Well, maybe George Gershwin thought so, but even back in the day, there was a lot of angst and anxiety about what used to be called the “beach body.” Maybe it’s still called that but hopefully most of us have grown beyond worrying about such superficial nonsense, for ourselves or others.
A scan of the Owensboro Messenger newspapers from 100 years ago shows that even back then, our grandmothers and great-grandmothers fretted about their waistlines.
Also their slender ankles, but we’ll get to that. One article published in early June 1921 acknowledges that a woman’s “hips and padded outline” may have been disguised during the winter “under the bulkiness of furs,” or “she may be able to blame her largeness on the double lining and heavy quality goods in the winter suit.”
Alas! With the arrival of summer, “her sins of food indulgences and general inactivity have no defense to shield her. In her summer dresses, if she is fat, she shows it. In a bathing suit, she proclaims it.”
Wow! Body-shame much?
This same “helpful” article goes on to say that the woeful woman could easily join the ranks of her “skinny sisters” by following a few simple guidelines.
Nobody is arguing that health and wellness are, and were, always important. And many of the suggestions given in this article are still worth embracing, including exercise and a healthy diet.
The author of this article claims “I know a woman who knocked 16 pounds off in six weeks (by) swimming daily.” Did that really happen? Well, who knows?
But at least this author is not as cruel as the one who penned another article in May of that year, filled with snarky comments like “She’s so fat now she couldn’t hire anyone to dance with her. Even her husband leaves her propped against the wall, where she sits and sits alone.”
This writer sneeringly goes on to describe how “tears roll down her fat cheeks when the dressmaker tells her it is almost impossible to fit her anymore,” thanks to her “flirtations” with the “obesity goblin.”
As always, merchants and retailers see an opportunity for sales and profit.
The very respectable McAtee, Lyddane & Ray – billing itself as “the largest department store in western Kentucky” in 1921 – advertised “a special feature in corsets.” One ad promised styles designed for slender, average and stout figures. Interestingly, the “slender” and “stout” versions each cost $8.50, while the “average” style was only $6.50.But in reading the descriptions, one can only speculate that the “slender” style was, at the very least, a lot more comfortable to wear. It was “made of pink coutil, section of elastic under low bust.”
On the other hand, the “stout” version threatened that it was “made of heavy coutil with … long skirt and rubber insert; six supporters and well boned with heavy graduated front stave.”
For anyone who may have wavered, a “news” article published in February 1921 quoted the “authority (of) the learned Life Extension Institute” of New York City as saying corsets were absolutely necessary to the health and well-being of women.
“After many years of neutrality on the subject, it has at last been decided that the corset is necessary to women, and if properly fitted will give the abdominal muscles the support which is necessary in the performance of the duties for which they were created.”
The same article says the Institute “is trying to make all of us (who belong) live longer.”
Who, exactly, “belongs,” the article does not say.
But we can all be glad that outrageous notion did not live on. But even ordinary people had their own ideas and opinions about health and wellness. An article published in March 1921 quotes a self-described grandmother who says she knows how any woman can maintain her girlish figure all her life:
“If a fat woman were to tear paper into small pieces and throw them on the floor, then bend from the waist to pick them up, she would get thin. If fat women would keep their feet on the floor while fastening their shoes, and make it a practice to pick up everything they drop by bending at the waist, they would soon feel and see a great difference.”
Thanks, grandma. I think the first thing I’ll tear up is your ridiculous advice.