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Regime change: gender, class, and the invention of dieting in post-bellum America.

Dieting in conventional academic analyses has often appeared as a normative practice targeting the female, white, middle-class body alone, with the explicit intention of molding it into arbitrary beauty standards and distracting women from more profound, political goals. Naomi Wolf provocatively called dieting "the most potent political sedative in women's history" and "something serious being done to us to safeguard political power." (1) She and others have argued that reducing weight is an important part of performing femininity in American society and that dieting practices were introduced to divert women's demands for access to social power.

This article offers an alternative reading of late 19th century dieting practices, arguing that weight reduction advice initially addressed the male body, promising men that their influence, political power and social privileges would grow as their waistlines slimmed. At their advent in U.S. culture, dieting practices presented a novel system of middle-class body management allegedly based on rationality and willpower. (2) The male body exhibiting visible self-control was used as testimony for the biological superiority of men over women, class privilege, and white supremacy. Expert discourses establishing hegemonic body ideals and administering disciplinary practices, such as medical advice, beauty manuals, literature and the newly emerging genre of diet advice in magazines and newspapers, presented men's dieting as part of that claim.

The first best-selling diet guide in the US, for example, was William Banting's A Letter on Corpulence of 1863 (which went through 12 editions by 1900). It was aimed at men and promoted a dietary regimen that featured foods associated with masculinity, wealth, and national and racial superiority such as red meat and alcohol. Only once dieting was firmly established as a masculine practice, newspapers and other sources show, did women begin to diet - roughly 30 years later. Early dieting advice initially ignored women; indeed, they were urged to be plump if they wanted to be healthy and beautiful. It was women's rights activists who started to encourage their followers to control their food intake, arguing that women had mastery over their bodies, too. Conventional readings to the contrary, dieting served in this historical and cultural context not only as a means to discipline the female body but also as a form of resistance against Victorian ideals of femininity. It helped to embody women's demand for independence and greater access to power.

Scholars such as Kathy Peiss, Ann Cahill, and Peg Zeglin Brand have convincingly shown that discourses emerging around beauty ideals discipline the female body but simultaneously lend agency to the female subject. Beautification practices should therefore not be seen as mere acts of submission. (3) A reading of dieting along these lines renders it as a multi-facetted practice that not only subjects the body to hegemonic cultural norms but simultaneously allows individuals to claim privileges and rights linked to self-optimization.

This is not to say that dieting is or has been simply a liberatory or democratizing practice. Dieting, as a disciplinary practice in the Foucauldian sense, subjected the body and the individual to new, ramified mechanisms of self-surveillance and the constant desire for self-improvement, creating a well-adapted subject for the capitalist nation-state and pain for those who did not comply. The new slender body ideal appropriated first by white men and eventually by white women also served to further exclude African Americans and immigrants from access to equal political and cultural representation. Since the advent of diet discourses in the US, people labeled as overweight were not only "othered." In a mirror image, the racial and ethnic other was imagined as overweight, and thus as less disciplined, more sensual, and unfit to exercise social power.

Body-Management, Early Dieting, and Masculinity

The public campaign against body fat started in Europe and slowly made its way across the Atlantic. Its origins can be traced to the 1670s, when a few marginalized medical experts warned fruitlessly against overweight. Since thinness was associated with starvation, poverty, and a lack of resistance against contagious diseases, these warnings went largely unheard. Fat was firmly connoted with health, longevity, and beauty. (4) In Great Britain obesity slowly started to be classified as a medical problem in the early 18th century, when overweight was linked to a wider cultural debate about the morality of conspicuous consumption. "Excessive fatness" was associated with "material corruption." (5) Overeating was regularly condemned in advice manuals for gentlemen in early modern England on the grounds that indulgence is unhealthy, unmanly, and un-English.

Slowly the new European fad spilled over to the American continent. As early as the 1830s the term "dieting" appeared in American medical journals, when it meant a cure for congestion, indigestion, or other ailments. When the first recommendations for weight reduction arrived in the US, they were mostly imports from Great Britain. In 1842, the American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine reprinted a "Chapter on Weight," an article from the London Sports Magazine. In this humorous treatment of the subject, the author states that English gentlemen were increasingly worried about their weight and vain about it: "If you tell an elderly gentleman ... that you think he is thinner since you saw him last, he will draw himself up with a sort of inward secret chuckle at the imaginary relief his horse will feel next meet; thinking you, moreover, a decidedly more sensible person than either his wife or daughter." (6) Another English article reprinted in the American weekly newspaper Spirit of the Times argues that overweight is the plight of the upwardly mobile. While those born into money have learned to deal with the dangers that come with comfort and have cultivated control mechanisms from early childhood on, the article argues, the newly rich man is especially endangered, since his sudden break with formerly frugal habits can prove fatal: "He has no other resource--no hunting or cricket to take up his attention--no lectures to attend, and the consequence is that beer and tobacco commences the day, and tobacco and spirits wind it up. Such a man suddenly finds all his energies going--his mind dull and enfeebled--his body weak, flabby, and bloated." (7) This warning shows how dieting joined a number of specific regulatory discourses to constrain new ideas celebrating radical individualism and to keep the self-made man at bay. He was thought to be striving, ambitious, but insecure about his social standing, and needed to demonstrate self-control. (8) Consequently, the early 19th century produced discourses that asked men to control their sexuality, gambling, and alcohol intake to be successful and valuable members of society. (9)

Within these new discourses of proper body management the control of food intake increasingly played a role. Sylvester Graham, in his 1838 "A Lecture to Young Men on Chastity," suggested that sexual appetites can be controlled by the proper choice of food. (10) But weight reduction was not a stated aim yet. While Graham's diet advice previewed some of the issues that come with modern diet discourses--self-management, the need to discipline the body via dietary adjustments, self-surveillance, and moral overtones--he and his followers insisted that one does not lose weight when following Graham's advice, since the slender body was still considered unhealthy, weak, and unmanly. The early 19th century firmly associated stoutness with influence, wealth, and respectability. (11)

When in the middle of the 19th century the fear arose that the male body had become too soft and feminine because of men's increasingly sedentary professions, and as the demands of middle-class women for education and political participation increased, the need for more gender-specific embodiments emerged. (12) Male facial hair became fashionable. A new fitness culture promoted manly outdoor exercise and sports. Men's bodies were now imagined as muscular and active as opposed to the imagined softness and passivity of female bodies. (13) Mid-Victorian culture praised the beauty of the male body based on the model of Greek statues with their chiseled and pronounced muscles. The male body as a muscular and active one entered American literature, most notably in Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, which reinvents the poetic body as virile, active, and muscular. (14)

The re-negotiation of masculinity in Victorian culture led on both sides of the Atlantic to a massive movement to reinvigorate and re-masculinize the church and religion in general, which, were also thought to have become too effeminate and dominated by feminine values. "Muscular Christianity" or "Christian manliness" has been described by scholars such as David Rosen, Donald Hall, and others as part of a gender power struggle in reaction to the increasing democratization and distribution of wealth and political participation in the US. (15) Muscular Christianity in the US attached itself to previous ideas of spiritual masculinity, such as the early writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson, although he often denied the body in his texts, created "a 'masculine' religion of virtue and self-reliance" in which he advocated self-cultivation and self-improvement as truly Christian and American, as the spiritual version of the self-made man. (16) Emerson himself also experimented with the subjection of his body to fasting, an act he understood as a sign of "self-mastery and control." (17)

"I Hold the Reins of Comfort and Health in My Own Hands"

Thus the American public was already familiar with practices disciplining the male body into hegemonic masculinities and it was also alerted to the perils of obesity that befell a culture with an increasingly sedentary life-style, when in 1863 the British undertaker William Banting published A Letter on Corpulence. (18) The Letter is the first modern diet program written by a layperson. (19) Originally slender, the pamphlet increased in size with every edition. It declared that weight was not hereditary but could be willed down, and prescribed a nutritional regimen that promised weight loss for anybody educated and determined enough to follow it. (20) Banting promoted a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet that limited starchy foods and sweets, but allowed for copious amounts of meats and liquor. In contrast to earlier regimens that had promoted restricted diets to alleviate certain symptoms, this text explicitly focused on weight loss as a goal in itself. The Letter defined obesity as illness, thus removing the responsibility for the affliction from the individual, while at the same time making obese people fully and solely responsible for their recovery. Banting tapped into a vein of growing popular interest in science coupled with Christian awakening. He called his "recovery" from obesity "miraculous," and stylized himself an apostle, a witness to the scientific miracle within his own body, a transubstantiation of fat into thin air caused by sheer force of will. With thinness comes happiness, promised Banting, establishing a long-lived and unsubstantiated common wisdom. (21) The Letter was immensely successful: Within a year it went into its 5th edition. It was widely discussed and commented upon in the popular press for "the extraordinary sale" of some sixty to seventy thousand copies by 1878, the equivalent of selling some half a million copies today. (22)

In the introduction to the Letter, Banting confesses how his body weight had impaired him physically the no longer could tie his shoes and needed to walk down stairs backwards), and he describes the growing social harassment and ridicule directed towards people classified as overweight. An increasingly industrialized and urbanized world with pre-fabricated clothing and furniture, public transportation and limited public space demanded an increasing standardization of the body. Banting considered himself healed when he reached what he called a "happy natural medium." (23) In his long, defensive introduction, he implicitly responds to the accusations the obese person increasingly confronted: "Few men have led a more active life--bodily or mentally--from a constitutional anxiety for regularity, precision, and order, during fifty years' business career, from which I have now retired, so that my corpulence and subsequent obesity was not through neglect of necessary bodily activity, nor from excessive eating, drinking, or self-indulgence of any kind." (24) Here the text rejects depictions of the obese body as a product and site of lethargy, laziness, self-indulgence, and lack of control. At the same time, he constructs the dieter's identity as an urban entrepreneur whose success leads to his obesity but whose willpower can make him anything, even thin again.

The Letter marks the beginning of a diet discourse in American culture that from its beginning is gendered. Banting explicitly addressed men. His repeated recommendations for rowing, smoking, and ample use of alcohol put his advice out of the reach of most women of the time. Banting suggested a high-protein diet that promoted lean meat, which then as now was associated with masculinity and virility. (25) Scientific evidence supposedly showed that dieting is a rational practice, and he emphasized that his diet instructions were not related to self-denial or sacrifice--all attitudes towards food firmly connected to femininity in Victorian culture. The genre of the self-help guide agreed with the idea that gentlemen were, via dietetics, able to control their own fates, including health and longevity; as Banting writes proudly: "I hold the reins of comfort and health in my own hands." (26) To no surprise, the testimonials that Banting appended to later editions came exclusively from men.

