Table of Contents
The Riviera Maya was once home to the Maya and still to this day it is a popular region to visit Maya ruins and connect with ancient history. The history of Maya beauty tells us fascinating stories of how Mayans achieved both cultural identity, and their allure and charm. Yum Kaax, the god of wildlife whose name literally translates to “Lord of the Forest” as Yum means “lord” and Kaax, means “forest”, was worshiped, and it was to this god many looked up to for their idea of beauty.
Also, to fulfill theories on equality, social status, and opportunity, Maya men and women utilized everyday methods of grooming to transform themselves completely.
They used their bodies as a ‘canvas’, and they altered their physical appearance with magnificent obsession and novel techniques to achieve their Maya beauty standards.
To study a different aestheticism from a different era is fascinating, so let’s take a look back in time.
Beauty – No Pain, No Gain
Beauty was an important concept in Maya culture, as it was, and still is, all over the world. Maya beauty holds tales of painful practices and personal bravery to achieve the perfect look.
Of course, our modern-day obsession with beauty could be classed as no different, with cosmetic surgery, med spa procedures such as BOTOX®, and tattoos and piercings being very popular.
However, what the ancient Maya thought was beautiful differed greatly from what people today might find lovely or even acceptable.
Trepanning the Head
The Maya valued elongated heads. This is because it resembled an ear of corn, which was not only a staple of their diets, but they also believed that all humans were created from corn according to the the Popol Vuh story of creation of the Maya.
The trepanning ‘procedure’ had to start when their babies were born to achieve the sleek, straight, elegant look that was admired. For several days, the Maya would bind the newborn infant’s head between two boards. The infant was tied to a different board, which was then attached at an angle to another board.
Pressure on the baby’s head was gradually increased, resulting in a deeply sloped forehead and elongated head. This is how the Maya achieved the sloped head look, which was thought to be very attractive at that time.
Cross-Eyes Were Sought After
Slightly crossed eyes were held in high esteem. To induce this condition, parents would hang a piece of thread between their infant’s eyes with a stone, or ball of resin attached, which caused their eyes to focus on it, eventually causing the eyes to rotate inwards. This is still practiced today, with the Maya believing that crossed eyes are physically attractive.
Pains Of the Past
Sometimes, when certain ideas, traditions, or beliefs are hatched, they become a reality, or a commodity, then coveted.
Such could be said of other pursuits of ancestral Maya beauty. The filing of teeth into points or a T-shape was common, without any anesthesia!
The women especially took part in this, while men tattooed their bodies with ink and scars. Noses, ears, and lips were pierced with jewelry made from jade, steel, and wood.
Having a big nose was sought after. Many Maya resorted to wearing a removable artificial nose bridge all day, to give their nose a right hook shape.
The good news is not all the Maya beauty practices were as painful or arduous.
Maya Beauty Was Honed and Honored
Many Maya beauty practices were bold, brilliant, practical and inspiring, with details becoming perfections of beauty.
Maya men and women painted their bodies in patterns and solid colors. Unmarried men wore black, priests wore blue, and both men and women wore red. Warriors wore bands of red and black paint that alternated.
Not much attention was given to clothes. Men generally wore a loincloth that was a length of fabric wrapped several times around the body and between the legs. Women wore long skirts, sometimes with a band of fabric covering their breasts and sometimes not.
The skirts were lengths of woven fabric wrapped around their bodies several times and sometimes tied with a belt or with another tunic-like shirt worn over them. Beauty could be enhanced by piling on elaborate jade jewelry or by wearing more fashionable clothing.
The precious stone Jade, usually green in color, was a standout stone in Mayan culture, taking on spiritual and religious significance. Small pieces were used for jewelry or tooth inlays, and members of the Mayan elite would wear pendants around their necks as a form of connection with the sun god, Kinich Ahau.
Headdresses were important. They were worn for formal occasions and special events. Leaders wore headdresses every day. While differing from region to region, the larger the headdress, the more important the wearer was considered.
Maya beauty nowadays embraces outside influences, instead of rejecting them. The Maya of today revel in lots of novel techniques from all different cultures. Would the ancestral Maya approve of and encourage the emerging styles that are having a major fanfare today? Who knows.
One thing’s for sure, although the early era of Maya beauty is now remembered with both glory and controversy – we all know that beauty at any price is a fragile thing. Beauty always has and always will have the power to change lives, making humanity feel on the edge of glory.