NO PAIN, NO GAIN

Judging by the latest exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, there is very little the human race has not toyed with in the pursuit of beauty. Indeed, is it any wonder that we have become obsessed with implants and uplifts when you consider that, even in the Elizabethan era, women were painting veins on their skin in an effort to make it appear transparent?

The Pursuit of Beauty, Five Centuries of Body Adornment concentrates on changes in body shape and colouring over the last 500 years, as well as some of the extreme fashions that have emerged - from farthingales to priapic codpieces. Contemporary examples of body-piercing and tattooing remind us that the desire to improve on Mother Nature continues apace.

But surely, even the most conscientious of today's fashion victims endure nothing compared to the poor creatures who existed in the late 18th-century. At that time, ready-to-wear demanded hugely tall hairstyles greased with lard, which attracted mice and insects. In addition, eyebrows thickened with mouse fur were de rigueur. Sounds like the perfect inspiration for a period version of Ab Fab.

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