Like critics of the Atkins diet in recent years, some of Banting's contemporaries complained that his diet manual--requiring meat at four meals a day--was only for the affluent. (27) Dieting was a practice through which class privilege could be performed, yet it was for the striving middle-class, not the rich. Banting's open discussion of his body and physical processes defied upper-class etiquette and the conventional invisibility of the upper-class body. The diet advice and body image presented in the Letter made the text a manual for the management of the middle-class body. In the US, dieting, now often referred to as "banting," was generally interpreted as a positive sign of healthy ambition. (28) The Round Table in March 1867 published the article "Physiological Gastronomy," that argued that Europeans, especially the "large class of society without what we call occupation," had a more refined way of dealing with food, cherishing not quantity but quality--thus imagining the European upper-class as restrained and thin, and a positive model for the aspiring American gentleman. (29) Since food played an important role in the distinction of status in societies, the focus on quality allowed those who followed this suggestion to distinguish themselves from the growing number of people who had access to sufficient amounts of food and also to food items that were formerly associated with privilege, such as sweets. Banting and other early diets offered the middle-class male body a specific niche: visibly affluent and physically comfortable, it was a canvas for the display of restraint through dieting. Dieting was no longer associated with hunger or starving but with eating exquisitely and intentionally avoiding excess, thereby giving testimony to the education, moral fitness, and self-control of the white, urban, middle-class man. (30)

After the publication of Banting's Letter, not only expert literature, but also the mainstream press took up the discussion of nutritional advice and new dieting practices. The Letter was often praised, sparking discussions of the ideal weight, typical American build, the injustice of the distribution of body weight and, increasingly, alternative cures. (31) The Letter was also criticized for its promotion of vanity, indulgence (meat at every meal and ample liquor), and for its equation of overweight with sickness and unhappiness (32) Some critics claimed that the text was overly dramatic and that Banting shamelessly exaggerated the effects of obesity and the sufferings of the obese. (33) At the same time, the pressure on obese people was accumulating. In caricatures and political cartoons, overweight men stood for greed and corruption. (34) Apparently the first word denigrating the obese entered the American language--"slob," designating the overweight male. (35)

Newspapers and magazines started to report regularly on diets, addressing men. (36) Women, not the intended audience of these reports, initially seem to have been immune to the new fad. In Harper's Weekly a diet expert complained in 1865 that overweight young women could not be convinced to diet for anything--even in cases in which their weight severely impaired them--because they were only interested in having fun, sleeping in, and spending time with young men. (37) In a critique of Banting's focus on obesity in The Albion from 1865, the author remarked that while men are known to have fallen for weight reduction fads to demarcate class (the male dieter shows that he has "neither necessity nor inclination to do anything useful"), women always had a better "instinct," not being "corrupted" by "civilization" in their "natural taste." They have always "preferred soft outlines" and "have been ashamed of the obtrusiveness of their bones," since "a charge of leanness is nearly the worst a woman can bring against herself." (38) When later in the century a few newspaper or magazine articles mention women who diet, they usually serve as examples of failure, or as negative examples of believers in miracle cures. (39) The first tables to give average or ideal weights only mentioned men. (40)

The notion that dieting was a sign of strength went beyond the individual. Weight and body management became part of an evolving new race ideology connected to the desire for an American empire. The idea of a reinvigorated masculinity was part of imperial fantasies in which weaker cultures had to yield their land, resources, and beliefs to stronger, Western ones. (41) The 1869 article "The Diet of Brain-Workers" claims that grain- and fish-eating nations, such as "Hindoos" and Japanese, were inferior to meat-eating societies and that the intellectual elite of a country should be fed the most nutritious, meat-based diet to be of the best service to the nation's advancement. (42) The early diet regimes fulfilled exactly this demand when they promoted meat-focused regimes. A nutrition handbook from 1871 claims: "The most powerful nations and the greatest and best men everywhere are flesh eaters." (43) "Over-eating," eating without restraint, is characteristic of children and "Red Indians," states another article in the Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature from 1881. Restraint was a sign of cultural superiority. (44) Several articles marveled at allegedly grossly obese body ideals in other cultures and depicted them as a sign of otherness and exoticism. (45) American identity and American power demanded the regulation of food intake and body size--especially for the men who were tasked with expanding the American empire.

Not only did the mainstream press report with regularity on issues concerning dieting. Dieting advice also entered specialty magazines that addressed an overwhelmingly male audience, such as the Manufacturer and Builder. The magazine published floor plans for farmhouses, information on new tools, basic chemistry and new technologies. It also featured dozens of articles on weight reduction. The authors assured their male audience that by scientifically controlling their food intake they could also control their health, longevity and weight. The Manufacturer and Builder, featuring slender, successful and well-dressed men on its cover pages, informed its readers regularly about new publications on dieting and new methods to reduce weight. (46) This advice was the subject of lively discussions in the correspondence section, where readers defended the merits of their preferred technique for reducing or attacked alternative methods. (47) The reports on dieting, framed by news on the latest scroll saws or floor matting, chided readers for recognizing intemperance as a vice but guiltlessly giving in to overeating, and assured them that meat-based diets were superior to cereal-based diets. (48)

Another source of information on diets was popular science magazines directed to a male lay audience such as the Scientific American, which presented dieting as rational practice. "Corpulence" from 1882 educated the reader about carbohydrates. "The Treatment of Corpulence on Physiological Principles" in 1883 offered a detailed meal plan for the day. "The Treatment of Obesity" from 1886 suggested tea for reducing weight. "The Proper Weight of Man" presented advice on how to calculate one's ideal weight in 1884. "Anti-Fat" in 1879 discussed the merits of seaweed for losing weight. (49) Occasionally the connection between, the slender body and re invigorated masculinity is made explicit, as in "Reducing Fat by Exercise," which advises the "paterfamilias" to reduce his weight through exercise such as rowing, boxing, fencing and hunting. (50) As in the Manufacturer and Builder, the Scientific American, too, created a space for its readers to discuss the advantages of dieting in its correspondence section, reflecting the interest in dieting practices among the readership. (51)

It is telling to note where "banting" was not discussed in this period: in articles in women's magazines, African American newspapers, and working-class newspapers and magazines. The target audience for diet advice as well as the imagined identity of dieters until the 1890s remained white, male and middle-class." (52)

As an ironic reaction to the increasingly chilly cultural climate for overweight men, the "Fat Man's Association" was founded, a club that accepted only members weighing more than 200 lbs. Its charter called for upholding the American Constitution and refraining from all dieting. (53) But apart from these few pockets of resistance against the new practice of dieting, defenses of overweight men became rare. (54) "Banting," warned some, was dangerous and could lead to weakness, sickness, or death, but for others Banting's system, with its rather generous eating instructions, was soon too liberal and too slow in its beneficial effects. (55) New diet experts appeared who called for a stricter and even more masculine regimen to demonstrate uttermost willpower via food intake. (56)

Fasting Girls, Fasting Heroes

Secular tasting became fashionable for men in the late 19th and early 20th century. Originally a practice associated with femininity and spirituality, the cultural meanings of lasting were successfully renegotiated and re-gendered in the 1880s. (57) Fasting had fallen into disuse as a religious practice in the 19th century, but American culture was fascinated towards the end of the century by the so-called "fasting girls"--women who had allegedly not eaten for miraculous periods of time and survived. Often fasting girls were said to develop supernatural powers, mostly clairvoyance. Starving herself was also the last stand a heroine could take in a Victorian novel, and when suffragists went on hunger strike, they exploited means of resistance that were in a certain, if ironic, way in conformity with hegemonic gender performance. While wasting oneself might, be a questionable form of resistance and its outcome potentially fatal, fasting granted women public attention, recognition, and as Joan Jacobs Brumberg argues, power--even if in a strictly limited and self-destructive sense. (58) The fasting girls also presented a constant slap in the face to scientists who argued the world was rationally explicable and the body a finely-tuned machine, but could not explain the phenomenon of long-term fasting. Spiritualists and other anti-science movements in the late 19th century used fasting girls to argue against the claim of scientific knowledge to interpretative hegemony: they insisted that fasting girls were actually the living proof that there was no "law of science." (59)

In response, medical experts declared the fasting girls frauds. Open war was declared over the case of Molly Fancher, the "Brooklyn Enigma" in the 1870s. She was thought to have lived on fluids, fruit pulp, and crackers alone and many believed she had gained supernatural powers through her fast. Both the fasting and the alleged psychic powers were seen as a challenge to the scientific community, a challenge that was countered by another. Medical experts asked Fancher not to eat or drink anything for a month while under constant surveillance (including searches of her clothes, bedding, and visitors). Fancher declined on the grounds of decency, which was promptly read as evidence that she was cheating. (60) But the challenge was taken up by somebody else: the doctor and self-proclaimed nutrition expert H.S. Tanner claimed that he would not eat solid food for the biblical period of 40 days while under constant scrutiny. (61) The experiment took place in 1880 and was accompanied by extensive news coverage; including daily reports in the New York Times. (62) A sense of lingering danger and of extraordinary willpower in this "battle with nature" was evoked by headlines such as "Dr. Tanner Still Alive," "Tanner Declines to Die," "The Fast Against Time," and "Fasting and Living Death." (63) The articles presented Tanner in virile images as an adventurer, a valiant warrior in total control of his body. Reporters explicitly contrasted Tanner's honorable conduct as a man and scientist to the alleged cheating of the fasting girls, manifesting the public opinion that the girls must be frauds; despite the fact that Tanner had just scientifically proven that it was possible to abstain from food for long periods of time. (64) Women were not thought to be able to muster this kind of control over their bodies.

The same day that Tanner started his experiment, a Miss Agnes Dehart began a 30-day fast that she completed successfully. The New York Times devoted a single article to the young woman, pointing out that Dehart's fast was prescribed and controlled by her physician to cure her of ulcers. Although she ended the fast with a body weight of 98 pounds, the newspaper assured its readers that she was at no time in any danger. (65)

Reframing fasting as scientific, rationally sound, and a sign of enormous willpower, it was appropriated as a truly masculine practice which women could not master without cheating or external pressure. While in early nutritional advice for men fasting was dismissed as "ungentlemanly," it had become a legitimate if extreme masculine dieting practice in the late 19th century. (66) Marie Griffith suggests that the moral and religious connotations of fasting were closely related to a renewal of ideals of masculinity: "[Fasting] became saturated with hopes for the masculinization of the weak and reinvigoration of what was supposedly enfeebled about American democracy and culture." (67) Public attention turned from the fasting girls to the (male) hunger artists who became famous in the last decade of the 19th century. (68) Fasting and other dieting practices were taken up by the body-building culture, most prominently by Bernarr Macfadden, who published a magazine for body-builders. (69) Macfadden liked to illustrate his program with images of his own naked and muscular body to prove its success--a strategy that repeatedly brought him into trouble with the law. (70) The emphasis on muscles and on a hard, slim body can be read as a turning away from the softness and roundness associated with the ideal female body of Victorian culture. The willpower and control required for fasting and weight loss re-created the male body and the male subject, freed from the debasing influence of the conveniences of civilization and the softening attributed to early conditioning by women.

