Sissi was one of the most beautiful women of her time – and she knew it. It was her beauty that captivated the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph and prompted him to ask for her hand in marriage.
Unfortunately, there’s no happy ending to this fairytale. Sissi was a free spirit who longed for freedom and independence – the only two things forbidden to an Empress.
Imprisoned in a golden cage and unable to take control of her life, Sissi turned to the one thing she could control: her looks. Keeping her svelte figure and her face free from wrinkles became an obsession for her. She couldn’t stand the thought of growing old or what her pregnancies were doing to her body.
“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? Here’s the lengths Empress Sissi went through to stay young and beautiful:
How Empress Sissi maintained her slim figure
Empress Sissi was so proud of her tiny, 50cm waist, she went to great lengths to keep it that way. She hardly ate anything all day and exercised a lot.
Walking was a common exercise for women at the time, but Sissi took it to the extreme. Her walks could last up to 10 hours! Even the protests from her attendants, forced to follow her around, couldn’t convince her to shorten them. Only physical pain or illness did.
She also spent hours on the saddle. She loved horses and quickly became one of the best horse riders of her time.
Sissi was also obsessed with gymnastics. She had a gymnastics room installed at her palace and could be seen dangling from the rings! Her subjects were horrified. In their minds, this wasn’t a pastime suitable for an Empress.
P.S. Many historians today think that Sissi had anorexia. I’m not sure this is the correct diagnosis, but her strict exercise and diet regimens do point towards an eating disorder.
Empress Elizabeth of Austria was a skincare fanatic who jumped from one lotion to the other. Some of these recipes, like the strawberry facial mask or rose tonic, sound delicious, while others were bit gross…
An example? She applied raw veal on her skin at night. Sometimes, she also used a cream with lard, marshmallow roots and ground slugs. Fun fact: the cream took 4 hours to make!
One of her lotions, Cream Celeste, was a thick concoction of spermaceti, cera alba, sweet almond oil and glycerin she used to moisturize her skin during the cold winter months.
Her Cold Cream, was made with beeswax, sweet almond oil, rosewater and cocoa butter. It gave your skin a refreshing feeling that was so pleasant, it soon became a hit with the ladies of the court.
Elizabeth was a fan of bathing (phew!). She washed her body in warm water infused with olive oil. At night, she’d sleep with clothes soaked in vinegar above her lips – she was convinced it helped her stay slim.
Who made all these recipes? Usually, one of her ladies-in-waiting or the court pharmacy. It was more complicated than you think. Some of these creams had to be stirred up to 12 hours!
You’d think Empress Sissi loved makeup.
Wrong. She didn’t want anything to do with it. She believed makeup only interfered with nature’s work. For her, it was all about natural beauty.
Elizabeth was also very critical of women who wore makeup, like the beautiful Princess Pauline von Metternich: “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 floor. It was her pride and glory and she spent two to three hours a day taking care of it!
Her hairdresser was Franziska (Fanny) Angerer Feifalik, a former theatre hairdresser. The Empress sat on a low chair in the center of her dressing room, while Fanny, all dressed in white (including gloves!), combed and styled her hair into elaborate hair-does.
Afterwards, she’d collect any straight hair from the comb and cloth and counted. If too many had broken off, Sissi would get upset.
This routine stated 2 to 3 hours a day. In the meantime, Sissi kept herself busy by learning languages such as Hungarian and Greek.
Washing her hair took hours, too. She did so every fortnight, using a mixture of cognac and egg yolk!