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Dying to be Beautiful

September 9th, 2014 by Madeline

The pursuit of beauty through the centuries has been ongoing and, more times than not, treacherous.

The use of make-up was first recorded over 5,000 years ago and not by women. Yup, you read that right – men were the ones who started the cosmetic trend with ground gemstones sparkling at their lips and on their faces. I may or may not have thanks to give them based on how I feel/look on a particular day.

We all know the Egyptians used kohl to elongate their eyes in an exaggerated fashion and while the kohl itself was not toxic, one of the components they used to preserve it contained lead. This not only caused eye infections, but it could also lead to sickness and madness.

The Egyptians were not alone in their use of lead-based products. Romans achieved red lips with a chemical referred to as minium which contains lead. Grecians achieved milky white skin with lead based face creams and bleaches.cleopatra

Perhaps the most horrifying of all were the cosmetics made during 16th century. In the Elizabethan court, death white skin was all the rage. Upper class women had nary a freckle gracing their immaculate faces – at least while they were wearing their make-up that is. Because when the make-up came off, so too did some of their skin.

The white, mask-like paste the women of the Elizabethan court put on their faces was made of something called Venetian Ceruse which was a toxic, acidic mix of lead and vinegar. It was said of make-up then that when you started wearing it, you could never stop. The more of the paste you put on, the more your skin would deteriorate underneath, meaning the more make-up paste you would need to wear, etc.

From the 15th century on, women were so obsessed with keeping their faces fair, they bleached their skin, applied lipstick and even swept pink shadows across their eyelids to make their skin appear paler by comparison – all with lead.

What does lead do, you ask. It causes lesions to break out on the skin. Small pimples at first that can peel away into gaping wounds depending on the level of exposure. Lead seeps into the skin and enters the body causing everything from cancer and madness to infertility and even death. A woman named Maria Gunning, a countess famed for her beauty, was known to have died in 1740 from cosmetic poisoning at the young age of 27. MarieGunning

Cosmetic experimentation only continued to grow wilder as time went on until the late 1800’s/early 1900’s when people were diagnosed with Lead Palsy due to all the lead exposure. The FDA officially became involved in the creation of cosmetics in 1938 after something called Lash Lure (a permanent mascara) caused blindness in fifteen women and killed one.

Even cosmetics that did not contain lead weren’t always something appealing to put on your body. I believe every historical novel reader/writer has heard of carmine balm the lips and cheeks a flattering shade of red. Well, carmine comes from the cochineal insect. The body is boiled in ammonia or sodium carbonate and then the color is extracted from its body and eggs. And was then applied to a fine lady’s lips. Mmm…kissable. Even more kissable, in Japan Geisha who dye their teeth black to signify the end of their apprenticeship sometimes used bird droppings.

As if all of this weren’t shocking enough, would you believe lead and mercury are still used in cosmetics today? They are. Lipstick contains lead, mascara contains mercury and even antibacterial contains something called triclosan which alters hormone levels and can actually impair child development and cause cancer. Pretty horrifying. FDA continues their regulation on cosmetics, but cannot control levels in foreign created make-up and even still allow traces of lead and mercury to stay on the market.

As awful as it is of me to say, while I may not be the next Maria Gunning, I probably won’t give up my mascara either. How about you?

 

The Rise of the Cod Piece

September 9th, 2013 by Madeline

Cod PieceAny less than bosom-blessed woman out there has had her go with a wonder bra. Chances are likely, she’s probably still using it. But that’s her little secret…

Men had a similar tool (no pun intended) they implemented during the 15th and 16th centuries – the cod piece. Its origins didn’t start out with the intent to make men appear so large that any rational woman would be cowering in the corner. As with many out-of-proportion inventions, the cod piece served a rather functional purpose. Initially.

Men’s fashion was rather simple early on, consisting of a tunic and hose. The hose weren’t like the pantyhose of today despite what Robin Hood Men in Tights portrayed. Hose were not connected at the crotch and were made for each leg individually. While tunics remained long, this wasn’t an issue. But then tunics started to creep up. Oh my…hose

As the hem of the tunic rose, the men were quickly becoming inappropriate. The invention of the cod piece was simple – a triangle of fabric to cover the exposed genitalia. Even the name was simple as cod piece literally translates to “scrotum piece”.

