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Mark Twain once wrote, “Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18.”

Youth has long been associated with beauty. People have been seeking a remedy for aging since the beginning of time, with hopes of finding healing waters or magical spells. But when magical spells and healing waters ran dry, beauty treatments of the 18th Century aimed to hide those common effects of aging like blemishes and sun damage. 

Today, our advanced society continues to look for ways to slow down the aging process. Researchers engage in stem cell research to remedy aging and some of the conditions that come along with it, and often, healthcare providers will prescribe drugs like human growth hormone to increase muscle mass and bone density amongst aging populations. Popular cosmetic treatments frequently claim to minimize the effects of aging on every part of the body, as well. While the idea of aging gracefully and embracing who you are is alive and well in our society, it seems many people still yearn for youth and the beauty that comes with it.

 

History of Feminine Beauty

To fully understand the history of aging, you must all know a bit about how the idea of beauty has changed through the ages. Beauty techniques of the 1700s changed as we entered the 19th Century. The Victorian Era came with tiny waists and full skirts, this silhouette giving the illusion of a bigger behind, which was a symbol of beauty. Some women crammed themselves into corsets to increase the shape they wanted to achieve. The 1900s also subscribed to the notion of small waists.

 

The history of feminine beauty continued to change during the 20th Century. The Roaring Twenties saw the emergence of tiny women with less clothing covering their bodies, and by the 1950s, the hourglass figure was seen as a symbol of true beauty. During the 1970s, the pendulum swung back to being thin but added the desire to be tanned.

 

Today, beauty standards continue to change. More women are embracing their size than ever before, and diversity in beauty standards has changed significantly in recent years. Beauty is found in a variety of skin tones, sizes, and gender. Despite all of the progress, the one thing that has remained for centuries is the idea that youth equates beauty. Let’s take a more in-depth look at a few ways aging has changed throughout the centuries. 

Aging and Society

Aging brings with it many physical changes. Your skin may sag or become translucent, hair begins to thin, and it seems that everything from your breasts to your bottom starts to drop a bit. Many older adults experience dim eyesight, and getting around can become much more challenging. Most of these changes are associated with age and contrasted by the idea of beauty as a thing for the young. But, physical changes are not the only things that happen. The way society and families treat the aged is different as well. Here is a comparison of aging today and in the 1800s.

Overall Health

The life expectancy in the 1800s was 40 years old. This was a drastic increase from previous centuries since people had access to a healthier lifestyle with advancements like immunizations, clean running water, and better nutrition. Everyday health improvements were plentiful, but dangers like diseases and epidemics were still prevalent. Doctors and other healthcare professionals were just starting to understand the effects of hand hygiene and other infection control practices on overall health and wellness. These lifestyle changes needed to improve to allow the life expectancy to grow.

 

Care of older adults in the 1800s varied from today. Many elderly received care in institutions called “poorhouses.” These tax-supported residential housing facilities began as a place for people who could not support themselves. As time went on, social structures such as unemployment benefits and Social Security were created to assist people who needed financial help. This allowed poorhouses to evolve into nursing homes for elderly people who needed help with activities of daily life.

 

Today, the average life expectancy is around 79 years of age in the U.S. We have a much-improved understanding of the importance of wellness for those of advanced age.

What’s more, we understand the importance of mental health and have substantial treatments for mental illnesses.

 

Current care practices for older individuals include eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of activity, and controlling chronic disease. Healthcare providers know that spiritual care and the need for community also contribute to overall health and wellness for older adults. Rather than poorhouses, many seniors live in assisted living facilities, nursing facilities, or at home with services like home health. These healthcare institutions offer more advanced care that is delivered by qualified healthcare professionals compared to the poorhouses of the past.

Vision Care

Modern medicine has come along way with ophthalmology and other eye specialties. Eye care during the 1800s was much different, where common conditions like cataracts and tumors had limited treatments and frequently ended with long-term vision issues. Civil war injuries left many soldiers blind because of the lack of adequate eye care and infection control practices. Glasses were a common way to correct visual deficits in the 1800s, but there were seen as “old fashioned” by many people. Throughout the century, eyeglass shape and design changed from round to oval to octagonal.

 

Overall, vision care has improved since the 1800s. Glasses and contacts have become common and fluctuate between being seen as a statement of fashion and beauty to a tool of necessity. In 1979, contact lenses were introduced and gained popularity because they were not visible to others. Today, common vision problems such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism are treated quickly. Glasses, contacts, and even eye surgeries have seen significant advancements since the 19th century.

Pain Treatments

Pain happens during many conditions and surgeries. Modern-day beauty treatments like plastic surgery can be painful. Today’s society struggles with an addiction to strong painkillers like Percocet and Oxycontin, leading experts to seek out new ways to treat pain with minimal long-term side effects. Recently, many states started passing laws allowing the use of medical marijuana and an extract found in the plant commonly called CBD. This plant therapy can ease nerve pain and inflammation. It’s also believed to be non-habit forming. 

 

These treatments are a far cry from pain management techniques of the 1800s, where Chloroform and Ether were used for pain control during surgical procedures. You may think that cosmetic treatments were limited during these early times. However, the first cosmetic surgery was done in 1827 by Dr. John Peter Mettauer, who completed a cleft palate repair. Battle injuries from wars were often fixed with plastic surgery techniques. While these surgeries are only loosely related to beauty, aesthetic treatments started to become more popular in the 19th century, too.

We’ve Come a Long Way

It’s been said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Science, medicine, and society have long had their hand in the idea of what is beautiful. Advancements in healthcare allow us to live longer, but is it at the risk of deteriorating beauty? Perhaps it will be beauty standards that change to appreciate all ages and standards of beauty. It will be intriguing to see how our society continues to advance over the next century.

About the Author:
Frankie Wallace contributes to a wide variety of blogs and writes about many different topics, including politics and the environment. Wallace currently resides in Boise, Idaho and is a recent graduate of the University of Montana.