In 1882 an article in The Scientific American claimed that body fat was feminine, that overweight men should wear corsets, and that obesity was a sign of what the article called "genital anomalies": "we know that wethers, oxen, and capons, as well as eunuchs, are usually fat." (71) This effeminization of corpulence was part of a broader tendency to "other" the obese and to declare body fat as un-masculine, un-white, and un-American. Medical experts argued that overweight was inherent to certain races and to women, and was a marker of class. (72) With the increasing pressure on ambitious white middle-class men to fit the new ideal of slenderness, body fat was increasingly associated with the working class, African Americans, immigrants, and femininity.

Atrophy Wives

Even as men were told to become muscular and slender, the ideal for women's bodies was at its softest and heftiest between the Civil War and the early 1890s. (73) Lillian Russell, the sex goddess of the Progressive era, is said to have weighed 200 lbs at the height of her career. (74) Other beauty models such as the Empress Eugenie, European actresses, and literary characters were praised for their rounded shoulders and ample chests. (75) Plumpness was not only sexy but was also believed to be physical proof of successful motherhood and respectability as well as women's sexual availability. (76) Beauty ideals demanded a clear differentiation of the female and male body as evidence of the biological (and thus indisputable) foundation of gender. (77) But the differentiation between the male and female body was also used to prove the superiority of Western civilization. As one of the most prominent authors of nutritional advice of this time, George Beard, put it:
  In barbarous lands woman is the slave of man and performs menial
  tasks; in civilizations a little advanced, she often shares with
  him the labors of the field, shop, and the counting room; in the must
  enlightened nations woman is the toy, the companion or ornamental
  appendage to man, and in certain social states, uses her brain but
  little and in trivial matters, and her muscles scarcely at all. (78)


The soft, weak female body serves here as evidence for the enlightenment and advancement of culture.

Body weight and shape played an important role in the differentiation of gender. While the ideal male body was imagined with broad shoulders, narrow hips, and long legs, the female body was described as perfect if it had "a small head, shoulders rather sloping and narrow, the torso full and widest at the hips; while the front line from the sternum over the abdomen should show first a gentle, and then a full outward curve." (79) Corsets commonly not only produced the pinched-in waist but also the "full outward curve" of the belly with a pre-fabricated hemisphere of lace and steel. (80) The protruding belly served as a sign of a woman's fertility, while her untrained muscles reflected her "toy" status in a society so civilized that it no longer needed her labor. Her highest calling was to become, to coin a phrase, an atrophy wife.

Since women's ideal weight bore these significant cultural dimensions, it needed to be carefully guarded. Another author in Harper's Weekly warns: "Leanness is not of disadvantage to men. Their strength is not affected by it, and they are even more vigorous. But leanness in the fair sex is a dreadful evil." (81) Since the slender female body contradicted not only fantasies of gender but also of the nation's standing in the world, it was not beyond some writers to diagnose it as malignant.

Survival of the Fattest

While diet advice can he found in magazines directed at men and the general public since 1864, articles in women's magazines initially did not address the topic. Even during the height of the Banting craze, reports on obesity were conspicuously absent from women's magazines. In contrast, they obsessed over meagerness in women as a serious and widespread beauty and health problem. (82) If there were aesthetic deficiencies in body shape, readers were advised to remedy them with the right choice of clothes. (83) There were no suggestions made that the female body itself can be altered, which stands in stark contrast to the body management expected from men. Unlike the advice for men appealing to willpower, self-control, and rationality, fashion expertise constructed taste and artful deceit as major feminine qualities.

While popular medical advice literature published for a general audience began to include sections on obesity, these sections are missing from the exploding numbers of health guides for women. (84) Medical experts commonly stated instead that plumpness was beneficial for pregnancy and childbirth. (85) Silas Weir Mitchell, the inventor of the infamous rest cure as a treatment for hysteria, suggested fattening up female patients with a milk diet, which is congruent with other strategies for infantilizing women in his treatment of neurasthenia. Weight gain, he believed, was a clear sign of the success of his cure. (86) Hysteria was often thought to be a direct effect of slenderness, and slenderness was thought to he the effect of women engaging in unfeminine activities, such as too much studying or physical activity. (87) If doctors urged women to watch their weight in the second half of the 19th century, it was to put on more pounds, not to shed them.

Beauty manuals followed the same pattern. While men were advised to reduce their weight, publications for women were devoted to weight gain, such as the popular How to Be Plump of 1878. Beauty manuals explicitly advised their readers against dieting. "The skin hangs loosely when there is no flesh under it," warned the Scrap Book for Homely Women Only (1884) in no uncertain terms. (88) Most beautiful is the woman with "rounded limb and graceful curve," writes Henrietta Hardy Hammond in Women's Secret (1876). (89) Clearly these strategies were successful and found their audience: When female college students wrote home in the 1880s they often proudly reported their weight gain. (90) A few exceptional texts mention weight loss in passing and advise women who wish to reduce to engage in "intellectual labors." (91) What little dieting advice is given in beauty manuals before 1900 lacks the scientific wording of male weight-loss advice and often stresses dangers more than benefits. Often weight issues are explicitly connected to questions of motherhood. One text suggests that women eat one-third less as soon as they hit 45 years of age, since their ovaries then start to shrivel and no longer need to be fed. (92)

To no surprise, beautiful women in sentimental novels and stories were often plump, too, such as Henry James's shallow but beautiful heroine Marian Everett of "The Story of a Masterpiece." "[T]he most charming girl of her circle" is described as smaller than average and "marked by a great fullness and roundness of outline" and being of "comely ponderosity." (93) When dieting found its way into a sentimental story, it was derided. In 1879, Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine published a short story by Robert C. Meyers, "Fanny's System," in which the female protagonist is described as cheerful and healthy and so round that she can no longer tie her shoes. Fanny dismisses a colleague's recommendation to lose weight with the help of Banting's system and finds herself in a romance with a slender and handsome policeman. When Fanny loses weight because of worry, she is nervous, unhappy, and grows seriously ill. In the end she gets married and returns to her healthy, happy, and desirable plumpness. (94)

Dieting as Dissent

Despite the strong pressure on women to be plump in order to embody the ideals of hegemonic middle-class femininity, in the late 19th century positive representations of dieting women appeared in public discourses dismissing the explicit advice of medical and beauty experts. The idea of women dieting entered American culture from the margins and from below. Early evidence that some women did diet in private can be found in the sections of women's magazines that responded to readers' requests and which usually discussed questions of complex Victorian etiquette. In 1868 Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine published in its "Arm-Chair" column a short explanation of Banting's system. (95) In January 1869 the editors of Harper's Bazaar recommended Banting over vinegar and chalk, and in September 1869 "Viola" asked the editors of the self-help column how she could buy Banting's Letter in the US. (96) Similar inquiries can be found in women's magazines of the 1870s and 1880s. (97) Although readers were eager for dieting advice, editors were nor yet prepared to promote weight reduction. In 1873, in explicit response to reader requests, Harper's Bazaar published a short piece on Banting's Letter in its "For the Ugly Girls" column, but instead of providing information on Banting's diet program, the magazine focused on his life story, sentimentally retelling his personal suffering and triumph over obesity. (98) In spite of the growing demand from readers to be informed about dieting, women's magazines restricted the topic to the correspondence columns and did not print feature articles on weight reduction until the late 1890s--30 years after diet advice had become a regular feature of publications targeted at male audiences.

Not fashion and not medical experts, but early women's rights activists were the original voices urging women to use a healthy diet and physical exercise to grow strong. In 1886 Anna Kingsford's Health, Beauty and the Toilet was published in the US, containing a compilation of answers to readers' letters to the London-based Lady's Pictorial. Kingsford, England's second woman to obtain a medical degree, a woman's rights advocate and author of an influential work on vegetarianism, presented one of the earliest comprehensive if brief diet programs for women. She associated thinness with an active lifestyle and an excitable temper, both of which she described as positive for women. The regime she outlined integrated diet into a wider lifestyle such; is getting up early, exercise, and a generally active life. She sternly advises women to abstain from miracle cures and to use education and reason to achieve a healthy body. (99) Her detailed plan for managing one's body also required time and money, and was thus directed at well-to-do women.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton addressed the same class of women when she spoke to the American Equal Rights Association in 1867 and praised and defended the uncovered young women who trained their bodies following exercise guru Diocletian Lewis, who promoted physical exercise for women:
  In the large waists and Strong arms of the girls under his training,
  some dilettante gentleman may mourn a loss of feminine delicacy. So
  in the wise, virtuous, self-supporting, common-sense women we propose
  as the mothers of the future republic, the reverend gentleman may see
  a lack of what he considers the feminine element. In the development
  of sufficient moral force to entrench herself on principle, need a
  woman necessarily lose any grace, dignity or perfection of
  character? (100)


The "dilettante gentleman" and the "common-sense women" struggled over the definition of properly embodied femininity and the sovereignty over the female body. In 1889, Stanton, often praised for her motherly figure, went on a diet herself. (101) While Stanton supported a trim and healthy "natural body," not all women's rights advocates joined her, but she found support among women physicians. Rachel Brooks Gleason, one of the first female American doctors, was not only a fervent dress reformer, she also associated corpulence with lack of strength in her Talks to My Patients (1870) and recommended her female patients to follow Banting to gain more "muscular fiber." (102) Campaigns against the evils of the corset, and dress reform in general, suggested fashions with soft or no corsets but which maintained a focus on the waist, implicitly promoting the slender body as the new physical ideal. (103) This "natural" body remained a marginalized beauty ideal through the '70s and early '80s, explicitly associated with strength, health, and the drive for female independence, an ideal that gained more adherents as the suffrage movement gathered momentum in the 1890s, when middle-class women started to make fashionable dress reform and the slender female body.

