Monday, April 4, 2011

The perfect figure in 1914

Monday, April 4, 2011
Loretta reports:

While a Nerdy History Girl is perfectly capable of watching Downton Abbey devotedly, she can’t help noticing its historical oddities.  For instance, in the second decade of the 20th century, what would people have thought of the figures of the countess & her daughters?

In 1914, Lina Cavalieri, opera singer & famous beauty, published My Secrets of Beauty.  In the chapter "How to Improve Your Figure," she explains the ideal:

“FRANKLY determine how far your figure falls short of perfection. Perfection, that is, according to the canons of classic statuary. The standards of the Greek sculptors have never been improved.”

If we read her description of those proportions, then take a look at the Venus de Milo, it becomes easy to understand why Kitty Gordon is one of the examples of perfection.

“Her arms, neck and shoulders furnish an ideal which every woman should try to attain.”

As promised, Ms. Cavalieri tells her reader how to grow taller, thinner, plumper.  For women whose figures, even by the standards of the time, are overabundant, she suggests:

“First give attention to your diet . . . Say reduce your diet at the beginning by one quarter, then one-third, and after that one-half. The slimming results will soon become apparent.

“But do not be satisfied with one means of securing a flatter back and slender hips. Exercise, especially in the open air. Walk, walk, walk, beginning with a short walk if you are unaccustomed to walking, and increasing the distance each day.

“And if possible have recourse to massage. I have before said in this series of articles that I consider massage the first aid to beauty. It has always seemed to me a cure-all for defects in beauty. It improves the complexion, improves the figure, brightens the expression and makes more beautiful the eyes. Therefore, to give the flat back and narrow hips that are part of an elegant figure, I advise deep massage, with an astringent liquid preparation.”

“After exercise and diet for improving the figure, there is nothing so important as to be well corseted.”

Above all, though, those classic statuary offer the key:

“For the consolation of women who have shapely figures, though built upon an ample scale, let me quote this dictum of an authority on womanly beauty: "It isn't the size, but the shape that counts. Proportion is the thing.’"

Photograph at top from Wikimedia Commons.
Photograph of Kitty Gordon from the book (larger photo here).


nightsmusic said...

Interesting that medical advice hasn't wavered much from hers, isn't it?

QNPoohBear said...

Seeing those emaciated actresses in period dramas drives me crazy. They don't look right in the clothing. The actresses in Downton Abbey looked much more like 1914 ladies than Regency ladies anyway.

Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket