The Victorian era was one of human progress and scientific advancement. It was also a time for some pretty bizarre fads and hobbies. In fact, the Victorian era is much closer to modern society in this regard. A few of the crazy fads from back then still exist today.
1. Arsenic was all the rage.
Arsenic was a major component of many household items during the Victorian era. It was also widely consumed in different forms by both men and women.
Arsenic was a major ingredient in many cosmetics at the time. It was said to make skin look younger. Men were told that consuming arsenic pills could stimulate their libido.
As you might expect, none of that worked. These products likely caused extreme sickness and accidental death before people figured out how terrible arsenic is.
2. There were a lot of Victorian gym rats.
Many of us think that bodybuilding and an obsession with fitness are modern happenings. Believe it or not, many middle- and upper-class Victorian men and women got deep into the world of fitness. Their stated goal was to develop their bodies to the “Grecian ideal” through diet and exercise routines.
This sounds familiar, especially when you factor in how overeating and obesity were common among the upper classes during the Victorian era.
3. Corsets were all the rage.
Like arsenic, corsets were everywhere during the Victorian era. The goal of wearing a corset was to reduce the waist, but a few women took it to dangerous extremes. Some tried to create dangerously small waists of 16 inches of less using a corset. This could literally kill you over time.
4. Nipple piercing was a thing.
While ear piercing was a common practice during Victorian times, there were a few rogue jewelers in England and France who began offering nipple piercing. This particular fad caught on because women believed that having their nipples pierced would make their breasts grow rounder and more attractive. No word on whether that actually worked.
The Victorians loved to play with electricity, so it”s no surprise that they put electricity to work trying to alleviate various medical problems. They called the practice electropathy, essentially paying to be zapped at high voltages by a “doctor.”
Electropathy was used to treat everything from gout to muscle weakness. Many patients walked away from their electropathy sessions with burns from the machines.
6. Tattoos were surprisingly popular.
In 1862, the Prince Of Whales decided to get a tattoo on a whim while he was visiting Jerusalem. His decision to get inked started a tattoo fad among the upper classes. Unlike today, the rich and powerful didn”t necessarily wish to show off their tattoos.
Despite this taboo, tattooing swept through the aristocracy. Tsar Nicholas II, Prince and Princess Waldemar of Denmark, and King Oscar of Sweden are all said to have had tattoos.
If there”s one thing that appears odd to us today about Victorian women, it is the constant swooning. Victorian women seemed to swoon at pretty much the drop the of a hat. That might sound a little absurd, but it makes sense when you consider that Victorian women had very few other acceptable emotional outlets at the time.
8. Fasting girls were a big deal.
Fasting girls were young women who were said to be able to survive without eating or drinking. They were all complete frauds, but nobody really knew that.
Most had the help of an accomplice or two who would bring them food when no one was looking. Still, that didn”t stop fasting girls from being some of the biggest attractions of the era. One fasting girl, Mollie Fancher, was supposedly able to live 14 years without food.
Very much like electropathy, hydrotherapy was the so-called “water cure.” It involved immersing the body in scalding hot or freezing cold water. Hydrotherapy technically didn”t cure anything, but it was marketed as a miracle cure for a variety of diseases. It was also a treatment that the rich of the time were willing to pay good money for.
Starting around 1859, hysteria became a sort of catch-all diagnosis for women experiencing emotional distress. Not happy with your husband? Hysteria. Depressed? That”s hysteria. Having dark murderous fantasies? You guessed it.
One of the cures for hysteria was a “pelvic massage” (AKA masturbation) administered by a doctor, or if the doctor”s hands started cramping, they would bring in a primitive pedal-powered sex toy. The goal of these treatment sessions was a “hysterical paroxysm,” also known as an orgasm.
I still can”t believe people actually ate arsenic pills, but we shouldn”t be so fast to judge. Though we think of ourselves as “enlightened,” I”m sure that future generations will look back at us and remark at how dumb some of things were did were.