In 1892, dress reformer Helen Ecob published The Well Dressed Woman in which she condemns the corset as ruining women's posture, health and beauty. In an illustration of two female shapes in profile, the uncorseted one is depicted as standing up straight and slender, the corseted counter-example is depicted in a slouched s-curve with a grotesquely protruding belly. Suggesting regular exercise, the text, quoting a physician, argues, "healthy muscle will take the place of the corset," claiming that women could take control over their bodies. (104) The promotion of muscle resisted Victorian culture's emphasis on the toy status of middle-class women. In a section of anticipated questions, Ecob discusses the problem of corpulence. She foresees that some of her "stout" readers will fear to appear "untidy" or "like a tub" without corsets. She suggests diet, exercise and loose clothes as remedies. (105)

The natural slender female body as a sign of "common-sense," health and independence appealed to a white middle-class audience. Male dieting discourses had successfully established the connection between dieting, self-control, and citizenship. Now texts promoting slenderness for women claimed that women can have the same control over their bodies as men, and with it, equal privileges. In an article from 1890, Eliza Putnam Heaton asserted that "There is no reason why--provided she has sufficient willpower--a woman should not mould her figure to her liking." She also argued that there is no inherent biological difference when it comes to strength; women can become strong, slender, and muscular, too. (106) A reader of the Ladies' Home Journal stated that it is a woman's right "to be healthy, to be as healthy as a man if you please." (107). Public discussions about corsets, birth control, and divorce, and of the Victorian ideal of motherhood as the only desirable form of womanhood, put the question of women's control over their own bodies at the center of the women's tights movement. Young women started to exercise in growing numbers. In the late 1880s trendsetters brought a more slender beauty ideal coming from Europe, embodied by prominent figures such as Princess Alexandra, whose slender figure stood for a love of athletic activities and mildly transgressive gender behavior. Her passion for hunting brought her reportedly into conflict with her mother-in-law, Queen Victoria, and made her the symbol of new, younger, and more active version of femininity. (108) Newspapers occasionally reported about actresses who dieted, while women of means had themselves painted as tall, slender and regal. (109)

Women's colleges established physical education as part of their curricula, at first only to counteract the damaging side-effects of brain work on women, later to strengthen their bodies. Graduates of women's colleges demanded and opened women's gyms in urban centers. (110) In the 1890s slenderness and mental activity were firmly associated. Overweight was increasingly thought to be a sign of laziness, passivity, and slow wits, all of which were frowned upon by women's rights activists and increasingly by society in general. (111)

Fashion accommodated the new sports with shirt waists--an American garment originally inspired by men's clothing--and more flexible corsets that exposed more of the body to public scrutiny. While dress reform gained momentum, the fashion industry countered the new claim to bodily freedom and mobility with the demand for extreme hour-glass shapes, s-curves and shirt-waist extensions (which faked rounded chests), but skirts stayed narrow and slender promoting vertical lines, seemingly revealing more of the body shape underneath. The shirt waist also marked the advent of ready-made clothes for women and with them the greater standardization of body measurements. Like Banting before them, many women, too, now aspired to a "happy medium" which grew steadily thinner. Ready-made garments in themselves did not impose the new demand for thinness, but they made bodies comparable and deviance measurable (and unprofitable). Standard clothing sizes regulated body size and allowed for social control, helping to establish new body ideals. (112) The body signified class and racial identity as well as political convictions, increasing the pressure on women to mold their bodies according to the station in life they held or wanted to occupy. Bicycling, the growing middle-class sport and means of transportation, brought new, comfortable clothes to the streets and under the public gaze. Even women not doing sports started to wear shirt waists, too, pretending to participate in a more active life-style.

Like bicycling, swimming, too, visibly increased the range of movement for women. Kate Chopin's novel The Awakening (1899) featured protagonist Edna Pontellier, who tries to escape the gendered restrictions of society after she learns how to swim and in this process discovers her body. In the end she rejects the few possibilities society offers to her, among them most prominently self-realization through motherhood, and drowns herself. Unlike other female protagonists in the novel, Edna is described as slender--she has "firm flesh," "lean" limbs, and "clean symmetrical lines," which stand for her demand to be in control of her body herself. (113) The slenderness of Edna's body is therefore meaningful. Her body shape is part of her rebellious gender performance.

The connotation of slenderness with women's emancipatory efforts also surfaced in conservative criticism of the new body ideal. An author in Harper's Bazaar attacked the new fad: "Every effort is made to imitate masculine characteristics. The shoulders are thrust up high and square, or made to appear so; the torso is made to taper in; and everything under heaven is done to make the waist look small. The front line is forced to take an inward curve below the bust, and the side lines to form an awkward angle." (114) The angular female body without the softly protruding belly is read as a crossing of gender boundaries and as a demand for access to formerly male-connoted privilege. Since the 1870s, slender women were attacked in newspapers and magazines as bad mothers, a danger to the health of their unborn children, irresponsible, and implicitly unpatriotic. (115)

In the 1890s beauty and health experts severely warned women against weight loss, such as an article in Harper's Bazaar that suggested that thinness is not beautiful in women: body and face "lose their roundness; the eyes become sunken; the cheeks fall in; the lips are drawn; the nose becomes sharp; the skin acquires the hue and the hardness of parchment ... while at the same time lines and wrinkles multiply ... the chest becomes hollow and the waist angular." (116) The Ladies' Home Journal (which in its editorial pages described the beautiful girl as being "plump and fat") responded to a reader's request in 1895 on how to lose weight by suggesting she go to bed hungry, and warned that losing weight requires courage. (117) But despite the dire warnings, reports in newspapers and articles show that women started dieting on their own, striving for the privilege and liberties the slender body promised. In 1892, dress reformer Helen Ecob argued that overweight is unhealthy for women and that it is their patriotic duty to be healthy (and therefore to diet). (118) In 1893 an article in Current Literature reported that a growing number of women now followed Banting's program. (119) Diane de Murny wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1895 that when faced with the choice "between obesity and leanness," now "Most of us prefer to be bony to carrying an excess of flesh." (120) The Boston Daily Globe reported in 1896 that dieting had become THE craze among women. (121) And in 1897 even the conservative Ladies' Home Journal acknowledged in response to a letter: "woman can be as stout or as slender as she desires." (122)

The number of requests for dieting advice in the correspondence columns of women's magazines increased markedly in the 1890s. As such advice began to appear in venues for women, it increasingly made the connection between obesity and inactivity, urging women to sleep less and move more, showing that slenderness was connoted not only with independence but also with mental and physical activity. (123) In the last years of the 1890s the editors of the Ladies' Home Journal finally began to commission diet advice in its feature and article sections. In "The Best Food for Stout and Thin Women," the author assures her female readers that women, too, can reduce, but warns "The reduction of corpulency ... does involve will-power and patience on the part of the patient." (124) The articles commonly repeated the idea that obesity is a problem that comes with wealth and comfort and can only be avoided with rigid self-control.

When reports on dieting eventually appeared in women's magazines, they were not necessarily positive, marking a period of transition in which expert advice struggled to position itself in the face of rival claims from women to control over their own bodies. One article warned women that dieting may ruin the face and therefore not be worth the effort. A slender body, the author claims, is not for everyone. (125) Another article from 1899 remarks that it is anatomically almost impossible for women to reduce their weight by dieting. (126) Still, readers' inquires about how to plump up dwindled in number during the last years of the century. In 1900 the editors of Harper's Bazaar answered a request from "Faith" for advice on how to gain weight: "why bother ... when to be thin ... is the desire of almost every woman?" (127) Dieting had become a culturally accepted practice for women.

Weight and the Racial Other

The slender female body was associated with equality, strength and liberty, but also with class and racial privilege, this being another important aspect that made dieting a successful practice among white, middle-class women. With the greater impact of mass migration on US society, the positive connotations of female body fat were more and more substituted by associations with vulgarity, pornography (where plump women remained dominant until the early 20th century) and lack of sophistication. In the course of the 1880s the female immigrant body was increasingly imagined as uncorseted, hence unrestrained, and uncontrollable in contrast to the well-managed body of the American middle-class woman. (128) Marion Harland in Eve's Daughter made a strong case for women to engage in physical exercise. She suggested to her audience that exercise and controlled eating were forms of body management that distinguished the American-born woman from immigrants. Harland claimed that "Bridget and Gretchen" (nicknames for Irish and German domestic servants) were "overgrown children" whose "ideas of indoor comfort have been formed upon the smoky interior of a bog-trotter's cabin." Once they arrived in the United states, they became soft and gave into their lazy nature, avoiding outdoor exercise as well as any unnecessary physical activity, while indulging themselves with "meat three times a day" and sweets "of the most unwholesome and most expensive varieties." (129) An unreliable wet-nurse Harland describes as a "fat Irish woman." (130) Fatness is here associated with laziness, lack of education and extravagant self-indulgence, and is projected on the immigrant body. Harland was not the only author to imagine Irish women as overweight. The "stout Bridget," or "fat Irish woman," had, at this time, already become a trope in the US popular imagination. (131)

To conflate foreignness generally with overweight was already a tradition in American popular culture. Harems have long attracted the American mind, the uncorseted opulence and beauty of their inhabitants being legendary as well as infamous. In her "Letter on Leanness," Kingsford argued that "Oriental" ladies are fattened for matrimony the way pigs are fattened for the market in the Western world to achieve an "absolute quiescence of mind," which stood in stark contrast to the activity that Kingsford assigns to Western femininity. (132) African women were notoriously described as grossly overweight. The obese, foreign, and exoticized woman was used as a contrast to the self-restrained and self-controlled Western woman signifying advancement and progress and serving as legitimization for her own demand for access to power. (133)

In this cultural climate Jewish women, immigrant or American-born, were often imagined as overweight, too, which increased the pressure on them to control their body weight in the attempt to gain assimilated middle-class status. This may explain why the American Jewess, the first English magazine for Jewish women founded by immigrant Rosa Sonnenschein, published expert diet advice since 1895--several years before other women's magazines endorsed the topic. (134) Fannie Hurst, who to her great regret was on the plump side all her life, reiterated and resisted the stereotype of the "stout Jewess" in her short stories and showed how Jewish women struggled against their own body weight because of growing social pressure. (135)

After World War I the black female body was increasingly targeted. The "Mammy," an image that was part of the American popular imagination since the 1890s, was artificially fattened up in popular culture. The "Aunt Jemima" brand was launched at the Chicago's World Fair in 1893. Aunt Jemima--presented as a historical person--was initially represented by a thin actress, as was thought to befit her former status as a slave. (136) Twenty-five years later, the Mammy was re-imagined as overweight and stayed that way. Images, novels, and advertisements constructed the female black body as maternal, surrendering, and obese. (137) Her rotund body served not only as symbol for a revisionist history of a South that had fed and treated its slaves generously, but as a nostalgic reminder of devoted maternity. It also excluded African American women from being represented as beautiful in popular culture. Ironically, one of the promoters of this image was Fannie Hurst in her popular novel Imitation of Life (1933). (138)

