How Acceptance Of Your Body Shape Has Changed Throughout History

by Georgia Pulling
(Los Angeles, California, USA)

Our modern therapy for obesity was initiated in 1863. A man named William Banting started it. He was an undertaker, and, when his weight reached 200 pounds, he consulted an English doctor, William Harvey, because his hearing was affected.

Banting was put on a diet which did not allow carbohydrates or fats. Banting gave up bread and butter, sugar, potatoes, beans and beer. His water intake was limited. On rye bread and meat and a few other things, he lost nearly fifty pounds. He wrote a book about it—and to this day a lot of folks talk about “Banting” when they mean dieting.

In Victoria’s day, a plump woman with a well-rounded figure was considered quite an eyeful. And even here in America, at the turn of the Century and later, the well-developed actress was the one who received the most admiration.

In A Pictorial History Of The American Theatre, by Daniel Blum, which covers a fifty-year period, starting in 1900, the illustrations show that the actors and actresses of earlier times had figures which to-day would cause obesity specialists to start writing prescriptions immediately.

James O’Neill, Delia Fox, Marie Cahill, May Irwin, Lillian Russell and Ada Rehan were all too fat, by modern standards.

On the other hand, Fritzi Scheff, Nance O’Neill, Lionel Barrymore, Grace George, Evelyn Nesbit, Blanche Sweet and Ethel Barry-more were all quite slender in their youth, and the fact that they are alive as I write might well be the result of their lack of fat.

During the Flapper Twenties, the thin girl came into her own. Reproductions of John Held’s drawings— typical of the period in their smooth sophistication— show flat-chested, small-waisted girls, living rapidly, if not too wisely.

The thin girl stayed in fashion for a long time. During the years waists stayed small, but breasts began to be fuller and more rounded. Today, with the help of New York nightclub columnist Earl Wilson, and such actresses as Miss Russell—Jane, not Lillian—the rounded figure is in fashion, once more.

The modern girl has gained weight—but she is not fat. Her waist and hips are small. Her back is straight. Statistics show that the average woman is only 5 feet 4 inches in height, and not too slender, but today’s girls are thin enough, physically. They are mentally well-balanced. And they are healthy, too.

The professional model is today’s ideal, as far as figures are concerned. For style and distinction, she takes the place of the chorus girl of two generations ago, and the show girl of the last generation.

Recently, while writing a series of articles for the Hearst Publications’ King Features, I interviewed some of New York’s most successful models.

One at a time, a dozen of these girls, with their hat boxes—practically a symbol of their profession—came to my apartment. I asked them questions about themselves.

Today’s models are tall, I found out from these girls, and from studying the descriptions of dozens of other models. The average height ranges from five feet seven inches to five feet nine inches—in high heels. Quite a bit taller than Miss or Mrs. Average American.

Their weights vary—weight isn’t too important, for the girls realize that bone structure causes a great weight variation. Most of the girls weighed around one hundred and twenty-five pounds.

Model sizes didn’t vary a great deal. Most of the successful models, I discovered, have busts which measure thirty-four inches, waists twenty-four inches, and hips thirty-four inches—or the same as the bust measurement.

These girls usually wear size 12 dresses—the “model” size—though size 10 can also be worn. The Junior “model” size is one inch less in waist, hips and bust.

You may not be as tall as a model, but it would be very nice, unless you’re a great big girl, if you managed to get down to model size in most of your dimensions.

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Updated: December 6, 2013 — 5:04 pm

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