8 Things People Did Before Plastic Surgery

Before plastic surgery, there was a huge market for bizarro machines that were supposed to reshape the face. Here are some of the weirdest.

January 11, 2018
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They say beauty is only skin deep, but try telling that to the stampede of women who are now requesting the “Meghan Markle nose” from their plastic surgeons.

Seemingly overnight, Prince Harry’s fiancée has become the most popular inspiration for plastic surgery out there. Even celebrities who preach about self-love and being “Born This Way” often nose-dive into some of their own cosmetic improvements.

We’ve all wanted to look like a celebrity at one time or another, or we’ve at least wondered what we would look like with a few improvements to those “genetic flaws,” like the chest your momma didn’t give you or that nose that children confuse for a beak.

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But plastic surgery isn’t accessible to everyone. And what about the days way back when it wasn’t really an option at all? How did people manage to get those dashing dimples they were lusting after?

Well, it turns out they had their ways.

1.) Dr. Lecter’s mask would “fix” facial defects.

In 1912, if you had a facial defect, like wrinkles or sagging flesh (you know, serious facial defects), you could invest in a sort of Hannibal Lecter Mask. It was invented by a woman named Lillian Bender, and you wore it around your throat and face, with a small opening for the mouth.

The diagram itself shows just how user friendly this product is!

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Google Patents

Tanya Judge, a plastic surgeon at Tri Valley Plastic Surgery in Dublin, California, called Bender’s face mask “barbaric.”

“Trying to remove wrinkles and sagging flash by putting it in a harness would never work,” she says. “What we have learned is that the facial sagging that happens over time is not just the skin, but the tissue underneath.”

That’s why a facelift works, she says, because it lifts the tissue below and then “re-drapes the skin.”

Unfortunately, some companies are still selling similar gimmicks. Take this “face hammock” for example. It’s supposed to prevent sags and wrinkles by combatting gravity. This similar device, a “face belt,” is pretty self-explanatory.

2.) A Whole New Meaning to the Term “Chin Strap”

This one is fun. It’s called a “Chin Reducer and Beautifier” and promises to deliver the “curves of youth,” which sounds like a bad emo band.

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The Advertising Archives via fineartamerica

You just secure the chin strap around the top of your head like a belt and place the other strap under your chin. Then, the strings attached to the chin portion go up and through the forehead strap, so that you can tug on the strings and pull your chin up as tight as you like.

This is supposed to prevent and efface double chins, as well as reduce enlarged glands.

Professor Eugene Mack advertised his product as the only mechanism “producing a concentrated, continuous massage of the chin and neck, dispelling flabbiness of the neck and throat, restoring a rounded contour to thin, scrawny necks and faces, bringing a natural, healthy color to the cheeks.”

3.) The Glamour Bonnet might keep you from breathing, but you’ll be prettier for it.

According to D. M. Ackerman, if you want a beautiful complexion, a vacuum to the face will do just the trick. She made the Glamour Bonnet “like a diver’s helmet,” where the atmospheric pressure around the person’s head is lowered, similar to the experience of climbing a high mountain.

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Modern Mechanix

Ackerman claimed this vacuum helmet would stimulate blood circulation, thus leading to a more naturally beautiful complexion. Best of all, the advertisement states that “a window has been installed so the customers can read during treatments.”

This means you can catch up on all the latest celebrity gossip while you slowly asphyxiate yourself.

4.) Like being able to breathe? Don’t worry. We have electrocution, too.

An “electric mask,” invented by Joseph Brueck, MD, was supposed to treat lines, wrinkles, and sags through a battery of heating coils. Sounds super-relaxing.

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Modern Mechanix

If the image isn’t creepy enough, the description will do the trick. The wearer “breathes through a tube set between the lips of the mask, and views the world through eyes cut where eyes should be.”

Now let that sink in.

Facial electrocution for beauty is still a thing today, as this device attests. Think twice about why this would ever work before buying.

5.) An Easy Way to Recognize the Flaws You Never Knew You Had

If you’ve ever wondered what a medieval torture device looks like, check out Maksymilian Faktorowicz’s “Beauty Micrometer” (the inventor also went by the Hollywood-friendly name “Max Factor”).

