vintage, nostalgia and memories


December 10, 2016

The Average American Woman in 1908

Charles Merriles penned a three part article for Physical Culture Magazine entitled "The Average Woman" which ran from the July – September 1908 issues. He offers a scathing indictment against the average woman as being generally disproportioned, out of shape and defective.

Today an article like the one Charles Merriles wrote would be savagely attacked and he would probably be apologizing on social media. But this was 1908 and it was a very much a man’s world.


Here are some excerpts and photographs from Merriles’ article:
The average woman of today has nothing to boast of from the standpoint of mere physical attraction. When stripped of her furbelows and fancy frills we usually find a startling contrast. In but few cases has she anything to be proud of under such instances. Between the corset, false hips, busts, padding here and there to fill out, even the leanest woman is at times able to make what might be termed a fair appearance. And a woman who is suffering from too much avoirdupois can pull in the waist line to an extraordinary degree and thus add to her attractions, so she thinks.

The body to be beautiful must be strong. No unsightly angles should be apparent, all its outlines should be made up of curves. For instance, from the neck to the shoulder, there should be a gradual sloping away until one part merges into the other. There should be an appearance of symmetry, harmony, one part with another, which is the one necessary characteristic of a beautifully formed body. There should be no large, prominent muscles, there should be no bulging bust, or large, massive hips.

They are so ugly that they might almost be called vulgar. Then again, there is an entirely false conception of the form of women that has been produced largely by the habit of corset wearing.

Though every woman cannot possess features that might be termed beautiful, I believe that my opinion is borne out by the facts when I state that practically every woman can have a finely-developed body. This means, in conventional parlance, a superb form.

Now, I was anxious to know just what might be the appearance of, say, the average woman entirely from a physical standpoint. I thought it would make an interesting article for this magazine. At first I was rather doubtful as to how I could secure the photographs that would be necessary to illustrate what I might have to say. I finally concluded that the best method would be to advertise in a daily paper for models who would be willing to pose in athletic costumes. An advertisement was inserted accordingly. There was no scarcity of applicants. Of course the object in nearly every case was the moderate fee that was offered, though from the pretentious apparel of some, one would hardly think that the sum offered would have been attractive to them.

Each one of the applicants was supposed to have been a model. I hardly think many of them had ever posed before. They were probably looking for a new experience, or they needed the money.

The very moderate fee that was offered would hardly be an inducement of importance. The surprising part of my experiences was the fact that most of the applicants seemed to believe they had a very symmetrical figure. Of course, my readers must well understand that a photograph does not by any means show up all the defects in a figure, and a reproduction, if anything, also hides many angular outlines.

This inclination to deposit fatty tissue with the average woman is often one of the means of making the form ungainly and sometimes actually ugly. An exaggerated specimen of ugliness that comes from an excessive accumulation of fat is found in the woman whose walk resembles a waddle. This excessive accumulation of fat is brought about entirely by inactive habits, and it is actually impossible for a woman to acquire such enormous amount of flesh, if at regular intervals with sufficient vigor to accelerate the activities of the functional processes.

The manner in which the average woman neglects her physical condition is indeed shameful. When I realize what they might be and what they are, I am appalled by the waste of womanly beauty that I find everywhere.

All of the other reproductions (photographs of women) show figures that very badly need physical improvement. Half an hour’s daily attention to maintaining the general physical vigor would make a wonderful change in each of these women. Their best friend would hardly know them if they were to make the change that is easily possible and suddenly appear before them thus transformed.

I know that the average reader will unquestionably be able to call to mind women friends or acquaintances whom they consider possessors of a beautiful form, but in many cases they are mistaken. The figure, as far as can be seen from the ordinary clothing that is worn by the young woman, might appear beautiful in outline, but when these garments are removed and the figure is seen just as it is, there are nearly always serious defects.

The truth of this statement, perhaps, can be proved nowhere more than at the seashore. Here the average woman appears just as she is. She is shorn of all the frills that she finds so useful in her ordinary apparel, and if you want to find out just what your lady-love looks like, take her to the seashore, and if you do not see an amazing change in her appearance, you will indeed be a lucky man. When the salt water takes all the curl out of her hair, and the wet bathing suit clings to her real figure you can, in most cases, then depend upon receiving a startling surprise. You will then very fully realize that not “all things are just what they seem.”

Fairly strong figureIf every woman could be compelled to wear a bathing suit, or a costume like those worn by the young women whose photographs have been reproduced in this article, we would soon have a supply of finely developed women. There would be less attention to external ornamentation, and more attention to developing and perfecting the body, for then the real shape of the body would be seen.

I believe it is really the duty of every woman to be as beautiful as she can, because that means that she will be as strong and as wholesome and as fine a specimen of womanhood as it is possible for her to make herself. Beauty of the right kind means the highest degree of strength. It means the possession of the instincts of superior womanhood. It means that a woman will be capable of being that kind of a wife and a mother that is so much needed in our homes.















(via Stuff Nobody Cares About)

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