The ambivalent meanings of the slender female body in the late 1880s became most prominently embodied in the figure of the Gibson Girl. Charles Dana Gibson drew her in the early 1890s for Life magazine, but it took her a few years to reach iconic status. (139) The Gibson Girl was taller and had broader shoulders but a thinner waist, hips, and neck than her predecessors and competitors. She was usually depicted in a shirt waist and often during a fashionable athletic or artistic activity, occasionally un-chaperoned in the presence of men. (140) She therefore represented the change taking place in the imagination of ideal femininity in the 1890s. The Gibson Girl gave a visual and safely depoliticized representation to the new freedoms and new demands of the women of her time. She was feminine, beautiful, and sexually attractive while pursuing her interests, which were entirely constrained to leisure activities and romantic conquests. While the Gibson Girl seemed to represent the leisurely life of a college graduate, she also transcended class boundaries. She narrated promise for working girls, too. Her ready-made clothes were available to a greater circle of consumers, her slenderness and youth unobtainable with money. She also presented the promise of social mobility through marriage--the Victorian woman's version of the American Dream. (141) But these democratizing tendencies had strict limits. This first "All-American" girl was always depicted with white, transparent skin, shiny and wavy hair, a long straight nose, big, deep eyes and a small mouth with full lips--all of which were thought to be classic Western European racial features. Only a small group of American women were able to identify with this beauty ideal and could hope for the promises it made. (142)

Reasserting Control over Women's Bodies: Expert Discourses in the Early 20th Century

In Jenny Smith's short story "A Weighty Matter" of 1893, the protagonist is teased by her friends for her stoutness. At 175 lbs she decides to try a few different diets fashionable at the moment, just to find out that none of these regimens help her to lose weight, but make her miserable, unhealthy, and even heavier. A doctor finally intervenes and educates her on the dominant medical opinion of their time, that a woman's weight cannot be altered and that a woman can be healthy (and beautiful) at any weight. (143) While this may sound like a healthy attitude from today's standpoint, in the late 19th century this kind of advice was reserved for women. Dieting is described here as a potentially dangerous practice which women should avoid, since they have neither the knowledge nor the mastery over their own bodies that was thought necessary for dieting. While in the happy ending, order is restored and the doctor's expertise confirmed, the story also shows that women's dieting was considered a challenge that needed to be contained.

As late as 1912 some medical texts still claimed that women had no control over their weight. Body fat was thought to be a biological difference between men and women. Women had to accept whatever shape their body came in, while men had the power to change and to master it. (144) Into the 1930s medical experts stated that nature intended women to be plump and that their overweight was caused by glands, not by food intake. Dieting was therefore believed by some to be useless to women. (145)

Still, the overweight woman as possible patient moved slowly into the focus of the medical profession, especially as she acquired more money to spend at her discretion. While in the early editions of Fat and Blood, Silas Weir Mitchell had argued that obesity is not an American but a European and especially English problem, the editor of the eighth edition (1900) amended the text to say that overweight now also afflicted Americans, specifically "women of the well-to-do classes of the cities ... from thirty years onward" because of their inactive life style. The text simultaneously expressed surprise about the new diet craze among women: "They persecute the medical men to reduce their weight, and the vast number of advertisements of quack ... remedies ... indicate how wide-spread the tendency must be." (146) As the text asserts, the gap between the supply of medical advice and the demand of women who wanted to lose weight opened a vacuum that was quickly filled by a growing industry of quick cures and nutritional advisors, such as Harvey Kellogg. Kellogg had visibly lost weight during the slimming-down campaigns directed towards men in the 1890s and was therefore seen as living proof of the success of his program. (147) Kellogg's program did not initially target a female clientele. His Sanatorium, however, drew growing numbers of women who came to lose weight. In the late 1890s Kellogg reacted to this demand and started to advertise specifically in women's magazines.

In spite of the initial reluctance of the medical profession to encourage women's dieting, the normative pressure on women to follow the new beauty ideal increased. Female slenderness started to be induced with more conservative messages, such as that women who wish to slim down should do more domestic work (instead of sports or work outside the home). With fewer middle-class families able to afford live-in servants, the rise of home economics and the normalization of nuclear families in urban settings, middle-class women were encouraged to seek fulfillment and slenderness in homemaking as an appropriate activity for the new woman. In this context overweight was interpreted as a sign that women were lazy and "bad" homemakers. Women were warned that not being devoted homemakers may lead to overweight and thence to social stigmatization. (148)

While diet discourses started to acknowledge women, men were by no means off the hook. Newspaper articles followed famous men's diets and continued to present dieting as a manly, willful, and rational practice. (149) Fear of feminization was on the rise and fat still associated with femininity. (150) To counteract the possible damage boys suffer when raised mainly by their mothers, the Boy Scouts of America was founded in 1910, teaching boys how to cook for themselves and emphasizing physical exercise. Bernarr Macfadden's body-building movement that propagated regular fasting was at the height of his influence in the 1910s. Fletcherism (excessive chewing of food before swallowing it) became popular, especially among men seeking to reduce weight. William Howard Taft's weight and many unsuccessful diet attempts received much attention from the press. (151) (A diet guide from 1923 argued that if Taft had only managed to reduce his weight, he would have been president for a second term.) (152) The newly emerging genre of diet advice books, which now often addressed men and women, fought over which sex had it worse. In The Fun of Getting Thin (1912), Samuel Blythe claimed: "A fat man is a joke; and a fat woman is two jokes--one on herself and the other on her husband." (153) In contrast, Amelia Summerville argued in Why Be Fat? four years later: "It is hard to tolerate an overfat woman; it is absolutely impossible to look at an obese man without a feeling of disgust, because if he were living the life of a normal, healthy man, he would not be fat. Hence the lack of love and, I may add, respect, for the fat man." (154) In 1914, the Ladies' Home Journal printed a cartoon that ridiculed men who try in vain to lose weight. (155) But as Peter Stearns argues, beginning in the 1920s dieting served increasingly as a vehicle for misogynist tendencies. The New York Times, for instance, enthusiastically and in almost daily installments reported in 1921 about a program by the health commissioner of New York, Dr. Royal Copeland, that was supposed to help 100 people to reduce weight: 50 men and 50 women. (156) The next day the reports started to concentrate on the women--the "fat women," as the Times dubbed them, a phrase not accidentally reminiscent of "the fat ladies" of 19th century fairs. The reports gave exact accounts of what the women ate (presumably to allow for copying at home) as well as gleefully describing mishaps due to the women's overweight, like a chair breaking under one of the women or a woman collapsing from the demanding exercise program, adding public humiliation to the women's ordeal. (157) Even though public discourses started to target the overweight woman, most diet guides were still published by men, often employing scientific-sounding language and evidence to attract a male audience. (158)

Spurred on by the war, in which wastefulness, indulgence, and overweight were read as unpatriotic acts, dieting became a widely popular practice among the white middle class during the 1920s. By this time most of the tropes that ate connected today with dieting were firmly in place and dieting a widely accepted practice for women. Books, newspapers, and magazine articles on dieting commonly now addressed men and women, describing dieting as healthy, urban, modern and a sign of success. (159) The pressure on women to diet increased dramatically and the slender body became normative for white women of all classes. The female body, so often invisible in Victorian popular culture, became the visible and contested site of the production of femininity in the 1920s. The decade produced headlines such as "Fashion Expert Declares Woman of Today Must Conform to 'Perfect 34.'" The "normal" weight on insurance companies' actuarial tables no longer represented average weight but an aspirational slimness. Doctors and nutritional advisers started to zoom in on women's body fat.

But the original potential of dieting as a form of empowerment was still reiterated and used to make it attractive to women. Women's magazines as well as the exploding number of diet advice manuals addressed and constructed the identity of the female dieter as independent and successful. Dorothy Cocks, the beauty editor of the Ladies' Home Journal in the 1920s, claimed that the slender, muscular female body signified a position of power and resistance against Victorian beauty ideals that had turned women into "idiots." (160) She associated the mid-Victorian body ideal with dependence, weakness, and poor education. In contrast, the modern slender woman of the 1920s, she argued, is able to achieve everything: "win championships, follow careers, run industries." (161) The new boyish, slender body ideal signified for Cocks the rejection of the corseted body, whose forced curves embodied reproduction as its main function. (162)

In Tomorrow We Diet from 1922, Nina Wilcox Putnam associated dieting with middle-class status, and social ambition. Body fat, she argued, is aside-effect of the American Dream that needs to be contained to enable further social advancement--a notion that had been common in diet advice for men for over 50 years. The Sadlers in their How to Reduce and How to Gain wrote that corpulence affects "semi-idle housewives, lawyers, doctors, ministers, business men and women, office assistants and teachers," claiming that overweight is not gendered but a marker of class and giving testimony to women's changed status in society. (163)

At the same time the slender female body was attacked as a symbol of women breaking away from their traditional roles. In The Great Gatsby, the only woman with a career of her own, competitive golf player Jordan Baker, is described as "a slender, small-breasted girl with an erect carriage" and a dishonest character. (164) George Frederick, the husband of famous home economist Christine Frederick, writes in 1930:
  As a female clothes horse, probably clothes hang slightly more
  advantageously on near skeletons, but the kind of woman a man really
  desires, with honest male mating instincts is certainly not "a rag, a
  bone and a hank of hair." An underfed cadaverous woman has no stamina
  for the role of wife and mother we want her to occupy. (165)


Diet manuals commonly warned women that dieting may endanger motherhood. (166) Plumpness was still associated with maternity, but also with sexual availability and attractiveness. A diet manual from 1923 claimed that plump girls were more likely to marry than thin girls. (167) The male author sternly advised his female readers: "Ergo, put fat or flesh under your skin, willowy young lady! Don't try to look like the lean and lank caricatures in the awful fashion plates. Men laugh or shudder at those. They never laugh at a plump girl, even if she overdoes it a little." (168) Despite the increase of normative pressure of the new slender body ideal that was promoted now in fashion magazines and beauty manuals, the messages about slenderness in women were still conflicted, while diet literature from and for men depicted slenderness and dieting as unambivalently positive.

Dieting in the early 20th century remained a marker of white middle-class privilege. Although Dorothy Cocks argued that the slender beauty ideal is more democratic than the voluptuous one since it cost nothing to eat less, diet discourses still bore xenophobic, racist, and nativist messages. Henry Finck in his Girth Control (1923) claimed that "Nubian girls are especially fattened for the marriage market by rubbing grease over them and stuffing them with polenta and goat milk. When the process is completed they are poetically likened to a hippopotamus." He tells similar stories about Polynesians, Moors and Hottentots. (169) The process of including women as the audience of diet discourses had not changed their exclusionary basic assumption according to which dieting was a sign of superior willpower and successful body management. Self-optimization now also held for women the promise of social mobility and access to privilege just as they had finally won the franchise at the beginning of the decade. But like women's suffrage, which did not lessen racial discrimination, expert diet discourses targeted at women legitimized social exclusion in claiming that foreign women, immigrant women, and African American women were not able to control their bodies in the same way. While slenderness became the new hegemonic and normative beauty ideal in the 1920s, subjecting the female body in new and more effective ways transcending class boundaries, it still formulated an exclusive notion of "Americanness" and cultural belonging. The slender body challenged gender ideology, but at the same time it served the legitimization of class and race privilege on the assumption that control over food intake and body shape is evidence of superior morality and refinement.

