Feb. 14, 2008 -- 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."
Certainly it's women who continue to give cosmetic dermatologists the lion's share of business as we proceed to remove nearly every visible hair. And some girls with serious curls will apply hair relaxer to their "landing strips." (Take care with that one, ladies. Lye and mucous membranes should not mix. Ever.)
Some see it as a primitive step back. Think of the sexy funky patch of black beneath the arms of chic French girls on the Paris metro in summer. Or go political. The plucked-chicken look achieved by what's also called the Hollywood, the G-wax or the Sphinx are, arguably, pedophilia-inspired .Yet the look du jour is smooth.
And for those who would never consider it, consider this: Removal of hair makes the skin more sensitive. And responsive, say Brazilian devotees.
Speaking of discomfort that can lead to a feeling of arousal, have you considered a corset yet?
Donna Karan and Marc Jacobs are two of the many designers who translated the old whalebone from Frederick's of Hollywood to boutiques and high-end department stores. Some women claim corsets just make their clothes look better, but there's a whole underground community that laces up with prurient intent. Moulin Rouge, anyone?
Back to the doctor's office. Dr. Tabasum Mir says lip injections trump Botox and line fillers when women are getting ready for romance. "I get a lot of women dating younger men. You take an older woman and give her a new pair of lips, and she feels like Angelina Jolie!"
We don't need an M.D. to tell us that shooting our lips up with collagen will hurt, so many go to Sephora instead. With a tube of Lip Venom you can point with your lips like Jennifer Lopez, faire la moue, or sulk and glower like Lisa Bonet (remember Angel Heart?).
But the burning! The stinging! Over-the-counter lip plumpers are filled with spicy additives that irritate your lips to make them pout.
Says Dr. Michael Kane, a.k.a. the Botox King of Manhattan's Upper East Side , "Botox and love both hurt a little bit, but just about everyone agrees they are worth the pain."