Discuss: The Things We Do for Beauty

Jun 28, 2013

A discussion in an earlier comment thread got me thinking about the things we do to look and/or feel beautiful.  And how something that seems extreme to one person, seems completely reasonable to the next.

Over the years, I’ve waxed, slathered, squeezed, colored, plucked and massaged my way through beauty treatments from the fairly mundane to the mildly shocking.  But when I think about which treatment was the strangest or most extreme, there is one that stands head and shoulders above the rest.

About a year ago, a friend of mine bought a Groupon for a pedicure at a day spa in Alexandria and invited me to go with her.  She failed to mention that the deal was for a “doctor fish pedicure,” where instead of scrubbing off the dead skin with a file or stone, the salon tech places your feet in a tank of small grey fish who nibble on the dead skin.  Needless to say having dozens of fish treat your un-scrubbed heels like an all-you-can-eat buffet was quite the experience.

The pedicure may have been mediocre, but I got a good story out of the deal.

When I broached this topic with a couple of friends, I received some fun responses from eyelash extensions to electrolysis.  But my favorite was a friend who for her 40th birthday decided to try vajazzling.  You know where they wax your bikini area and then glue jewels to the skin.

Her reason, “I felt like crap about being 40.  I thought that doing something ridiculous and foolish would transform my birthday conversation from ‘Hey, you’re over the hill?’ to ‘What do you mean you got vajazzled?’.  Most effective distraction ever.”

Cultural standards of beauty differ by country and region, but we’re all just trying to feel and look a little better.  So what’s the silliest, weirdest, most extreme thing you’ve ever done in the name of beauty?  Or have you had any bad experiences that made you wonder if it wasn’t time to rethink this whole vanity thing?


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  1. Alexis says:

    In high school, I decided I wanted to “bring out the red in my hair” (there isn’t, and never will be, red in my hair). I read in a magazine that if you steep a bunch of cinnamon sticks in water, let it cool, and then pour it over your hair in the shower, it’ll “bring out the red.” Naturally, I wanted to try it.

    That was the day I found out that my skin reacts very poorly to concentrated cinnamon — the very same reason I’d subconsciously avoided cinnamon gum, lip gloss and candy my whole life. I didn’t put two and two together until the liquid left me with a nasty burn all the way down my back. I like to think I’m a little smarter now.

  2. Rosanne says:

    Haha! Just two weeks ago on vacation in the Mediterranean, I also had the fish pedicure. I don’t really think it’s that extreme, even though it severely tested my ability to withstand the tickling sensation without flinching. Just behind me, however, was a woman who was having a fish manicure – this seemed much more extreme to me somehow. The notion of that much dead skin on one’s hands seemed a little strange. Perhaps my logic is skewed…

  3. Beth says:

    It was halfway through a Wisconsin summer and I was desperate for any hint of summer. So I decided to go blonde. But just highlights, nothing too dramatic. So I bought Sun-In spray, followed the directions, and walked out to let it air dry. When I got to a mirror an hour later, I realized why people looked surprised to see me: stripes of my hair had turned bright orange, while the rest stayed brown. I looked liked a tiger.

    • Belle says:

      I once dyed my brother’s hair more blonde, then he went in a pool. He looked like a coppertop Duracell battery.

      • Ann E. says:

        In high school I too learned the hard way that chlorinated pools and Sun-In are a terrible mixture. Between the greenish streaks where my naturally blonde hair was dyed by the chlorine and the areas I had tried to lighten with Sun-In that were that same copper you mention, my hair was a mess and my mother was livid.

    • I’m Indian and one summer around my junior year of high school I thought Sun-In was a good idea. It REALLY REALLY wasn’t. Tiger is exactly the right description.

  4. Heather says:

    In college, I tried a sample for one of those “leave on mask” things. I squeezed the stuff out, smeared it all over my face and sat down to wait the 10 minutes it suggested on the package. After a minute or two, I thought, “Wow – this really must be doing something…” After another minute or two, “Wow – is it supposed to be burning like this?” At the mid-way point, “Seriously? What is going on?” I made it to about minute 7 before running to the bathroom and washing it off. To my dismay, my face was still on fire. Cut to my roommate getting home a little bit later to find me on the couch, miserable.



    “THAT’S A CHEMICAL BURN. What the hell are you doing?”

    Yeah, good times.

  5. Jenn L. says:

    I, too, wanted red tresses when I was in high school. I DIY’d it with a boxed Clairol dye (which, despite my inexperience and crazy long hair, turned out nice) but I failed to think about how it looked against my skin. I should have picked a different shade, and I should have done my homework on how much of a bitch upkeep for colored-red hair. After a while, I tired of the attention and expense, and wanted to revert to normal or close to normal. I stripped it (…yeah, I know), cried, bought a semi-permanent brunette dye and grew it out, re-coloring it ever so often to keep the orange at bay.


