Tag Archives: body modification

Beard-haters, face-painters and eyebrow-abusers: the dangerous fashions of “Man transform’d, or, The artificial changeling” (1653)

P1190836Those of us who have been left bemused by the sudden rise of high-street botox booths, tanning shops, nail salons and eyebrow bars can take some comfort from this curious work by John Bulwer which suggests that, even as far back in 1653, people have always been astonished at the lengths to which some would go to transform their bodies in the name of fashion.  

P1190832In Anthropometamorphosis: Man Transform’d, or The Artificial Changeling, Bulwer’s aim, according to the full title, is to expose the “mad and cruel gallantry, foolish bravery, ridiculous beauty, filthy fineness, and loathsome loveliness of most nations, fashioning & altering their bodies from the mould intended by nature”.  Bulwer describes in detail how people around the world artificially modify their appearance, noting that every nation has a “particular whimzey as touching corporall fashions of their own invention.”


Painter-stainers and auricular bravery

The book is divided into 23 sections covering all types of body modification and decoration, including tattooing, lip-piercing, binding, scarring, cosmetics, ear-piercing, and eyebrow shaping. Sections are accompanied by numerous woodcut illustrations contrasting ancient with modern or Old World with New.


“Eye-brows abus’d contrary to nature.”

In an appendix, The pedigree of the English gallant, the author looks more P1190822closely at how fashions in England have been influenced by practices in  remote parts of the world. Although containing a strong element of social commentary, Bulwer’s work can also be considered one of the first studies in comparative cultural anthropology. He is rarely directly critical of primitive peoples; rather, Bulwer uses the universal nature of body modification to demonstate similar behaviours of humans everywhere (Anthropometamorphosis literally meaning “humanity-changing”). Bulwer may view some practices of remote tribes as laughable or barbaric, but no more laughable or barbaric than those of the ‘civilised’ world.


Beard-haters of the world


The influence of indigenous peoples on Tudor cod-piece fashion?

Man Transform’d was Bulwer’s final book. A physician by trade, he chose to return to his calling as a pioneer of communication with the deaf, having previously published the first treatise on sign language, Chirologia: or The naturall language of the hand.


“Among those whoe corrupt and deforme the face some account musicians that play upon wind instruments.”


“Was it not the same conceit that the Macrones of Pontus … once had, among whom they were esteemed the best gentlemen who had the highest head?”