In reading early dieting as political practice, as a negotiation of social power, gender, citizenship and race, and as a venue for the struggle between regulatory expert discourses and individual claims to self-control, another narrative has emerged. Dieting initially targeted the socially mobile, male body, coercing it into nutritional self-discipline with the promise of greater influence and privilege. This logic was taken up by women's rights activists who encouraged women to display control over their bodies via dieting when demanding equal rights and full citizenship. Women thus resisted hegemonic ideals of femininity when dieting, but simultaneously partook in excluding other social groups seeking emancipation. The cultural moment in which middle-class women started dieting can therefore be read not as the time when they lost control over their bodies, but as a transitional period when women staked wide-ranging claims to self-control, autonomy and privilege. Ultimately, its liberating potential was limited by the familiar process in which cultural revolts become commodified and co-opted into hegemonic normative practices, which provided new authority and new revenue streams for medical practitioners, reconfigured class exclusivities, reinforced racial boundaries, and ultimately hardened into bonds of self-discipline and self-surveillance even more effective than the corset had been at determining the shape of the female body. With the right to control their bodies, women had gained the responsibility to control their bodies. The disciplinary regime of social control from without through fashion, restricted mobility and corsets morphed into a dietary regimen of self-control from within. Revisiting the early history of weight reduction has shown that dieting practices produced complex power relations: class, race and gender were perpetuated and produced, the limitations of the female Victorian body were transgressed and new forms of normative femininity established.

ENDNOTES

I am graceful to Martin B. Friedman for expertly editing an early draft of this article and to Kornelia Freitag, Max Paul Friedman, Walter Grunzweig and Peter Stearns for their insights and advice.

(1.) Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women (New York, 1991), 187, 196.

(2.) There are conflicting opinions about the arrival of dieting discourses in the US among historians, most of whom have concentrated exclusively on women's dieting practices or understand dieting practices as ungendered. See, for instance, Hillel Schwartz, Never Satisfied: A Cultural History of Diets, Fantasies and Fat (New York, 1986) and Sander L. Gilman's Fat: A Cultural History of Obesity (Cambridge, 2008). Both trace the beginning of early dieting practices and the revaluation of body fat back to the 1830s.

Peter Stearns starts his Fat History when dieting discourses were commercialized in the 1890s. In his excellent analysis of the causes that led to the rejection of body fat, he argues that dieting was a disciplinary practice with which the middle class was able to display restraint in the face of consumerism and increasing liberties. Fat History: Bodies and Beauty in the Modern West (New York, 2002).

Roberta Pollack Seid's Never Too Thin: Why Women Are at War with their Bodies (New York, 1989) analyses the changes and inherent cultural and political meanings of ideals for the female body back to the early 19th century. Her study does not examine the regulation of male bodies, or the interaction of gendered ideals.

In her pioneering essay, "Apostles of Abstinence: Fasting and Masculinity during the Progressive Era." Marie R. Griffith shows that between 1890 and 1930 fasting was widely understood as a practice to gain health, weight loss, and virility, and that most advocates of fasting addressed a male audience. This article will show that fasting practices emerged from a culture of male dieting that started in the 1860s. American Quarterly, 52:4 (2000): 599-638.

(3.) As Debra Gimlin writes: "I find it implausible that the millions of women who engage in body work blindly submit to such control or choose to make their bodies physical manifestations of their own subordination." Body Work: Beauty and Self-Image in American Culture (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2002), 2. See also Kathy Peiss's excellent Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture (New York, 1998); Ann J. Cahill's "Feminist Pleasure and Feminine Beautification," Hypatia 18:4 (2003): 42-64; Peg Zeglin Brand, Beauty Matters (Bloomington, 2000).

For other Foucauldian analyses of beautification practices and dieting, see Susan Bordo, Unbearable Weight (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1998) and Cressida Heyes, "Foucault Goes to Weight Watchers," Hypatia 21:2 (2006): 126-49.

(4.) See Ken Albala, "Weight Loss in the Age of Reason," in Cultures of the Abdomen: Diet, Digestion, and Fat in the Modern World, edited by Christopher E. Forth and Ana Carden-Coyne (New York, 2005), 180.

(5.) Lucia Dacome, "Useless and Pernicious Matter: Corpulence in Eighteenth-Century England," in Cultures of the Abdomen, 186.

(6.) The Druid, "Chapter on Weight," The American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine, Mar 1842, 146.

(7.) Pedometer "Hints on Training," Spirit," Spirit of the Times: A Chronicle of the Turf, Agriculture, Field Sports, Literature and the Stage, Jan 6, 1855, 561.

(8.) Michael Kimmel, Manhood in America: A Cultural History (New York, 2006), 17ff.

(9.) James Eli Adams, Dandies and Desert Saints; Styles of Victorian Masculinity (Ithaca, 1995), 7.

(10.) Similar claims were made for female sexuality in the late 19th century but with different consequences. See the first chapter of Helena Michie, The Flesh Made Word: Female Figures and Women's Bodies (New York, 1987).

(11.) See, for instance, "Madame Christophe," Freedom's Journal Jul 4, 1828, 116; "Sketches of Eminent Americans; Mr. Webster," The New-York Mirror: a Weekly Gazette of Literature and the Fine Arts, Oct 1, 1831, 99; "Pulpit Sketch; Robert Hall," Christian Register and Boston Observer, Apr 9, 1842, 1; "Hon. John P. Hale," The National Era, Aug 14, 1851, 1.

(12.) On the fear of feminization, see Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture (New York, 1977). See also Christopher E. Forth, Masculinity in The Modern West: Gender, Civilization and the Body (New York, 2008), 95.

For the renegotiation of masculinity in the 19th century, see Kimmel, Manhood in America, 41; E. Anthony Rotundo, American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era (New York, 1993), 10-30 and 247-255.

(13.) Rotundo, American Manhood, 222-227.

For early advice on exercising, see Pedometer's "Hints, on Training" from January 1855 (Spirit of the Times: A Chronicle of the Turf, Agriculture, Field Sports, Literature and the Stage, 561). Pedometer later in the year published another article on how to ear best when exercising and advised readers to reduce amounts when obese. Pedometer, "Hints on Training," Spirit of the Times: A Chronicle of the. Turf, Agriculture, Field Sports, Literature and the Stage, Feb 10, 1855, 616.

Early commentators on dieting have argued that the first diet regimens that were popular in the middle of the 19th century were actually developed for athletes such as jockeys. See "Banting on Corpulence." Littell's Living Age, Dec 10, 1864, 553-560, 558.

(14.) See, for instance, Walt Whitman's "Poem of a Body" from 1856. Leaves of Grass (Project Gutenberg, 1998), http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/1322 (acc. 8.1.2009).

On masculinity in Victorian literature in general, see the anthology Muscular Christianity: Embodying the Victorian Age, edited by Donald E. Hall (Cambridge. 1994).

(15.) David Rosen, "The Volcano and the Cathedral: Muscular Christianity and the Origins of Primal Manliness." in Hall, ed., Muscular Christianity, 17-44, 21. See also Donald E. Hall, "On the Making and Unmaking of Monsters; Christian Socialism, Muscular Christianity, and the Metaphorization of Class Conflict," in Muscular Christianity, 45-65, 46.

(16.) Susan L. Roberson, '"Degenerate Effeminacy' and the Making of a Masculine Spirituality in the Sermons of Ralph Waldo Emerson," in Hall, ed., Muscular Christianity, 150-174, 155.

(17.) Roberson, '"Degenerate Effeminacy,'" 150-174, 160. Muscular Christianity found its echo in the call for exercise to strengthen the American nation in the post-bellum period, the body-building movement of the late 19th century and finally in Theodore Roosevelt's call for the "strenuous life." See Clifford Putney, Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America, 1880-1920 (Cambridge, 2001), 144.

(18.) Medical journals published increasingly disconcerting articles on obesity in men. See, for instance, "On the Pathology of Obesity: Causes of Death in Sixty-Nine Corpulent Persons. Medical Cases," The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 43:1 (1850): 1-9. But the topic of corpulence or obesity did not enter popular medical guides before the 1870s. See, as an example, William-Edward Coale, Hints on Health with Familiar Instructions for Treatment and Preservation of the Skin, Hair, Teeth, Eyes, Etc. (Boston, 1857).

(19.) Banting did not invent the nutritional advice he presents, nor did he pretend he did. He was treated by a physician, Dr. William Harvey, for his loss of hearing with a cure that was recognized to help against diabetes and which resulted in weight loss. Harvey is credited, though not by name, since the first edition.

(20.) Banting self-published the first and second editions of A Letter on Corpulence and distributed them at his own expense in 1863. In 1864 the third, fourth and fifth edition appeared which were sold in the UK and in the US. See Michelle Mouton, "'Doing Banting': High-Protein Diets in the Victorian Period and Now," Studies in Popular Culture 24:1 (2001), http://www.pcasacas.org/SPC/spcissues/24.1/mouton.htm (acc. 1.21.2008). See also Lois W. Banner, American Beauty (Chicago, 1983), 129.

(21.) William Banting, Letter on Corpulence, 3rd ed. (London, 1864), 7. That the correlation between happiness and thinness had not been naturalized yet in the early 1860s is shown in the critical reactions to Banting's Letter, in which Banting is ridiculed for making that connection. See, for instance, "The Cry of the Cadaverous," The Round Table. A Saturday Review of Politics, Finance, Literature, Society and Art, May 21, 1864, 355. Still, the association would become extraordinary resilient. An advertisement from 1891 solemnly declares: "To be 'fleshy' is not to be happy." By then this claim needs no further explanation and is taken for granted. "Stout People," Boston Daily Globe, Dec 13 1891, 9.

(22.) "Suggestions for Fat People," Medical and Surgical Reporter, Sep 7, 1878, 215. Schwartz, Never Satisfied, 101.

(23.) Banting, Letter on Corpulence, 21.

(24.) Banting, Letter on Corpulence, 11.

(25.) Mouton, '"Doing Banting.'"

On the gendered meaning of meat today, see, for instance, Amy Bentley, "The Other Atkins Revolution: Atkins and the Shifting Culture of Dieting," Gastronomica 4:3 (2004): 34-45.

(26.) Banting, Letter on Corpulence, 21.

(27.) For criticism of the Atkins diet in regard to class and gender see Amy Bentley, "Men on Atkins: Dieting, Meal, and Masculinity." The Atkins Diet and Philosophy, eds. Lisa Heldke, Kerri Mommer and Cynthia Pineo (Chicago, 2005), 185-95.

(28.) See Stearns, Fat History, 11.

(29.) "Physiological Gastronomy," The Round Table: A Saturday Review of Politic, Finance, Literature, Society and Art, Mar 2, 1867, 135.

(30.) See, for instance, William Tully, "On Congestion," The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, Jul 18, 1832, 1.

