; loss of teeth; lead poisoning; eyesight problems, and neurological disorders. By the end of the 17th century, French doctors, May/June 2017 GASPARILLA ISLAND 81 Tanning is a fairly recent trend, considering that tanned skin is not, nor has it ever been, a universally accepted ideal. Today “ideal” skin color varies among different cultures. For example Caucasian women in Europe, the US, and Brazil often want to look tan, while women in China, Korea, and Thailand want to look fairer, more pink in tone. Both Indian men and women use “fairness creams” to lighten the complexion; these are supposed to guarantee success in business and love. Historically pale skin has indicated high status. A tan signified that you had to work outdoors as a manual laborer, while pale skin announced that you could afford to stay out of the sun and spend time and money cultivating your appearance. Meet Prince Re-hotep, high priest of Heliopolis (circa 2,580 BC), and his wife Nofret, whose name means “the beauty.” Nofret, whose statue was discovered near Memphis in 1871, has the pale, smooth skin so admired by ancient Egyptians. Nofret’s fair complexion reflects her high rank. She maintained her skin tone with powders and lotions made from tree resins like myrrh and frankincense, and used pigments like yellow ochre to make her skin pale and clear. Of the nomadic North Africans of the Sahara Desert, the Islamic Moroccan scholar Ibn Battuta wrote in 1356, “Bardama women are the most perfect in terms of beauty — outwardly most extraordinary, flawlessly white and very plump.” The women achieved their pale skin (and possibly their plumpness) by staying in their tents, and avoiding the harsh sun. In Europe, pale skin was likewise a sign of privilege, and when the upper classes went out riding on horseback, they applied lotions made of violet and rose oils to protect their skin from the sun. In Japan from the eighth century on, female A HEALTHY PERSPECTIVE Historically pale skin color indicated high status.
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