Creativity came later. In the 15th century, the cod piece got a little fancier, a little bigger, a little more…attention grabbing, if you will. Essentially, these bad boys got fancy. Not only with ribbons and lace (*sigh* I’m not kidding about that), but they also got very, very padded. They came egg shaped, triangle shaped, vertical shaped and even, yes, horizontally shaped. Cod pieces went so far as to grace the battlefield. These metal codpieces got even fancier and were sculpted to resemble all sorts of things from swirls to faces grinning at the tip (not at all creepy, right?). Sometimes daggers were even worn directly over the cod piece, pointing tip down as if to proclaim “Here it is!” Like it wasn’t visible already…

Interesting little tid bit (again, no pun intended), over time ‘cod’ became slang for a man’s penis. However, the name for cod fish did not change. I’ll let you make your own assumptions as to all the bawdy jokes that doubtless sprang from that coincidence.

Cod pieces were filled with all sorts of materials from batting to spare fabric to rolled coins. Some men even went so far as to double their cod pieces as pockets. Can you imagine getting paid warm, moist coins straight from a cod piece? Though I guess it’s no different than getting sweaty bills from a woman’s bra…HenryVIICodPiece

At any rate, all good things must come to an end. While Henry VIII was an enthusiastic wearer of the cod piece, his daughter was not so impressed. When Elizabeth took the throne, she preferred a more feminine style for her courtiers. Let’s just say a jutting cod piece doesn’t exactly scream femininity. So, it finally became little more than a center slit in a very poofed out set of short pants.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is how the proud cod piece rose and eventually, sadly, deflated.

Back in the Game

June 5th, 2013 by Madeline

Confession: I’ve been a bad blogger. I’m fortunate to have been prompted several times by people in the past for more blog posts- yet, shamefully, I haven’t delivered. That crazy thing called life swept me away for a couple months, add a few more for wallowing and ta-da! We’re at being a bad blogger.

But no more.

And it all starts with a website makeover with a gorgeous new header by The Killion Group with Hot Damn Designs who I very highly recommend for their prompt and obviously gorgeous work.

You see, I’ve decided to do the flip from Scottish set historical romances to Regency set historical romances. It’s not that men in kilts aren’t hot (because THEY ARE!) but Regency has always piqued my curiosity. Something about the humming sexual tension restrained by rigid society rules, not to mention the dresses and balls and all those other lovely things that make me squee with delight.

I’ve thrown myself into a series about women who fall from society and are scooped up by The Duchess to work in cleaning up scandal for those of the ton who can afford to pay. It’s a treacherous job that requires everything from prowling the dank alleyways of Fetter Street to attending lavish masquerade balls in the most luxurious of silks. Each doll has her own talent and as the series goes on, perhaps I’ll reveal them to you.

For now, I’ll share a glimpse of Lavinia – a woman who was left to die on the streets of London. A failed attempt at prostitution results in the death of a nobleman and her leads her into a position with the Broken Dolls. However, while on her first official assignment, she runs into the brother of the man who died and discovers he is most determined to uncover his brother’s murderer. Things become complicated when he decides to use Lavinia as a cover to ward off unwanted eligible wives. She agrees to the ridiculous notion in order to keep tabs on what he knows. Unfortunately, he uncovers more than she thought possible and she finds herself doing what every Doll is warned against – falling in love.

Scheduled to be to beta readers by July 2013. *eyebrow waggle*

In the meantime, I intend to resume my blog posts and delve into interesting tidbits of research I’ll need for my books, like prostitution, alchemy, poisons, and all sorts of other fascinating things. Feel free to swing by any time to check out my gorgeous new blog and say hi. J

And don’t forget www.THEKILLIONGROUPINC.com and www.HOTDAMNDESIGNS.com for all your designing needs. <- Shameless promo for a company I’m heartily impressed with.

Scandalous Weddings with Valerie Bowman

October 2nd, 2012 by Madeline

I am a Regency romance author but I’m visiting Maddie’s blog and she loves all things Scottish, so I thought I’d combine the two and give a little insight into a location that plays a large and varied role in my Regency romance debut, Secrets of a Wedding Night. That place is the infamous, Gretna Green, Scotland.

