Thursday, January 3, 2013

Queen Esther’s Extreme Makeover

Esther (1878) by Edwin Long (Wikipedia)
Most little girls at some point in their lives want to be royalty. They love being called “princess,” dream about being rescued by “Prince Charming,” and look forward to living a life chore-free in a grand palace. It’s no wonder that the Book of Esther continues to be popular among the female sex. Hadassah the diasporic Jewish girl becomes Esther, Queen of the Medo-Persian Empire and heroine of her people. It’s a “beauty isn’t all bad after all” relief for Christians combined with the rags-to-riches and “do your own thing” type of stories Americans love.

Because of her popularity, there’s quite a bit on interest in what sort of beautifying treatments turned Esther into such a temptation for King Ahasuerus that he favored her over all the other beautiful virgins in the empire. We get a few clues from the Bible (Esther 2:12-13) and from recorded history.

For six months, she was treated with oil of myrrh to improve her skin. Then for another six months she was treated with spices, ointments, or perfumes (depending on which translation you use), such as rose and saffron.   It’s also likely that she used the hair removal techniques for which Persians, both ancient and modern, are so well-known. Threading, ripping out the hair follicle, gave her well-defined eyebrows and fuzz-less cheeks and chin. Sugaring, or Persian waxing, left her entire body hairless, dirt-free, and soft. There was probably a special diet and exercise program designed to keep her body healthy, strong, and curvy. I suppose some sort of ancient manicure and pedicure existed too. When the special day arrived, the hair on her head would’ve been styled into tight curls worn by the upper-classes and decorated with pins, gems, or whatever was the fashion at the time. Esther’s face would’ve been decked out in the finest cosmetics, making her eyes and lips irresistible. Then dressed in the beautiful robes and jewelry, she’d be prepared to appear before the king.

And don’t think it ended with her coronation. One thing definite about beauty: there must be upkeep. Unwanted hair grows back, itchy and clogging the pores with dirt, puss, and oil. A beautiful hairstyle becomes a flaky, tangled mess. Soft skin becomes callused, chapped, and rough. Luckily Queen Esther had her own personal staff in the harem to see that she stuck to the beauty regimen. Whether entirely by choice or not, she had to be dedicated to looking her best. No try-it-once fads from beauty magazines. No short-term skin care programs. No dieting or exercising “tomorrow.” No half-hearted attempts to look acceptable for a big event. She had to be physically gorgeous all the time, with the possible exceptions when sick or on her period. Talk about a fulltime job. And probably the strangest thing about it: She could look back and say it was well worth her time and effort.