Is that really why the Romans wore togas . . . so they could hide the imperfections of their bodies? Did the women crossing the Atlantic on the Mayflower worry about their carbs? With King Henry VIII it didn’t seem to matter, he still got the wives (and dispatched them just as readily), regardless of his girth. My grandmother had two sisters that weighed upwards of 300 pounds (each) and they were referred to as being “ . . . . a fine figure of womanhood.” This was in the 1890’s out on the frontier.
Perhaps the thing that sets today’s struggle with body image apart from the struggle of previous centuries is that images in both print and cyberspace are so “in your face.” A hundred years ago teenage girls living in Winchester, Kansas or Wells, Nevada had little access to what was happening in the style centers of New York, Paris or Milan. And what’s more, even if they did have access to that information, it placed way down on the importance scale compared survival items like getting the cows milked and the crops in. Today, not only do we have a good deal more information available, we also have the time to access it.
Nope! Regardless of what the historians might want to tell you I maintain that it all started with those gosh darn pattern books. Pattern book?? Yup!1 I swear!! I was looking over some antique and/or collectable pattern books at an antique store the other day and I noticed that in the early part of the last century, the drawings seemed to be pretty realistic. Then, somewhere in the 20’s or 30’s there they were! The drawings depicting what the patterns would look like once they were made up began to be on thinner and thinner and taller and taller women. Of course, along with that they showed pleated skirts with impossibly crisp pleats and full skirts with impossibly ruffled flounces. I used to wonder why nothing my mother ever made for me looked like the picture on the pattern envelope.
Then we got to the ‘50’s and Christian Dior revolutionized the fashion industry with the tiny waists and flowing full skirts . . . well, the pattern makers just went wild. And there were these beauties in the pattern books. Tiny, tiny waists, tiny, tiny rib cages, perky, perky breasts and who the heck could tell what was happening under those miles and miles of swirling skirts and crinolines?
And that’s another thing. If, as a teenager, you wanted your skirts to even approximate fullness of the skirts in the drawing you had to have at least four or five crinoline half slips . . . more if you could afford them!
So, I maintain that we’ve placing the blame in all the wrong places . . . I swear, if it didn’t start with Simplicity, Butterick and McCalls they certainly fueled the image!
Adrienne Jacoby is a 40-plus-year resident of Shasta County and native-born Californian. She was a teacher of vocal music in the Enterprise Schools for 27 years and has been retired for 11 years.
A musician all her life, she was married to the late Bill Jacoby with whom she formed a locally well -known musical group who prided themselves in playing for weddings, wakes, riots, bar mitzvas and super market openings. And, oh yes . . . she has two children, J’Anna and Jayson.