It all started with Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1754. When the English parliament passed that act, it prohibited several things. Before the act went into effect, in England young men and women over the age of 16 (but younger than 21) were able to merely declare themselves married in front of witnesses. After the act was passed by Parliament, couples in the throes of a passionate love affair had to hightail it to Scotland to have their quick (and unapproved) weddings. You see, in Scotland, a boy age 14 and a girl age 12 could marry. (As opposed to the legal age of 21 in England and Wales.) And again, all they had to do was declared themselves married in front of witnesses…and then get to the business of consummation, of course.

It turns out, Scotland has a long and storied history of being quite protective of love and marriage (I can see why Maddie loves it so). When the English outlawed the practice, Scotland did not follow suit and it naturally became the closest place for the young lovebirds to marry quickly and (most importantly) without their parents’ permission. As a result, the small Scottish town of Gretna Green became synonymous with eloping couples.

But of all places in Scotland, why Gretna Green?

Well, back in the day, Gretna just happened to be the first posting stop across the Scottish border for the coaches traveling between London and Edinburgh. They merely needed to get across the border and to a reliable witness.

Legend has it that the local blacksmith (and only because his shop was the first that a visitor came to in town) became the “anvil priest.” Scottish law allowed for an irregular marriage that basically stated that anyone could witness a wedding for it to be declared valid.

The romance and scandal of Gretna Green play a large part in my Secret Brides trilogy. In the first story, Secrets of a Wedding Night, there are two foiled attempts at a trip to Gretna. And in the second, Secrets of a Runaway Bride, guess what? Yes, another trip to Gretna Green!

I love the concept of an illicit marriage over the anvil in Gretna. There are just so many possibilities. The road was treacherous, the consequences were dire, and the scandal of it all could bring many a young lady to ruin. All the makings of a wonderful romance novel plot, no?

So tell me, if you had lived back in the days when Lord Hardwicke’s marriage act had made it impossible to be married in London, would you have been scandalous enough to run off to Gretna Green? What are your favorite romance novels featuring a trip to Gretna?

Valerie Bowman writes Regency-set historical romance novels with a focus on sharp dialogue, engaging storylines, and heroines who take matters into their own hands! Publishers Weekly calls Secrets of a Wedding Night, an “enchanting, engaging debut that will have readers seeking future installments” and Romantic Times Book Reviews says, “This fast-paced, charming debut, sparkling with witty dialogue and engaging characters, marks Bowman for stardom.” Booklist gave it a starred review!

Want a little taste of what you’ll find in Secrets of a Wedding Night? :) Here ya go:

  HOW TO STOP A WEDDING

Young, widowed, and penniless, Lily Andrews, the Countess of Merrill, has strong opinions on marriage. When she spots a certain engagement announcement in The Times, she decides to take action. She will not allow another hapless girl to fall prey to a man—particularly the scoundrel who broke her heart five years ago. Anonymously she writes and distributes a pamphlet entitled “Secrets of a Wedding Night,” knowing it will find its way into his intended’s innocent hands…

HOW TO SEDUCE A WIDOW

Devon Morgan, the Marquis of Colton, desires a good wife and mother to his son—someone completely unlike Lily Andrews, the heartless beauty who led him on a merry chase five years ago only to reject him. When Devon’s new fiancée cries off after reading a certain scandalous pamphlet, he vows to track down the author and make her pay. But when he learns it’s his former fiancée Lily, he issues a challenge: write a retraction—or prepare to be seduced—to find out how wonderful a wedding night can be…

 “Secrets of a Wedding Night

is the most charming and clever debut I’ve read in years! ”

New York Times bestselling author Lisa Kleypas

Valerie lives in Jacksonville, FL with her rascally dog, Roo. You can find Valerie on the web at www.ValerieBowmanBooks.com and on Facebook and Twitter.

Buy Links for Secrets of a Wedding Night: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Books a Million

Ye Olde Baby Blocker

September 24th, 2012 by Madeline

People in history – they liked sex. Imagine that. However, sex leads to kids and not everyone wants kids, or mass quantities of them at least. As controversial as birth control is today, the concept has been around since before the Bible.

Speaking of the Bible, there are multiple references to the use of coitus interruptus as a means of contraception. But that’s not really why you’re reading my blog post. You want to know about the nasty, crazy stuff. (Can’t say I blame you…) I will not disappoint. J

In ancient Egypt, they had several interesting methods to keep from becoming pregnant. A gummy substance was applied to the cervix to prevent sperm from getting in. One of the ingredients for this substance…crocodile dung. I can’t but wonder what that would do to a woman’s delicate pH balance downstairs. Yikes.

