Just Sayin’: Is it Body or is it Image?


Anyone that knows me, knows I’m more body and less image. But the other day that got me to thinking about where this body image thing all started.

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.


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14 Responses »

  1. Wow, that is interesting, fer shur.

    I dream of buying clothes for my middle aged body that flow and flatter. I now know I am not alone.

  2. I think you may have a point here, Adrienne. I too remember being disappointed that the clothes I made never looked anything like those sketches.

  3. I've been saying for years that I wish 'portly' would come back into style. What happened to the days when you couldn't trust a skinny banker? or realtor? or...? A person that carried a little extra body weight around could be seen to be prospering. I like feeling prosperous, even if it's just a look. May I have another biscuit, please?

    Patterns!!! My brother & I had a slightly different problem as kids growing up - our mom made shirts for us that looked like the pictures on the front of the pattern envelope, alright. It was just that looking at that picture we could tell we weren't going to like wearing those shirts, no matter which cloth she picked for them; not that we ever got a vote (unlike Dad).

    • I love your take on 'portly'. Goes right along with 'a fine figure of a woman.' What ever happened to that idea that idea of prosperity = girth. Yeah, Steve, lets bring that back!!!

  4. Hmmmmmm. As a guy, I'm thinking that making any comments about this subject would get me in trouble no matter what I say. The age-old cliche' applies here, "Discretion is the better part of valor." Yes, there is freedom of speech and yes, there are consequences to what you say.

  5. Interesting point. It was fun making clothes. That was long ago and I bet not so many sew anymore. It was cheaper to make your own clothes. Thanks for making me think.

  6. I think you are onto something, Adrienne. Interesting theory. Thanks for another thought-provoking column. :)

  7. Something to think about for sure. As a young girl, I never could hit 100 pounds and was so short that I was often mistaken for someone much younger. Because of my height (or lack of it) nothing fit very well. I wanted to be taller and heavier. One out of two ain't bad.

  8. "Honey, does this make me look fat? "

    "Well, you know, you are fat............."

    There's a lesson to be learned there!

  9. AJ, loved your thoughts on Fluffiness, yes I did sell men's suits at one time that were labeled Portly. When fitting these fellows, I found them to be the kind of person I would like to be, bigger than life personalities, always happy and delighted in serving others.

    To my many friends from Tonga, Samoa and Hawaii, " Bigger is Better ", they proved this to me over the years as I lived with them, sang with them and came to realized we are all one. Keep your magic thoughts coming.

  10. My Mother, bless her heart, not only made my dresses "with the swirling skirts", but she made the color-coordinated "50-yard slips" to go under them. She would have the tiers of netting (with bias tape sewn on the edge) standing up around the perimeter of the the living room when she was gathering them to sew together. I cannot imagine the patience and time all that took.

  11. Adrienne

    I've been under the weather for a few days but it always makes me feel better to have a bowl of Cherry's chicken noodle soup while reading your column. Tonight you made me smile even though I'm cranky. A nice gift... thank.



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