(31.) See, for example, "Physiology," American, Jul 1865, 4-8; "The Romance of Medicine," Every Saturday: A Journal of Choice Reading, Sep 21, 1867, 4, 90; "Scientific," The Independent. Devoted to the Considerations of Politics, Social and Economic Tendencies, History, Literature and the Arts, Oct 1869, 3; "Animal Food," The Galaxy. A Magazine of Entertaining Reading, Jun 1869, 837-344; the letter by J.H.B. in Scientific American, Oct 1, 1870, 213; A Family Physician, "Embonpoint," Ballou's Monthly Magazine, Oct 1883, 354-356; "Correspondence," Saturday Evening Post, Mar 10, 1883, 16.

(32.) See, among others, "A Fat Man's Story," The Independent. Devoted to the Considerations of Politics, Social and Economic Tendencies, History, Literature, and the Arts, Sep 1864, 4.

(33.) See, for instance, "The Cry of the Cadaverous," 355.

(34.) See, for instance, the cartoons of Thomas Nast, http://www.thomasnast.com (acc. 8.1.2009).

(35.) Stearns, Fat History, 50.

(36.) See, among others, Field, "A Day with the Harriers," The Albion. A Journal of News, Politics and Literature, May 19, 1866, 230, or "A Muscular Hypochondriac," Every Saturday: A Journal of Choice Reading, Apr 20, 1872, 432-434.

(37.) "Dining-Corpulency-Leanness, No. II--On Corpulency and Leanness," Jan 7, 1865, 10.

(38.) "Scragginess," The Albion. A Journal of News, Politics and Literature, Jun 3, 1865, 262.

(39.) See, for instance, "Stage Sirens," The National Police Gazette, Jul 26, 1879, 3.

(40.) See, among others, E.L., "Height and Weight," Herald of Health, Mar 1871, 122-125, or "The Proper Weight of Man," 279. On the genderedness of weight tables, see: Amanda M. Czerniawski, "From Average to Ideal: The Evolution of the Height and Weight Table in the United States, 1836-1943," Social Science History 31:2 (2007): 273-296.

(41.) Rosen, "The Volcano and the Cathedral," 17-44, 36. See also C.J.W.-L. Wee, "Christian Manliness and National Identity: The Problematic Construction of a Racially 'Pure' Nation," in Hall, ed., Muscular Christianity, 66-90, 66.

(42.) "The Diet of Brain Workers," Hours at Home; A Popular Monthly of Instruction and Recreation, Sep 1869, 421-426.

(43.) George M. Beard, Eating and Drinking, Putnam's Handy Book Series (New York, 1871), xiv.

(44.) "Over-Eating," The Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature, Jul 1881, 131.

(45.) See, for instance, "Physiology," American, 4-8, or "Ideas of Beauty," Harper's Bazaar Jan 1868, 546.

(46.) For a cover page, see, for instance, Manufacturer and Builder, Jan 1885.

For diet advice see, among others: "Is Fat Injurious?" Manufacturer and Builder, Aug 1879, 187; "Some Hints in Regard to Diet," Manufacturer and Builder Feb 1879, 43; "The Diet Cure," Manufacturer and Builder, Jul 1881, 166; "The Remedy for Obesity," Manufacturer and Builder, Nov 1885, 257; "How to Grow Lean Safely," Manufacturer and Builder, Oct 1894, 228-29; "New Publications: Eating for Strength," Manufacturer and Builder, Dec 1874, 284.

(47.) See, among others, "Notes and Queries," Manufacturer and Builder, Jul 1893, 295; "Notes and Queries," Manufacturer and Builder, Oct 1894, 240; "Notes and Queries," Manufacturer and Builder, Jan 1894, 24.

(48.) See "Errors in Diet," Manufacturer and Builder, Oct 1878, 235, and "Major Allan Cunningham Says," Manufacturer and Builder, Jul 1888, 157.

(49.) "Corpulence," Scientific American, Nov 4, 1882, 289; "The Treatment of Corpulence on Physiological Principles," Scientific American, Jul 18, 1885, 37; "The Treatment of Obesity," Scientific American, Jan 2, 1886, 4, "Anti-Fat," Scientific American, Nov 29, 1879, 344.

(50.) "Reducing Fat by Exercise," Scientific American, Sep 22, 1883, 185.

(51.) J.H.B., Scientific American, 213.

(52.) But African American newspapers, too, occasionally named corpulence as a problem. The Christian Recorder promised its reader longevity if they worked hard and ate plain food in moderation but also acknowledged that the corpulent person is the object of envy ("Great Eaters," Feb 27, 1884, 36. For similar advice, see also "Temperance," Jan 13, 1876, n.p.). It also reported in a brief note about a woman walking off her weight (Jan 7, 1886, n.p.). Advertisements for Allan's Anti Fat proclaimed that fat people are not healthy (see, for instance, Dec 12, 1878, n.p.). The National Era recommended exercise to its readers to fight off excess weight (Apr 10, 1856).

(53.) Later the "New England Fat Men Club." See "Some Queer Clubs," The Washington Post, Jul 13. 1900, 8. See also Schwartz, Never Satisfied, 88.

(54.) See, for instance, "Embonpoint" in Ballou's Monthly Magazine, Oct 1883, 354-356.

(55.) One text in the Manufacturer and Builder explicitly warns men older than 60 and women in general, not to participate in the fashionable rigorous regimens to lose weight, since it was considered to be too dangerous for these groups: "Notes and Queries," 240.

(56.) See, among others, "What Determination Will Do," New York Times, Sep 29, 1882, 2; "Suggestions for Fat People," 215; "Much in Little," Flag of our Union, Apr 22, 1865, 255; "Health," 98.

(57.) Steve Shapin shows that the same practical ethics guide that condemned overeating also attacked fasting as un-gentlemanly. "How to Eat Like a Gentleman," in Right Living: An Anglo-American Tradition of Self-Help Medicine and Hygiene, edited by Charles E. Rosenberg (Baltimore, 2003), 21-58.

(58.) Joan Jacobs Brumberg, Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa (New York, 2000), 61-100.

(59.) Brumberg, Fasting Girls, 77-78.

(60.) For information on the Fancher case see Brumberg, Fasting Girls, 77-84.

(61.) For more about Tanner's background see Schwartz, Never Satisfied, 115.

(62.) On the deal with Tanner, see Schwartz, Never Satisfied, 115-122. For early reports on Tanner referring to him as diet specialist, see "Suggestions for Fat People," Medical and Surgical Reporter, Sep 7, 1878, 215.

(63.) See the 40 articles the New York Times published from June 24 to August 9, 1880.

(64.) "Six Days Without Food," New York Times, Jul 4, 1880, 5.

(65.) "Another Case of Fasting," New York Times, Aug 11, 1880, 2.

(66.) Griffith, "Apostles of Abstinence." 605

(67.) Griffith, "Apostles of Abstinence," 603.

(68.) Schwartz, Never Satisfied, 123.

(69.) Physical Culture, launched in 1899.

(70.) See, for instance, "Bernarr Macfadden Guilty," New York Times, Nov 12, 1907, 4.

(71.) "Corpulence," 289. This idea of fat as a sign of corrupted masculinity survives the turn of the century. See, among others, William Osler, The Principles and Practice of Medicine (New York, 1912), 430-432.

(72.) Beard, Eating and Drinking, 163.

(73.) For a discussion of the reasons, see Banner, American Beauty, 106-107.

(74.) Seid, Never Too Thin, 71. On Russell see Banner, American Beauty, 135-136.

(75.) Banner, American Beauty, 114.

(76.) But this bodily ideal is conflicted as well. As Lois Banner describes with the example of the British Blondes, voluptuousness could also stand lot sensuality, sexual self-confidence and the appropriation of male liberties and privileges. American Beauty, 125-127

(77.) See for instance, E.L.S Adams, "An Ideal Body, and How to Clothe It," Harper's Bazaar, Feb 21, 1891, 139.

(78.) Beard, Eating and Drinking, 103

(79.) Adams, "An Ideal Body," 139. For an even more detailed account about the perfect female body and its mandatory plumpness, see Robert Tomes, "Woman's Form," 202-208.

(80.) See the "Stern's Brothers' Catalogue" page in Jenna Weissman Joselit, A Perfect Fit: Clothes, Character, and the Promise of America (New York, 2001), 48.

(81.) "Dining-Corpulency-Leanness," 10.

(82.) See, among others, "Health and Beauty," Harper's Bazaar, Apr 17, 1869, 242.

(83.) See, for instance, "Philosophy and Fashion," Dollar Monthly Magazine, Oct 1865, 328; Mrs. H. R. Haweis, "The Art of Beauty," Harper's Bazaar, Sep 22, 1877, 594-595; Ladies' Home Journal, Nov 1898, 46.

The mainstream press also claimed that any woman looks fabulous with the right clothes. Lou, "The Bust," Los Angeles Times, Apr 21, 1889; Emmeline Raymond, "Paris Fashions," Harper's Bazaar, Oct 20, 1883, 662; Tomes, "Woman's Form," 202-208. Inquires in readers' letters on the matter of obesity were also occasionally answered with references to "right" clothes. See, among others, Ladies' Home Journal, Nov 1897, 38.

(84.) See, for instance, George H. Napheys, The Physical Life of Woman: Advice to the Maiden, Wife and Mother (Philadelphia, 1873). One of the exceptions (which will be discussed later) is Mrs. R. B. Gleason, Talks to My Patients (New York: Wood & Holbrook, 1870). An example for medical advice that includes weight reduction is Beard's Eating and Drinking.

(85.) See Stearns, Fat History, 9 and the following example: "That 'Slight Inclination' to Embonpoint," Harper's Bazaar, Aug 4, 1883, 487.

(86.) Mitchell, Fat and Blood, 124.

(87.) See the last chapter of Mitchell's Fat and Blood: "Dietetics and Therapeutics," 97-163, in which he describes in detail his fattening-up strategies.

(88.) Scrap Book for Homely Women Only (Boston, 1884), 9-10. See also the advice on plumping up in magazines, for instance, "Much in Little," 255.

(89.) Henrietta Hardy Hammond, Women's Secret or, How to be Beautiful (New York, 1876), 41.

(90.) Margaret A. Lowe, Looking Good: College Women and Body Image, 1875-1930 (Baltimore, 2005), 29.

(91.) Professor De La Banta, De La Banta's Advice to Ladies Concerning Beauty, Development of the Figure, Etiquette, the Art of Pleasing, Dress, Etc. (Chicago, 1877), 127-128. De la Banta also mentions "banting" as a possible solution to reduce weight, but warns women at the same time that men prefer rounded forms, 130-133.

(92.) H. Ellen Browning, Beauty Culture (London, 1893), 172-188.

