Life Issues – Mayan Beauty
Everyone has their own idea of what is beautiful. To us beauty can mean many different things. The magazines define it as tall, slim women and muscle men. We have also been told that beauty is only skin deep, that you shouldn’t just judge people by their physical appearance, but to the Maya people a certain appearance was a thing of great pride. The Maya went to great extremes to achieve this ideal of beauty too!
We now think that is such an effort to be considered beautiful; women buy makeup, creams, colour their hair, buy the latest fashionable clothes, shoes and bags, men go to the gym, some use creams, and keep up with the clothing fashions. It can be hard work, but imagine living in a time where making yourself beautiful started the moment you were born, imagine if your body was altered to make you more beautiful without your consent.
The Maya were a smaller race of people with dark skin, dark eyes and straight black hair, but to them what was considered physically beautiful was not the way they were born, but a long sloping forehead and slightly crossed-eyes.
It didn’t matter what social class you were were in – the Priests and warriors, merchants and artisans, loaders, bricklayers, woodcutters, peasants, and slaves alike all desired this type of beauty.
The Mayas prized a long sloping forehead. It is thought that this is because it resembled an ear of corn – not only the staple of their diets, but they believed that it was from the corn that all humans were created. The corn god himself (Yum Kaax) was depicted with an elongated head with a husk attached to it.
To achieve the sleek straight elegant look that the Maya admired, it had to start when their babies were born. Really you had no say in the look at all.
The Maya would bind the newborn infant’s head between two boards for several days. The infant was tied on a board and then another board was attached at an angle. This then gradually increased the pressure on the baby’s head creating a deeply sloped forehead. It was common for a child to die from this process, but as the sloped head was considered extremely attractive, the parents ignored the risk and deformation continued. Whilst it was an extremely dangerous practice, it has been found that it had no effect on the intelligence of the child, as the brain has a great deal of plasticity in infancy and was able to accommodate itself to the new shape.
The Mayas also held slightly crossed-eyes in high esteem. Apart from changing the actual shape of their children’s heads, the Maya parents also attempted to induce this condition.
They would do this by hanging a piece of thread between the infant’s eyes with a stone or ball of resin attached that caused their eyes to focus on it, eventually causing the eyes to rotate inwards.
This is still practiced today with the Maya of today still considering crossed-eyes to be physically beautiful.
The Maya also believe pointy teeth to be attractive. They all filed their teeth, especially the women – and as researchers are not sure if any type of anesthetic was used, it seems to be another painful process all in the name of beauty. The teeth were either filed to a point or in a T-shape.
The teeth were also inlaid with small round plaques of pyrite, jade or obsidian, similar to people of today having gold teeth.
To complement their sloped heads, slightly crossed-eyes and pointy teeth, their nose, ears or lips were pierced to also accommodate jewellry made from jade, steel and wood, but only that which was not given as a sacrifice to their gods.
The males also tattooed their bodies with ink and scars.
It doesn’t seem as though as much attention was paid to clothes, the Mayan’s wore very little clothing and it wasn’t considered a big part of their appearance. Headdresses were considered much more important. They were worn for ceremonies and special events. The leaders were the only ones that wore the headdress every day, Whilst headdresses varied from region to region, in every place the bigger the headdress the more important you were.
It seems as though throughout time, perceptions of beauty can be quite different, and sometimes achieving what society can deem to be beautiful can be quite a painful process! If you look at what the Maya people considered to be beautiful, then I guess it’s true what they say, beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder.
Join us soon for another Life Issues.