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Why high foreheads were a symbol of beauty during the Middle Ages?

There was a time when “broad-foreheaded” women were the most beautiful, and their semi-bald heads were a status symbol.

For centuries, body hair has varied in length. This is especially true for women, who have been controlled by it the most. In some eras, hairy legs and armpits have been frowned upon and many have resorted to painful methods to remove them. And while today almost all of us agree that body hair is natural and there is no need to remove it (unless it’s for pleasure, of course), there was a time when even the hair that grew on the forehead had to go. In the 1300s, “broad-foreheaded” women were considered the most beautiful, and their half-balded heads were a status symbol.

You’ve probably seen medieval portraits showing women with an apparent “egg head,” which was accentuated with a chignon on the top of the head and a veil that delicately covered it. To achieve this cut, upper-class women underwent procedures that included removing hair one by one from their foreheads. Today many people seek to conceal a high forehead with a fringe, but it used to be the other way around. Everyone wanted to rock a broad forehead.

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Many lower-class women in the Middle Ages found in this fashion a business opportunity: they worked as “stylists” and could lighten, shave or pluck hair from the forehead, procedures highly sought after by upper-class women. Women with highly accentuated high foreheads were associated with the upper class and were also considered more beautiful. On the contrary, if you had a very small forehead and bushy eyebrows, you were seen as belonging to the lower classes.

Naturally, like many trends popularized by women, the high-forehead fashion was not so well regarded by the clergy, as it was considered an indication of “vanity” and “pride.” As it has happened for centuries, women’s bodies have been painfully controlled by the Church and other patriarchal institutions.

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In the 1370s, Geoffrey de La Tour Landry wrote a book for his daughters, which was basically a manual of etiquette for young women: Le Livre du Chevalier de la Tour Landry. Among other stories, he wrote that of a widowed gentleman who had recurring nightmares of his wife, who had died shortly before, in which she was tortured by infernal entities. Shortly thereafter, an angel visited him in his dreams and explained to him the reason why his wife was suffering. Yes, the reason was removing the hair from her forehead to be more beautiful. That was what earned her a place in hell.

Story originally published in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva

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