(93.) Henry James. "The Story of a Masterpiece," in The Tales of Henry James, edited by Maqbool Aziz (Oxford, 1973), 180ff The story was originally published in The Galaxy in 1868.

(94.) Robert C. Meyers, "Fanny's System," Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine, Dec 1879, 519-524.

(95.) "Godey's Arm-Chair," Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine, Sep 1868, 272-280, 273; "Godey's Armchair," Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine, May 1868, 464-474, 467.

(96.) "Answer to Correspondents," Harper's Bazaar, Jan 23, 1869, 62 and "Answers to Correspondents," Harper's Bazaar, Sep 4, 1869, 576.

(97.) See, for example, "Answers to Correspondents," Harper's Bazaar, Jan 13, 1872, 27; "Answers to Correspondents," Harper's Bazaar, Jan 15, 1881, 43.

(98.) "For the Ugly Girls. No XVI," Harper's Bazaar, Aug 16, 1873, 519.

(99.) Kingsford, Health, Beauty and the Toilet, 1-7.

(100.) Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Address to the First Anniversary of the American Equal Rights Association, 1867, http://gos.sbc.edu/s/stantoncady2.html (acc. 7.22.2009).

(101.) Elisabeth Griffith, In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton (New York, 1984), 163, 196.

(102.) Gleason, Talks to My Patients, 205. On Gleason see Patricia A Cunnigham, Reforming Women's Fashion: Politics, Health and Art (Kent, 2003), 52 and Susan E. Cayleff, Wash and Be Healed: The Water-Cure Movement and Women's Health (Philadelphia, 1991), 92 ff.

(103.) "A Matter of Form," Puck, Jan 6, 1897, 15.

(104.) Helen Gilbert Ecob, The Well-Dressed Woman: A Study in the Practical Application to Dress of the Laws of Health, Art, and Morals (New York, 1892), 175, 173.

(105.) Ecob, The Well-Dressed Woman, 141.

(106.) Eliza Putnam Heaton, "Physical Culture," Current Literature, Jul 1890, 20-21. The author argues against dieting and in favor of physical exercise to achieve the wanted body form.

(107.) Kriss Kross, "Woman's Rights," The Ladies' Home Journal and Practical Housekeeper Apr 1884, 4.

(108.) David Duff, Alexandra, Princess and Queen (London, 1980), 75.

(109.) "Goings-on in Gotham," The Washington Post, Dec 16, 1883, 3; Banner, American Beauty, 129-130, 135-136; Steams, Fat History, 11.

(110.) Banner, American Beauty, 142.

(111.) Mrs. S.T. Rorer, "The Best Foods for Stout and Thin Women," The Ladies' Home Journal, Jul 1898, 23.

(112.) Rob Schorman, Selling Style: Clothing and Docial Change at the Turn of the Century (Philadelphia, 2003), 11; Stearns, Fat History. 13.

(113.) Kate Chopin, The Awakening (Boston, 1993), 55-56.

(114.) E.L.S Adams, "An Ideal Body," 139.

(115.) Beard, Eating and Drinking, 103.

(116.) "Beauty and Hygiene - Concerning Excessive Thinness," Harper's Bazaar, Mar 29, 1896, 281.

(117.) Annie M. Hale, "How Beauty is often Had," Ladies' Home Journal, Apr 1890, 6; Ladies' Home Journal, Dec 1895, 45.

(118.) Ecob, The Well-Dressed Woman, 9-10.

(119.) Schwartz, Never Satisfied, 92.

(120.) Reprinted in Diane De Morny, "Flesh Reducing as Fine Art," Current Literature, Jul-Dec 1895,57-58.

(121.) "Dieting for Weight," Boston Daily Globe, Dec 29, 1895, 30.

(122.) Responses to letters from readers in Ladies' Home Journal May 1897, 29.

(123.) See, for instance, "Answers to Correspondents," Harper's Bazaar, Oct. 17, 1896, 867; Ruth Ash-more, "Side-Talks for Girls," Ladies' Home Journal, Dec 1892, 37 and Ladies' Home Journal, Dec 1896, 45. See also Stearns, Fat History, 14-17.

(124.) Rorer, "The Best Foods for Stout and Thin Women," 23.

(125.) Mrs. Humphrey, "How to be Pretty Though Plain," The Ladies' Home Journal, Jul 1899, 16.

(126.) Ladies' Home Journal, Oct 1899, 48.

(127.) "On Household Topics," Harper's Bazaar, May 19, 1900, 193.

(128.) Seid, Never Too Thin, 74; Schwartz, Never Satisfied, 153

(129.) Marion Harland, Eve's Daughter or, Common Sense for Maid, Wife, and Mother (New York, 1882), 198-200.

(130.) Harland, Eve's Daughter, 31-32.

(131.) See, for instance, Julian Hawthorne, Bressant: a Novel (New York, 1873), 70, 234, 236, 241, 339.

(132.) Kingsford, Health, Beauty and the Toilet, 9.

(133.) See, among others, Robert Tomes, "Woman's Form," 202-208.

(134.) Julias Wise, "Corpulency: Its Causes and Cure," American Jewess 1895, 253-255; "How to Become Thin," American Jewess 1896, 595-597; "Corpulency," American Jewess 1898, 100. See also Schwartz, Never Satisfied, 143 and Gilman, Fat, 111-122.

(135.) See, for instance, Fannie Hurst's "Forty-Five," in life Stories of Fannie Hurst, edited by Susan Koppelmann (New York, 2004), 200-227. See also Fannie Hurst, No Food with My Meals (New York, 1935).

I am grateful to Julia C. Ehrhardt, whose paper "Assimilation through Dieting: Thinness and Jewish American Female Identity in Fannie Hurst's Early Short Stories" (delivered at the Food Representation in Literature, Film and Other Arts conference in San Antonio in 2008) brought Fannie Hurst's references to dieting to my attention.

(136.) Doris Witt, Black. Hunger: Soul Food and America (Minneapolis, 1999), 27.

On the history and the significance of the Mammy, see M.M. Manring, Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima (Charlottesville, 1998) and K. Sue Jewell, From Mammy to Miss America and Beyond: Cultural Images & the Shaping of US Social Policy (London, 1993), 37-45.

(137.) See also Lowe, Looking Good, 147.

(138.) Fannie Hurst, Imitation of Life (Durham, 2004).

(139.) Droch., "Bookishness: The Gibson Girl," Life 1894, 312-313.

(140.) Bailey van Hook describes the Gibson Girl as "tall, statuesque, healthy, and physically active." Angels of Art: Women and Art in American Society 1876-1914 (University Park, 1996), 202.

(141.) Banner, American Beauty, 154-174.

(142.) See Sherrie A. Inness, Intimate Communities: Representation and Social Transformation in Women's in College Fiction, 1885-1910 (Madison, 1995), 100.

(143.) S. Jenny Smith, "A Weighty Subject," New Peterson Magazine, Mar 1893, 301-306.

(144.) Osler, The Principles and Practice of Medicine, 430-432.

(145.) Ronald Thornhill, How to Reduce and Keep Slim (New York, 1930), 12-14.

(146.) Silas Weir Mitchell, Fat and Blood: An Essay on the Treatment of Certain Forms of Neurasthenia and Hysteria, 8th ed. (Philadelphia, 1900), 32.

(147.) Stearns, Fat History, 32-38.

(148.) Humphrey, "How to be Pretty Though Plain," 16. The idea of promoting household chores as healthy spread quickly and can be found also in publications that are concerned with proper female conduct, such as Mary Wood-Allen, What a Young Woman Ought to Know, Self and Sex Series (Philadelphia, 1905), 71-72. Wood-Allen argues that housework is the best workout for women.

(149.) For examples from three different decades, see "How to Cure Corpulence," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 3, 1891,43; Ellis O. Jones, "The Cure Consumer," New York Times, Jan 16, 1910, SM13; Rose C Field, "Judge Gary Sets an Example in Dieting for Health," New York Times, Jul 12, 1925, XX4.

(150.) See also Rotundo, American Manhood, 252-253.

(151.) See, for instance, the following articles in the New York Times: "Root Going to Muldoon's," New York Times, Jun 21, 1908, 2; "Record Ticket in Weight," New York Times, Jun 21, 1908, 1; "Big Chair Made for Taft," New York Times, Jun 21, 1908, 2; "Small Talk of Washington," New York Times, Dec 8, 1907, 10; "John L. Sees Roosevelt," New York Times, May 9, 1907, 4; "Small Talk of Washington," New York Times, Jan 10, 1906, 8.

(152.) Henry T. Finck, Girth Control: For Womanly Beauty, Manly Strength Health and a Long Life for Everybody (New York, 1923), 13.

(153.) Samuel G. Blythe, The Fun of Getting Thin: How to be Happy and Reduce the Waist Line (Chicago, 1912), 9.

(154.) Amelia Summerville, Why Be Fat: Rules for Weight-Reduction and the Preservation of Youth and Health (New York, 1916), 38.

(155.) A.B. Frost, "Father Reduces his Weight," Ladies' Home Journal, Oct 1914, 5.

(156.) See the 21 articles in the New York Times that cover the "experiment" in October and November 1921.

(157.) See in the New York Times: "Fat Women Start Long Health Grind," Oct 20, 1921, 27, and "Fat Women Hold Graduates' Reunion," Jan 18, 1922, 16.

(158.) See, among others, Morris Fishbein and Wendell C. Phillips, eds. Your Weight and How to Control It (New York, 1928); Eugene Christian, Pounds Off - A System of Weight Control for Health, Beauty and Efficiency (New York, 1926); William Samuel Sadler and Lena Kellog Sadler, How to Reduce and How to Gain (Chicago, 1920).

(159.) See, among others, Antoinette Donnelly, How to Reduce: New Waistlines for Old (New York, 1921), vii.

(160.) Dorothy Cocks, The Etiquette of Beauty (New York, 1927), 111.

(161.) Cocks, The Etiquette of Beauty, 11.

(162.) But not necessarily with sexual attractiveness or beauty, as Cocks points out: "Indeed, artists bemoan out flat chests, the lack of proportion in our cylindrical torsos, innocent of bust, waistline or hips." Cocks, The Etiquette of Beauty, 113.

(163.) Sadler and Sadler, How to Reduce and How to Gain, 8. See also William S. Sadler and Lena K. Sadler, "Why We Get Fat and What to Do about It," Ladies' Home Journal, May 1920, 37.

(164.) F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (Genoa, 1994), 17.

(165.) George Frederick, Cooking as Men Like It (New York, 1930), 35.

(166.) See, for instance, Mills, Fat: Facts and Fancies; Fishbein and Phillips, eds. Your Weight and How to Control It.

(167.) Finck, Girth Control, 4.

(168.) Finck, Girth Control, 290.

(169.) Finck, Girth Control, 2-3.

By Katharina Vester

American University

American Studies Program

Washington, DC 20016
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