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Jllm06/Wikimedia Commons

This scary-looking thing sits on your head and supposedly shows makeup professionals where all your facial flaws are so they can apply makeup appropriately. It was popularly used on actresses in the 1930s.

“Flaws almost invisible to the ordinary eye becoming glaring distortions when thrown upon the screen in highly magnified images,” according to the product’s advertisement. “But Factor’s ‘beauty micrometer’ reveals the defects.”

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Modern Mechanix

It works by using “flexible metal strips which conform closely to the various features. The strips are held in place by set screws, allowing for 325 possible adjustments.” If your nose is even slightly crooked, the ad claims the beauty micrometer will detect it and corrective makeup can be applied.

If you ask us, though, the Beauty Micrometer would only benefit actors who are taking a stab at the role of Pinhead in Hellraiser.

6.) “You have a beautiful face. But your nose?”

Don’t worry, we can fix it right up with the Trados Nose-Shaper.

This harness that you strap to your face went through several models in the early 1900s. Inventor M. Trilety was sure to warn the readers of his advertisements that looks are very important if you want to get ahead in life, and that you should look your best at all times.

… it most definitely would not quickly change the nose, be painless, or remotely comfortable.

“Permit no one to see you looking otherwise,” he warns.

Lucky for you, the harness was meant to be worn overnight, so no one would see you wearing it in public. And not only would it give you “a perfect looking nose,” but Trilety claimed it was comfortable and painless.

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Edgar R. McGuire Historical Medical Instrument Collection via University of Buffalo Libraries

In all seriousness, though, these claims were pretty baseless.

Judge says that unless the harness is used on a baby or young child with a still-developing nose, there is no way to squeeze your nose into a new shape.

“Contrary to what the ad states, it most definitely would not quickly change the nose, be painless, or remotely comfortable,” she says. “Reshaping the nose requires surgery.”

That’s why you shouldn’t buy into any similar current products either, like this one, among others.

7.) “Dimples are now made to order!”

Another lovely harness.

This one has a “face-fitting spring carrying two tiny knobs which press into the cheeks.”

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Modern Mechanix

Isabella Gilbert invented this contraption in 1936, and we have a feeling she never quite got the results she was hoping for.

“This one was a valiant effort but again ineffective,” Judge says.

In her words, dimples are created by a variant of facial muscle that connect to the overlying skin near to the corner of the mouth. When you smile, that skin indents.

“Pressing a spring on the outside of your skin would surely cause a temporary dent on your face, and if you kept it on long enough, would probably cause skin breakdown,” she says. “Creating a dimple can be done in today’s age but requires a small surgical procedure.”

8.) Targeted Vibration: The Cure-All

Little vibrating machines got really popular in the early 1900s, as advertisers treated them like a cure for just about any ailment you had.

“Those women who find that the hips are getting too large” would slim down with the help of the White Cross Electric Vibrator.

It sounds like a first generation hand-held back massager.

Supposedly it would promote soft, glossy hair if you used it on your head, and it would also drive out all the dandruff (at least that part might be a bit believable).

“Nothing would make me happier than if this device worked for fat reduction and scalp health,” Judge says. “But like most things back then, they didn’t understand fat like we do now.”

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Judge points to more modern methods of fat reduction, such the noninvasive CoolSculpting or Sculpture, as well as the invasive liposuction procedure. At least the advertisers also mentioned that the vibrators could help with aches and pains.

“The only thing this device was probably correctly advertised for is increasing blood through sore muscles,” Judge says. “It sounds like a first generation hand-held back massager.”

A Clean Cut

Judge says she finds all these products interesting because they show that “we have been striving to better our appearance for decades, and the areas of interest haven’t changed at all.”

… you have to applaud and respect the innovation involved.

We still want to look young, get rid of extra fat, and reshape our noses.

“The difference now, compared to that time period, is that we have comprehensive understanding of the anatomy of the body and the biological reasoning behind why we have extra fat, or an uneven nose, or sagging facial skin,” she says.

That’s why we can effectively and safely obtain the look we want by using surgery or modern noninvasive procedures.

“That being said,” Judge points out, “despite the wackiness and ineffectiveness of all the devices, you have to applaud and respect the innovation involved.”

Yes, they were certainly creative. Just not useful.

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