By Suzanne Norquist
Although beauty standards have varied throughout history, women have always longed for attractive physiques. The chapters on “Developing the Figure” and “Reducing Flesh” in Margaret Mixter’s book, Health and Beauty Hints, published in 1910, provide surprisingly familiar advice.
Apparently, women desired a full, symmetrical figure without extra flesh. Today, fullness in the right areas is still coveted. However, I’ve never heard anyone talk about symmetry. Of course, no one wants extra flesh.
One section in the book is titled “Exercise Improves Figure More Than Corset.” Who can argue with that? Modern women have replaced corsets and stays with shapewear. The easy way never goes out of style, but it can’t provide a long-term solution.
Chair exercises are recommended. “. . . sit astride a chair, facing the back. . . she grasps firmly, and then without moving, she should twist her body around one way just as far as she can make it go before repeating the motion toward the other side.”
Another section is entitled “Sweeping and Dusting Develop the Figure.” Isn’t this just like the Karate Kid movie? It recommends leaning from the waist to pick things up to keep limber. And there is a proper way to hold a broom for exercise.
I was baffled by the bust developer recipe until I realized it is mostly herbs and essential oils. The concoction is taken internally, which seems a bit odd.
The Vaucaire bust developer, which is an old formula said to be harmless, is made of five grains of liquid extract of imported galega, five grains of lactophosphate of lime, 5 grams of tincture of fennel, and 200 grams of simple syrup.
Take two soupspoonfuls in water before each meal. Drinking malt extract at the same time is also advised by Dr. Vaucaire. It will probably be six weeks before a change is noticed.
Galega is a flowering plant. Lactophosphate of lime is baking powder. And I have fennel in my spice cabinet. I can’t imagine how this would develop the bust, but I could see myself trying it.
Of course, newspapers of the day promised miraculous ways to improve this part of a woman’s figure.
An advertisement in the May 23, 1914, edition of the Denver Weekly Post used the following picture to tout its product. Readers could send for a free book.
A woman who responded could “develop her bust six inches in thirty days without exercise, massage, prescriptions, or apparatus,” which were all common practices at the time. Notice in the after picture how the woman’s face and smile look better too. Perhaps this product fixes more than just the figure.
The 1910 health and beauty book gave surprisingly modern advice about “reducing flesh.” Moderate exercise and healthy eating are recommended—cut fats and sweets. Sassafras tea could be used as a substitute for a mid-morning snack. I might have to try that.
Of course, newspapers offered concoctions to get rid of fat. They called it fat rather than excess flesh.
The September 21, 1878 edition of the Golden Globe, from Golden, Colorado, carried an advertisement for Allan’s Anti-Fat. This medicine supposedly caused weight loss of two to five pounds per week.
Many advertisements offered booklets of some kind, probably ones that touted medicines. By 1913, shysters promised to reduce flesh with electricity.
Regular articles that didn’t tout quackery also showed up in papers. A “Beauty Chats” section in the July 16, 1920 edition of the Dolores Star, Dolores, Colorado, describes calorie counting. “You can eat as much as you like as long as your food only has a small number of calories of fat.”
Apparently, our technology hasn’t brought us that far in the last hundred years. I guess it’s time to exercise and eat right.
”Mending Sarah’s Heart” in the Thimbles and Threads Collection
Four historical romances celebrating the arts of sewing and quilting.
Mending Sarah’s Heart by Suzanne Norquist
Rockledge, Colorado, 1884
Sarah seeks a quiet life as a seamstress. She doesn’t need anyone, especially her dead husband’s partner. If only the Emporium of Fashion would stop stealing her customers, and the local hoodlums would leave her sons alone. When she rejects her husband’s share of the mine, his partner Jack seeks to serve her through other means. But will his efforts only push her further away?
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Suzanne Norquist is the author of two novellas, “A Song for Rose” in A Bouquet of Brides Collection and “Mending Sarah’s Heart” in the Thimbles and Threads Collection Everything fascinates her. She has worked as a chemist, professor, financial analyst, and even earned a doctorate in economics. Research feeds her curiosity, and she shares the adventure with her readers. She lives in New Mexico with her mining engineer husband and has two grown children. When not writing, she explores the mountains, hikes, and attends kickboxing class.
She authors a blog entitled, Ponderings of a BBQ Ph.D.