But women weren’t alone in subjecting their naughty bits to bad stuff. Men in Greece were reported to rub juniper berries on their business before getting down to it. I can’t help but wonder how effective that really was. Plants were relied on a lot through history to prevent pregnancy. There was a specific plant, called Silphium that was found to be kind of like the birth control pill for keeping someone from getting pregnant. Unfortunately, in 1BC it became so popular it was harvested to extinction.

There are a couple of modern inventions we use today that have roots going way back in history. First of all the diaphragm. Back in the day, they would cut a lemon in half and clean out the pulp. Not only did the shape of the halved fruit prevent entry into the cervix, the acid killed the sperm.

The sponge was a popular way of contraception. Many different substances were used, usually based off of where the person lived and what was easily accessible. Everything could be used from cotton to sponges and even wool. To think I can’t even wear a wool sweater for the way it irritated my skin…  *wince*

Finally, the all popular condoms. They’ve actually been around since ancient Egyptian times when men used animal intestines as condoms. Kinda makes you wonder who came up with THAT idea first. Later in the 16th century, they came out with linen condoms. It was really mainly to prevent the spread of disease more than prevent pregnancy, though I can’t imagine a thin scrap of fabric doing much of either. Casanova was reported to use this kind of condom, tied at the base with a pretty bow. How dainty.

Rubber condoms were first introduced in the late 1800’s and were not the disposable kind we’re used to today. No, these came in a specially designed box where they could be washed after use and tucked away for another ‘special occasion’. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving. ;)

They definitely had some pretty interesting ways to keep from getting pregnant so many centuries ago. And while I shudder at the thought of slathering animal dung where the light of day will never reach, I think it’s a much better alternative to a whole gaggle of kids.

So…would you do it?

Smiling Through History, Part 2

June 14th, 2012 by Madeline

After reading the first post on Smiling Through History, you know that people cleaned their mouths/teeth on a regular basis. But sometimes having healthy teeth isn’t enough, sometimes we want more. Whether it be a straighter smile, a smile without teeth missing, a whiter smile or a blacker smile. Whoa…wait…a blacker smile???

Yup, in ancient Japan, it was common for people to blacken their teeth with a method called ohaguro. The Japanese thought black lacquered things were incredibly beautiful and teeth were no different. Married women, aristocrats, geishas and soldiers (before battle) typically painted their teeth black. The blend of acetic acid and dissolved iron was painted on the teeth either once a day or once every few days. Interestingly enough, those who painted their teeth black typically had healthier teeth as the dye acted as a sort of sealant over the teeth and prevented decay. This tradition was banned back in the late 19th century, but some ignore the ban and still continue to blacken their teeth to this day.

Europeans and Romans, however, were not unlike us in their desire for brilliantly white teeth. Romans used to swish with urine on a daily basis for a whiter smile. This actually worked as the ammonia in urine helped to lift stains of recently consumed food/wine from their teeth. Don’t get me wrong, you will not find me swishing with pee any time soon – I’m just saying I’m surprised it worked is all.  ;) Europeans had a much more effective method…though quite painful. If one wanted whiter teeth, they went to their local barber-surgeon who would file a layer or two of enamel away and drip acetic acid onto the freshly sanded teeth. The white would last for a while, several months or several years, depending on the person’s genes/diet, etc. But after a while, the thin enamel would not hold up and bacteria would start to seep into the teeth. Eventually, that brilliant white smile would turn into a mouthful of rotten teeth. Such was the price of vanity…

What happened if someone lost a tooth back in ancient times? Or worse…what if they lost all of their teeth? Believe it or not, there were solutions for all of this. As modern as we believe dental implants to be, the Mayans were implanting tooth shaped stone into the jaw all the way back in 600 A.D. as was uncovered in some remains. I’m sure they weren’t up to par with the impossible-to-tell-they’re-fake implants of today, but pretty darn incredible if you ask me.

Per dentures, these were originally made with teeth. Real teeth. Either those of dead animals or those of dead people. I shudder to even think of eating food with a mouthful of dead people’s teeth. But I guess if it comes to either starving to death or using corpse teeth, well… Earlier dentures were also made of wood. Several examples were found in Japan dating back to the 1500’s – unlike other dentures from around the world at that time frame, these suctioned onto the roof of the mouth like the dentures of today. In regards to wooden dentures, George Washington did not have them. His were most likely made of ivory. Unfortunately, he was just a few years shy of receiving a porcelain set that would have been affixed with springs and porcelain paste.

