The Empress Elizabeth of Austria, also called Sissi or Sisi, was one of the most beautiful women of her time. And she knew it. It was her beauty that got her the crown that was supposed to be worn by her elder sister, Helena. Their parents hoped Helena would end up marrying the Emperor of Austria, Franz Joseph, and was trained and groomed since childhood for this. But when Franz Joseph laid eyes on Elizabeth, he instantly fell in love with her and a proposal from the Emperor just couldn’t be refused. But the marriage wasn’t a happy one. Sissi was a woman who always longed for freedom and independence, but found herself imprisoned in a golden cage for the rest of her life.
Maybe it’s because of this that she became obsessed with her beauty and staying thin was so important to her. She hated what pregnancies did to her body and the thought of growing old. She once exclaimed: “Ah, the horror of growing old, to feel the hand of Time laid upon one’s body, to watch the skin wrinkling, to awake and fear the morning light, and to know that one is no longer desirable! Life without beauty would be worthless to me.” Sad, isn’t it? But how did this beautiful Empress take care of her appearance? Read on to find out..
How she maintained her slim figure
Empress Sissi had a slim figure (her waist was only 19 inches/50cm) and was very proud of it. And she went to great lengths to keep it that way. She hardly ate anything all day and exercised a lot. While walking was a common, even recommended, exercise for women at the time, she went for very long walks, which could last up to 10 hours! The protests of those poor, exhausted souls who had to accompany her on such walks never stopped her from walking so much, only physical pain or illness did.
Sissi was also obsessed with gymnastics which attracted a lot of criticism as it was considered very eccentric. She even had a gymnastics room installed at her palace and could be seen dangling from the rings! In addition, Elizabeth was also one of the best horse riders of her time. It is thought by many historians nowadays that the Kaiserin had anorexia. It was her looks that made her husband fall in love with her and made her Empress, leading her to live a life that though envied by many, is full of pressures, restrictions and demands. Her life was strictly regolated by etiquette and she couldn’t control it. What she could control though, was her looks..
Empress Elizabeth of Austria used lots of creams and lotions on her face. She doesn’t seem to have stuck to something specific but liked to try new things all the time. Some of these recipes are rather yummy, like the strawberry cream used as a facial mask, while others a bit gross, such as the raw veal she applied on her skin at night or the slug cream made with lard, marshmallow roots and ground slugs, which took more than 4 hours to make!
One of her lotions was called Cream Celeste, made by mixing spermaceti, cera alba, sweet almond oil and glycerin. This is a rich cream and she would use it to keep her skin well-moisturized during the long winters. Cold Cream, instead, would be made with beeswax, sweet almond oil, rosewater and cocoa butter. This cream, which gave a pleasant and refreshing cooling sensation was appreciated by many ladies at court too. To tone, she used rose facial tonics.
But who made all these recipes? They were either prepared in the court pharmacy or by one of her ladies-in-waiting. This could, depending on the recipe, be quite a time-consuming task. Some of these recipes, in fact, had to be stirred up to 12 hours! But that’s not all. To keep her skin soft, Elizabeth would bathe in warm water infused with olive oil and at night, thinking it would help her stay slim, she would sleep with cloths soaked in vinegar above her hips.
Empress Sissi may have been starving herself and exercised to exhaustion to maintain her thin figure and tried every possible concoction to keep per face looking young and beautiful, but when it came to makeup, she wanted nothing to do with it. She loved natural beauty and thought makeup interfered with nature’s work. She didn’t wear makeup herself and was also very critical of women who she thought wore too much of it. One of those women was the beautiful Princess Pauline von Metternich. Of her, the Empress said: “She wears two inches of red powder on her lips and is dressed in material from countries that are far away even though she is too flat’. Ouch!
Empress Elizabeth had long, luscious, chestnut brown hair that almost reached the floors. One of her best assets, her hair was her pride and glory and she spent two to three hours a day taking care of it! She hired Franziska (Fanny) Angerer Feifalik to take care of it, which attracted lots of criticism at court because Fanny was a former theatre hairdresser. The Empress would sit on a low chair in the center of her dressing room, while her hairdresser, all dressed in white, including white gloves (she had to remove her rings too) would proceeded to comb and style her hair into elaborate hair-does. Once done, stray hair would be collected from the comb and cloth and counted. If too many had broken off, the Empress would get upset.
This operation would last from two to three hours so the Kaiserin kept herself busy by learning languages such as Hungarian and Greek. Washing her hair was another very time consuming operation, performed every fortnight with a mixture of cognac and egg yolk. Considering how difficult it is to remove egg from hair, albeit beneficial it is, and how long her tresses were, it’s no wonder that it took the Empress the entire day to wash her hair!