Humans have been pursuing this elusive quality known as "beauty" long before the miracles of modern medicine. Inventors were always coming up with tools meant to help women — and men — achieve the wide-held physical ideals of their era. Eager test subjects would get hooked up to devices that looked like torture machines, or they would employ products that contained poison. You can be sure that, when it came to results, most of these people ended up disappointed.
While it is easy to laugh at these ridiculous gizmos, modern-day gadgets prove we're no less gullible than our forebears.
The perfect face
Victorian and Edwardian women had elaborate corsets and hoop skirts to hide and control their bodies, so that every proper lady appeared to have the desired wasp-waisted figure. Because the body was so well-covered, only the face revealed one's natural beauty. To be considered truly lovely, a woman was expected to have pale, unblemished skin that was soft and supple.
The 1941 Glamour Bonnet was supposed to improve your complexion by reducing the air pressure around your face. Via ModernMechanix.com.
Naturally, innovators got to work developing products to protect and restore precious, youthful skin. In 1889, Margaret Kroesen grew concerned that her daughter Alice, a concert pianist, was developing frown lines — and that those damning wrinkles could hurt her stage career. According to the company's site, the elder Kroesen came up with a product called Wrinkle Eradicators (now known as Frownies), which consists of unbleached paper strips backed with a vegetable-based adhesive.
Frownies has so successfully bombed Google with its product, still made today, it's impossible to find an objective review. But the company insists that the tape, a supposed "Hollywood secret," works by "employing the basic principle of fitness to the muscles of the face." You hear that? Your face needs a trip to the gym, too.
An ad for the Star Vibrator from a 1921 issue of "Hearst's International."
Meanwhile, Victorians believed that vibrations could cure everything from constipation to headaches to "female hysteria". So it's not surprising the Fitzgerald Star Vibrator, like the one seen in this 1921 ad from "Hearst's International" magazine, claimed to fight sagging, sallow skin and keep muscles firm and healthy.
Max Factor (left) and his assistants analyse a woman's face in 1933. Via ModernMechanix.com.
Modern Mechanix has uncovered several other disturbing 1930s and '40s beauty devices, including Isabella Gilbert's metal brace that could dig those smiley dimples right into your face and a vacuum procedure that claimed to suck the wrinkles right out of your skin. The Glamour Bonnet, which inventor Dr D.M. Ackerman asserted could improve one's complexion by reducing air pressure around the skin, looked more like the equivalent of putting a plastic bag over your head.
A bodacious body
But, hey, hucksters offered other ideas for getting full breasts. Why not inflate them like balloons? All you need is more breathing capacity, right — because your lungs are in your boobs? That's what the ads for the Breathing Balloon and Psycho-Expander suggest. If that doesn't work, there was always the Star Vibrator.
A 1924 ad claims this device will "enlarge the chest to its full beauty." Via ModernMechanix.com.
When it comes to hairstyles, the fashion consensus about what kind of hair is most lovely has swung wildly between curly and straight. That's why you have women wrapping their hair in Coke cans one decade, and then flattening their locks with clothing irons the next.
Icall debuted the wireless perm machine in 1934, which was unplugged before the curlers were attached to the head. From "Permanent Waving: The Golden Years" by Louis Calvete.
A plastic surgery scene from the 1985 dystopian comedy "Brazil".
But none of this is quite as much fun as the beauty gadgets sold on late-night TV. The most hilariously creepy is the Rejuvenique facial mask pitched by "Dynasty" star Linda Evans in 1999. The vibrating mask, designed to work-out the muscles in your face, bears a little too much resemblance to Michael Myers in "Halloween" and Jason Voorhees in "Friday the 13th."
The Rejuvenique skin-stimulating mask, at right, could double as a Halloween costume if you wanted to be Jason Vroohees from the classic horror series, "Friday the 13th."
Now, there's the mouth-muscle stretching Facial-Flex, meant to "lift, tone, and firm your neck, face, and chin." You can try the mysterious "wave" technology of the FaceMaster, endorsed by "Three's Company" star Suzanne Somers, and the "electrical muscle stimulation" of the Slendertone Face, both of which claim to erase wrinkles. The informercial of Neckline Slimmer, which requires the silliest exercise you can imagine, insists it can eliminate double chins.
In 80 years, they will be laughing at us: from left, demonstrations of Slendertone Face, the Facial-Flex, and the FaceMaster.Laugh at those vintage ads all you will, but these modern products show us how little has changed since the 1930s. What will the people of the future — who may invent the ultimate beauty machines — think of us?
This article has been excerpted with permission from Collectors Weekly. To read in its entirety, head here.