Efforts of early dentists were also applied to the correct of crooked teeth. The early model for braces was first invented in the mid 1700’s and looked more like a horseshoe than the braces of today. About 70 years later, a more modern-looking wire bracket style of braces was invented.

I’m not being wholly honest – Braces actually date way before that first horse-shoe shaped attempt. They just weren’t used for the living. Strands of gold/metal wire and even cat gut (which is string made of…yup, cat guts) were looped around the teeth of dead Romans and Etruscans to keep their teeth from coming loose in the afterlife.

Old school dentists even went above and beyond with dental bling than we do today. Yeah, we’ve got gold teeth, but the Mayans had gem-encrusted teeth. Nothing says gorgeous like a mouthful of precious stones glinting in the sun, right? These things were attached with a little drilling here and a little cramming there and voila! A dazzling smile.

So, next time you need to go to the dentist for a little cosmetic work, think back to the insanity of what you’ve read and be grateful for those sterile tools…and the use of Novocain. Lots and lots of Novocain.  J

Smiling Through History, Part 1

June 10th, 2012 by Madeline

How many of you hate going to the dentist? *raises hand*

Most of us don’t really enjoy going for dental work. In our minds, those little partitioned cubicles are sterile chambers of torture complete with tools specific for finely crafted cruelty. Unfortunately, we all crave that perfect smile of brilliant white, straight teeth where we can eat anything, hot, cold and in between, without ever having the slightest twinge of discomfort. Alas, that makes the dentist necessary.

This need for a healthy smile is not a new one, although it has become significantly less unpleasant throughout the years. While many believe dental hygiene is a modern convenience, I think you’ll be surprised at what I uncovered.

First of all, people have been cleaning their teeth for centuries. They may not have had access to ADA toothbrushes and fresh, minty toothpastes, but they did still brush their teeth and they did still swish with mouthwash. After all, how could one wake up with morning breath and be totally OK with that funk all day?

The most popular early toothbrush wasn’t a brush at all. It was a stick – a chew stick to be specific, which is exactly what it sounds like. A twig or stick with the end frayed. That end would be scraped across the teeth to brush away excess bits of food particles and that ‘tooth fuzz’. This was actually a pretty effective method of brushing the teeth and is still used today in some countries. Hard brushers be warned: you can do serious gum damage with chew sticks.

Toothbrushes were first invented in China and made with horsehair and ivory. They were brought back to England, but the trend didn’t really catch on. Why not, you wonder… Well, imagine if someone gave you a brush with pig hair in it and told you to put it in your mouth? Say you were daring enough to do it…and then you realized how the animal hair started falling out and sticking between your teeth and plastering to your tongue. A chew stick is looking significantly more hygienic at this point, isn’t it? And that’s exactly how the European nobles felt about it.

In addition to the chew stick, nobles also incorporated the use of tooth picks to clean their teeth. Not the cheap wooden bamboo stick things we all poke in cakes to make sure it cooked all the way through – these things were FANCY! They were made of silver and gold with little handles crusted with gems by the most skilled of craftsmen. After a 17th century dinner, it would not be uncommon to see nobles cleaning their heavy meal from their teeth with these fancy picks.

Not only were there chew sticks and tooth picks, there were also tooth powders and mouthwashes. Mouthwashes were usually made of vinegar and/or wine/liquor. While it wouldn’t do much to make our mouth as feel clean by modern day standards, it was a decent method of combating bacteria back in the day.

Tooth powders were typically made of an abrasive material mixed with dried herbs to freshen the breath. The abrasive materials could be anything from ground up shell or pumice to bits of charcoal. These powders were rubbed onto the teeth either with the fingers or a cloth and then rinsed and spat out. The concept of toothpaste was introduced several times, but didn’t catch on until the end of the 19th century. It probably seems strange that people would be opposed to toothpaste (which came in lead tubes – yikes!), but if you think about it, how weird would it be to switch our toothpaste to a tooth powder? I guess people just like to go with what they are familiar with.  ;)

If you’re interested, I found a fascinating article on one person’s experiments with old tooth powders and mouth washes. If you’re a history dork like me and are curious, check it out here: http://www.gallowglass.org/jadwiga/herbs/teeth.html

Don’t get too excited about seeing anything on dental floss. That didn’t really come onto the markets for consumer use until the late 1800’s. Nor were there any methods for filling cavity ridden teeth or performing root canals. If you had a serious tooth ache back in the day, you went to a barber-surgeon who would wrench that tooth right out of your head. With no anesthetic, mind you. While the process was most likely incredibly uncomfortable, the tooth pain would cease almost immediately with the pulling of the tooth.