    • Sofie says:

      I also dyed my hair red when I was in high school or junior high (had always wanted to be a redhead), and also DIY’d it. However, I have naturally blonde hair and really dark eyebrows, and didn’t think about how odd dark eyebrows and red hair look together. Can you even dye your eyebrows? Is that a thing?

      • Belle says:

        You can. Your stylist will give you a bit of color in a container if you ask. I know some women who dye the carpet to match the drapes, if you know what I mean.

        • Ann E. says:

          I think that’s an episode of Sex and the City too. Also that has to be one of the things I understand the least.

        • Jenn L. says:

          I’ve heard about people coloring their eyebrows, but from what I understand, conventional advice is all like, “NOOOO, too risky.” Most people I know fill their brows in with a closer color.

          And OMG BELLE. I’ve heard jokes, but I didn’t realize anyone went quite that far. The sensitivity…ack.

  6. Addison says:

    You know those Sigerson Morrison Belle flats you own that you mentioned on the blog awhile back? Well I immediately loved them and decided to buy them. I still love them…so much so that I wear them all the time even though I usually end up with a blister or two on both feet (I’m extremely blister prone). Nothing Bandaid brand tough strips won’t fix!

  7. Kelley says:

    Bird Poop Facial! There is a fantastic spa in Santa Fe called Ten Thousand Waves which offers a Nightengale Facial. Made with sterilized nightengale droppings. I was down from the moment I read “ancient Japanese secret.” I don’t know if it was the bird poo, or just fact that I was freshly showered after camping for 2 weeks, but my skin did look glowy and gorgeous afterwards 🙂

  8. Lindsay says:

    I’m guilty of abusing my feet.

    1. I was visiting a friend in grad school and we decided to go out dancing. I hadn’t brought anything to wear out, so borrowed a pair of her shoes that were a 1/2 size too small. The next morning I woke up on the couch in her boyfriend’s slummy NYC apartment, feet throbbing and barely able to fit into my shoes. I had to put 14 band-aids on each foot so I could hobble to the train home.

    2. We had an opening event at the museum where I work, and I wore high heel sandals that were quite pretty, but after a few hours, too small in the toe box. The next day, blister-wise, I only had one blister on each big toe. But on each foot, my ring toe was numb and I couldn’t feel it. I must have bruised a muscle inside my foot that messed with the nerve ending, since it didn’t feel right for days. It took about a week for my ring toes to feel like they were normal again.

  9. Cynthia W says:

    Ooh.. the things that have happened to my hair from dying it myself. There was the time used a temporary black dye for Halloween, which didn’t rinse all the way out and left my hair with a green tinge to it. Or the time that I had highlights and decided to go with one of those Mahogany reds, which left the highlight part hot pink.

    Then there was the time that I tried the old mayo-as-a-conditioner trick that I read in a magazine that left my hair nasty, greasy, and smelly.

    Other than those mishaps, I guess the only thing really “extreme” that I can cop to is getting regular Brazilians – it started out as a Valentine’s gift for hubby and turned into something that I like for myself, so I don’t know if that really counts.

    I’m too afraid of needles and of looking like a freak to do anything too nuts.

  10. Elaine says:

    I’m pretty hairy for a girl, as well as having black hair and pale skin. Most of my worst mishaps are related to at-home hair removal. Once in high school I attempted to wax my armpits. I did part of one, and it hurt so badly that I just sat down on the bathroom floor and cried. Then I couldn’t get the wax off my raw skin (plus I was sweating from the pain/nerves) and had to yell for my (horrified) mom to help me. Another time, I was waxing my bikini area and managed to glue my upper (upper!) thighs together with wax. I’d have to say that electrolysis is the LEAST crazy thing I’ve tried!

  11. Patricia says:

    I just moved to Japan and tried Baby Foot. You wear little plastic booties with gel for an hour. 2 weeks later all the skin from your feet peels off. It worked great except week 3 on a new job I left chunks of skin everywhere I went. Finally had to wear pantyhose for a few days (which is the norm in Japan).

  12. Joules says:

    I guess I haven’t ever done anything too crazy I can think of. I guess once I did scrub my legs with a mixture I read about for exfoliation that consisted of oatmeal, sugar, and some other food items. I guess it exfoliated me ok. It did stop up the drains though :/

    Style by Joules

  13. GoGoGo says:

    Once I dieted for a summer like crazy, even though I always thought I would be the last person to care about that. I sense that weight loss is where there real crazy (and not in a cute way) beauty-seeking behavior happens for most people.

    But on the cute end…once in high school my friends and I made a homemade mask we read about in a beauty book and sat in the sun with it. Once it was on our faces, it dripped everywhere and it was hard not to end up tasting it. And we realized it was basically guacamole with honey in it. We were just sitting there covered in sticky guacamole. Real smooth. (Our faces did not feel cool afterwards, either.)

  14. M says:

    In middle school, I let a friend (an avid Cosmo reader) convince me that you could wear any NAIL POLISH as lip color as long as you had enough vaseline on underneath. I let her do the honors and it was only about a minute before I realized it was not true. And I’ve got a tiny scar on my bottom lip to prove it!

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