Wealthy Southeast Asian women in the 1400s, one could argue, had it pretty good.
A man was not quite a man unless an incision was made in his testicles and semi-precious jewels were inserted — all for the pleasure of the ladies. A girl could tell who was worthy of her attention by the jingling sound of a boy's gait as the stones clink-clinked.
The insertion of "Burmese bells," says professor Sun Laichen of California State University at Fullerton, spread to China around the middle of the 15th century, where women took up a related surgical practice.
Yet, at the same time, certain Southeast Asian tribes found as much beauty in a swanlike neck as modeling agencies do today — and women suffered for the extreme interpretation.
And who doesn't have an image of Chinese women during the Han dynasty hobbling about on "lotus blossoms" to entice suitors with their tiny shape (and odor, some scholars say, as the rotting flesh curling around itself served as an aphrodisiac).
Occidentals dabbled in the scary body-modification department too. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Victorian women had lower ribs removed to create smaller waists. Arsenic made white skin whiter. Belladonna, which means "beautiful woman" in Italian but is actually a toxic plant, made the pupils as large as a pot head's.
So often in history have women groaned under the weight of society's shifting beauty ideals that it does give comfort to think that, for at least a few moments in civilization, men have been obliged to go to extremes for the benefit of the ladies.
And now, in some small way, history may be repeating itself.
The contemporary male may undergo an augmentation procedure, or get a script for that unmentionable pharmaceutical that keeps him going and going longer for than a girl might want. But don't you sometimes get the feeling that he who makes the doctor's appointment does so less out of desire to please his partner and more for bragging rights? (Insert Carrie Bradshaw sigh)
Maybe take it as a stronger testimony of his love if he surprises you with a "manscape" — the sculpting and/or removal of hair below the belt. More and more men have been having their hair lasered away. Sheepishly they tell New York cosmetic dermatologist Dr. David Bank, "I don't really care about my hair, but my girlfriend…"
As women have gone to greater grooming extremes than we've seen in decades ("It's become hair, nails, Brazilians and Botox," says Bank), they have begun to find their counterpart's intimate body hair more objectionable. And the guys are falling into line.
Brazilians on men? Manscaping?
Jesse Kinsolving, leading esthescian at San Francisco's Always Tan and Trim reports that although back and butt waxes are perennial favorites, an increasing number of men are requesting the full monty to please the men or women in their lives.
Asked to give waxing a number on a pain scale of 1 to 10, Kinsolving hedges. Back and butts, he says, rate only a 3 or 4. But the first time the wax is pulled from the tender skin down and front?
"It's about a 6 or a 7," he confesses. "But the second time is much easier! Most say it's the anticipation that causes the most anxiety, that the actual procedure is not as bad as imagined."