Now you know that people really were hygienic about their teeth back in the day, but what about cosmetics? Were white smiles desirable? What happened when people lost all their teeth? Guess you’ll have to find out in the part 2 edition I post later on this week. Bwhahahahaha!!

Trust me, you’ll want to come back – it’s fascinating. ;)

Gettin’ Privy with It

April 27th, 2012 by Madeline

If you rolled your eyes at this blog title, that’s OK – it was a crappy pun. >insert groan here<

Seriously though, who hasn’t wondered what people did before the modern conveniences of toilets, TP and even pads and tampons. I mean, just because those convenient items didn’t exist doesn’t mean the inconveniences didn’t either.

Considerable thought was actually put into historical commodes. Toilet artifacts have been found dating all the way back to the BC years, most of which look either like ornate chamber pots or stone slabs with circles cut into them. Several civilizations even came up with ways to funnel their rivers through pipes that ran under latrines as a means of removing waste (several civilizations, as in more than just the Romans). In fact the earliest level flush toilet was invented in 1206! How crazy is that??

English lavatories were typically narrow chambers with a wooden seat (padded with velvet if you were important) with a hole in it that emptied through a series of channels into a cesspit or some kind of water source. In London, facilities were even provided for the public. Kind of like an outhouse, but instead of a hole in the ground, it was the frigid Thames below. Can you imagine how cold that would be on a winter day? Even people who were fortunate enough to have commodes in their homes still had to deal with the icy temperatures in the winter because those tunnels leading out of their privy’s were not heated.

So, back to those cesspits. Those indoor latrines emptied into places like the back yard and beneath the cellar floors. Slatted sides ensured liquid escaped and left only solids behind. Which leads to the next question – what does one do with all that poo?

Enter the gong farmer. Bless his heart, this man did a job so foul he was only permitted to work during the hours of late night/super early morning. Though he was a laborer, he was paid a considerable amount for that period in time and would scoop out the cesspits and relocate the…um…loads…to an approved area. Trust me, they were super picky about where that stuff ended up.

Speaking of interesting jobs centered on toilets, there was one particular task all the noblemen were clamoring for. The Groom of the Stool. Yes, this was such a thing. And, yes, it was a huge honor. The Groom of the Stool was the most trusted person within the king’s Privy Chamber (AKA bedroom and stuff). He would keep the monarch company while the king answered the call of nature. While there, the king would discuss his private affairs and seek counsel. Ever hear of the phrase ‘being privy’ on a secret? Bet ya can figure out where that came from. ;) At any rate, after the king finished his bodily business, the groom would have the esteemed honor of cleaning the royal hiney. Seriously.

Now we know where they went to the bathroom, but what did they use to wipe themselves? After all, toilet paper has only been around since 1857 and it was a bust at first. It wasn’t until the tissue sheets were placed on a roll and perforated did they become popular. Prior to that, people were all about the pages of magazines. Gives a whole new perspective to the bathroom reader, eh?  But back, back, back in the day before magazines, when books were crazy expensive and rare – what did they use? The answer is pretty much whatever was readily available. Obviously the rich had more comfortable/hygienic options like bits of fine cloth and lace (am I alone in feeling bad for the lace maker who slaved over that delicate masterpiece just so a nobleman could wipe his tuckus?). The poor had to make do with whatever they could find. Everything was used from grass, leaves, old scraps of cloth to seaweed and shells. Yeah that last one made me wince too. Romans were said to keep sponges soaked in saltwater that were used for the ol’ swiperoo and Greeks used clay (I’m kinda curious how that worked…) and early Americans used corn cob husks. Don’t worry, I’ll leave the corn comments to you guys.  ;)

Let’s see, we’ve covered toilets, sh*tty jobs and toilet paper. Might as well throw in a lil history on what women did when menstruating. Why? Cuz I’m curious like that. And if you’re still reading, then you are too (or you just really love me enough to tolerate this post).

