Dieting is not an invention of the modern age. For as long as there has been food, there have been diet programs and aids, not to mention doctors who instructed their patients to lose weight. The aid that still horrifies me was popular in the Victorian period—swallowing tapeworms. That’s one way to lose weight, but not a particularly healthy one. Here’s a lovely diet program from a man named Banting in the mid-nineteenth century. The diet was essentially low carb, even if it did have lots of wine in it. The Ugly-Girl Papers suggested a diet of fruit, with occasional broth, in order to achieve the translucent skin and sickly look that was apparently popular. Or . . . you could just eat arsenic wafers or drink ammonia. But before you scoff, my mom told us that when she and her sisters had colds as girls in the 1930s and ’40s, they were given a sugar cube soaked in kerosene to suck on!
On Sabrina’s Dames and Dukes, I’ve been answering readers’ most pressing questions, and one that comes up time and again is about hygiene: How did women shave their legs and underarms? The answer is simple—they didn’t. Until the early twentieth century, having body hair was considered perfectly acceptable in Western cultures. Then sleeveless dresses with higher hemlines came along, and the fashion industry used that to preach that hairless equaled more beautiful . . . mostly so they could sell razors. We’re so used to shaving body hair now that we can’t imagine a woman having her underarm and leg hair intact, but in the Regency, no one thought twice about it! If you want to chat about fun Regency tidbits, join us on Sabrina’s Dames and Dukes.
An apothecary box features prominently in A Talent for Temptation. Think of it as the Regency version of a home medicine chest. In addition to some of the things you might find there—like pain relievers, antacids, and tongue depressors—you’d find scales for measuring out powders, jars of potions that often included opium or alcohol (or even lead or mercury), and a lot of odd medical implements . . . whatever a doctor or housewife might have needed then. We saw one firsthand when we visited The Georgian House in Edinburgh, but my picture was so blurry, I’m not going to use it. Instead, here’s a link to an article with a great picture that details some “medicines” in the box, which also included an enema syringe (ugh) and a mortar and pestle.