Would you believe me if I told you that tampons have been around since the 18th century? Not shocked, huh? What if I told you tampons weren’t actually used for menstruating women until the 1940’s? Yup, the original purpose of a tampon was invented to staunch blood flow in bullet wounds. Nurses got their hands on them and put them to womanly purpose.

Going on that thread, we can thank nurses for pads too. Like the tampons, these were originally invented for medical purposes and were used to absorb blood from wounds. These caught on a little more quickly than tampons and were marketed toward women in 1888. The absorbent filler used to make them? Wood pulp. Kind of makes you wonder if anyone ended up with a splinter…OUCH!

Before tampons and pads, it was the TP concept all over again – whatever they could get their hands on. Sponges, scraps of fabric, knitted pads that could be washed and reused – oh, and nothing. Yup, nothing. Women didn’t wear underwear until the early 19th century (meaning nowhere to tuck the scraps of cloth) and even when they did start, their underwear was split down the middle for ease of going to the bathroom (called a pantalette if you’re interested). Rumor has it women would just have their undergarments thoroughly washed while menstruating or they’d stay in bed (probably on top of a pile of clothes). And here I always thought they just used the cramps and headaches as an excuse to sleep all day…

I hope you enjoyed the info dump on toilet history…and hope it made up for the full month I’d failed to post.  ;)  See y’all next time!!  :)  

A Hairy History for the Merkin

March 18th, 2012 by Madeline

The merkin.  Some of you read that word with a grin on your face because you know EXACTLY what it is. Others not so much. I’m not going to beat around the bush on this. A merkin is a pubic wig. Yes, a wig that one affixes over their junk in place of pubic hair.

The merkin is an historic piece still used today for shy actors and by strippers forced into ‘decency’ by the law. Then there are the fetishers and show stoppers, but I don’t think I need to go there…  Though a modern tool, eyewitness accounts place the appearance of merkins around 1450. While there is no historic indication as to why the merkin was invented in the first place, there are two popular modern day theories.

The first theory is the one I support based on my research. Prostitutes were ordered to shave their naughty bits back in the day to prevent the spread of pubic lice. While sensible, this left women clean shaven – a look that was centuries before it’s time. Though we all like to imagine women being hair-free then as they are today, that was not the case. Women did not even shave their armpits until the early 1900’s when an ad showed a woman in a dress sporting silky smooth underarms. The fad of shaving legs came later as hemlines started creeping up and the concept of shaving the pubic region is owed primarily to the prevalence of contemporary porn and their need to “show all”. That said, having freshly shorn bits in 1450 was kind of like a woman today going full bush under her arms – unexpected, but in that not so pleasant kind of way. So, the merkin was invented. Not only did it cover the smooth (stubbly?) skin, it could also be removed, washed, deloused and replaced.

The second theory doesn’t match my historical findings and, I believe, is more for shock value. The theory states merkins were invented to cover weeping syphilis sores and to mask hair falling out from mercury treatments (a common syphilis “cure”). The first reason I do not support this theory is because syphilis wasn’t reported until 1494 during the French invasion. Initially everyone played the blame name game. The French called it the Pox of Naples, the British called it the French Disease, the Turks called it the British Disease. You get the idea. At any rate, if syphilis was not present until the end of the 15th century, the merkin would not have shown up until then as well instead of almost 50 years prior.

Time wasn’t the only crack I found in the second theory. There is the disease itself. Syphilis shows itself 30 – 90 days after exposure in the form of a pain-free, non-itchy legions (don’t look up the pic, I promise you do NOT want to see.) They will typically only form on the area surrounding the genitals around 2-7% of the time. The legions, or chancres, will almost certainly show on a man’s penis or a woman’s cervix. As the merkin was used initially by females and the cervix is not visible, this jabs another hold in that second theory. The next stage of syphilis after those chancres is a massive rash covering the trunk of the body, palms and soles. I don’t think a merkin would hide that.  Just sayin’

Syphilis was treated by either the papal solution of consuming powdered guaiacum wood (also called “Holy wood”) or after 1550 by mercury. As you know, mercury is a nasty substance that causes everything from hair and tooth loss to paralysis and death. Well, back then they thought it was the magic cure for syphilis (as well as several other diseases). Syphilis sufferers were placed into hot rooms and breathed in vaporized forms of mercury, they swallowed ‘blue pills’ with mercury and even applied mercury directly to the chancres. Ugh, one shudders to even imagine the last one. So, while mercury did cause hair loss, this ‘cure’ was not around until a century after the invention of the merkin. Side note – no mention has been made to mercury actually curing syphilis, yet another form of treatment was not invented until 1910.

And once again I’ve digressed. Back to the merkin itself. What was the merkin made of? You sure you wanna know? *eyebrow waggle* Of course you do or would never have gotten past the syphilis section (and trust me, I left out the nastier details…) As 15th century wig makers lacked the man-made synthetics of today, merkins were made using real hair. Either from horses or goats or corpses. Yeah, corpses. It was actually a pretty lucrative venture for grave robbers from what I read. It’s horrifying to think, but imagine – these were prostitutes, women selling their bodies for food. Do you really think they had the money to go out and buy a fancy wig with hair generated by some little maiden who’d sold her shimmering tresses to buy her beloved a watch chain? OK, wrong century reference, but you get what I’m saying.

At any rate, the merkin ended up catching on with some of the nobles as well once they realized the limitless possibilities of decoration. Pearls could be threaded through the merkin as well as different colored hair, ribbons, etc. Kinda like historic vejazzling if you will…just with more fluff (literally) :)

So, the next time someone mentions a merkin, not only will you know what it is, you’ll also have some verrrrry interesting topics to bring up. Enjoy!  :)

P.S. Seriously, don’t look up the syphilis chancre pics. Don’t. Do. It.

P.S.S. Thank you to the following address of the person who posted the awesome merkin pic above. J (Giving props where they’re due)  http://peekabublog.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/featured_promotion11.jpg?w=380

The Execution of Justice

March 7th, 2012 by Madeline

The day of your execution has arrived. False truths by your peers have condemned you as a traitor and you have been graciously sentenced to beheading by your king.

Crowds of peasants press against you, their grubby hands catching the rich velvet of your finest clothes, the odor of their unwashed bodies thick in the air. Your friends are among them, eyes fixed on your alleged shame to dissuade others of their own implication. An act you yourself have committed in the past.

You concentrate on placing one foot in front of the other, the simplest of actions become difficult as your mind scrambles to grasp the reality of your impending fate. The scaffold became a permanent structure years ago, its stairs worn smooth by a steady march of the condemned. Adrenaline fires through your muscles as you begin that same ascent. You fight the primitive urge to flee.

There is nowhere to go.

Your footsteps pound in your ears like ominous drumbeats that fall silent as your shoes meet the straw lined platform. Chills rake down your spine. The straw is not meant to cushion your body, but to absorb your blood. The gold coin in your hand has grown hot beneath your slick palm. Hopefully the executioner will not take offense.

A black mask obscures his identity and highlights eyes that remind you of a clear summer sky. Your lips whisper forgiveness, but your mind screams for mercy as you press the coin to his fingers.

The time has come to give your speech. The one that will thank your gracious king for a painless death, the one that will spare your family his bloodthirsty wrath. The one you rehearsed until the darkness of your last night gave way to the gentle pinks of your last sunrise.

Silence descends upon the crowd and you force strength into your dry throat. Your limbs quiver with fear, but you will appear brave before them. The people remain quiet as the priest delivers your last rites. Though his voice is warm, his gaze offers only indifference. He believes you are guilty and somehow that realization leaves you hollow.

Your legs buckle as you kneel before the chopping block. Tension hums through the masses. Do they expect you to die as the Duchess of Salisbury, running and screaming as the executioner chases you upon the dais?

Hopefully your coin and forgiveness have purchased a swift death and not one requiring eleven strokes of the axe.

Air pushes in and out of your chest, yet you cannot breathe. You grip either side of the block and lower your neck to a surface gouged deep with mortal blows. Your heart threatens to escape the confines of your ribs as seconds turn into decades. Warmth spreads down your legs and pools at your knees.

A peasant leans against the wood frame below with a wild glint in her black eyes and a mad smile upon her lips. Dots of brown spatter the front of her filthy dress: dried blood. She has stood here before, staring at another victim as she stares at you now.

In these last moments before your death, life takes on incredible clarity and you savor it. The caress of a breeze against your face, the earthy scent of sun-warmed grass beneath the scaffolding, the low whisper of the axe as it cuts the air behind you. The skin along your back tingles in anticipation, yet something inside of you flickers with futile hope.

Perhaps you will be spared.