Just a reminder

The beauty ideal is socially constructed and changes over time.

In 1912, Miss Elsie Scheel of Brooklyn, New York, was deemed the “most nearly perfect specimen of womanhood” among Cornell’s four hundred coeds. Scheel was twenty-four years old, stood five feet seven inches tall, weighed in at a healthy 171 pounds (her favorite food was beefsteak), and possessed a decidedly pear-shaped figure (it measured 35-30-40). Nevertheless, Cornell’s medical examiner [...] judged her “the perfect girl,” having “not a single defect” in her physical makeup.

–Lynn Peril, College Girls: Bluestockings, Sex Kittens, and Coeds, Then and Now, p. 256*

Miss Elsie Scheel’s BMI would have been 26.8, placing her squarely in today’s dreaded “overweight” category. At Banana Republic, to pick a random contemporary store, she would wear a size 8 top, a 12/14 bottom, and probably a 12 dress with the bust taken in. And she was the “most nearly perfect specimen of womanhood” among 400 young, mostly white women in 1912.

Peril writes that the NYT was citing fashion experts in 1923 — just 12 years later, but in the post-WWI flapper era — who said a 5’7″ inch woman (presumably also white) should weigh 110 pounds and measure 34-22-34. (Also, “The ankle should measure 8 inches” [p. 256]). The NYT did not consult the student body or the medical examiner of Cornell, current or emeritus; one wonders what this group would have made of a 60-pound reduction in specimens of “perfect womanhood.”

*This book merits the Sweet Machine Seal of Snarky Feminist Approval

104 thoughts on “Just a reminder

  1. Even when we consider what the beauty ideal was back in ancient Greece, it has changed substantially. It all depends on what the societal ideals of the time are. No matter what society we live in, some body types will be valued more than others- but it’s good to know that each of us can be PROUD of the body we have, no matter what our society’s response to it is.

  2. “Pear shaped” women have always been considered attractive–note that her waist-hip ratio is 0.75, close to the 0.7 “ideal” found by men who have studied the attractiveness of various female shapes to men. The only thing that has really changed as far as ideals is the size of the pair.

    I know I’ll get flamed for this, but you pear shaped women should consider yourself lucky. While I have “thin privilege,” no amount of dieting or weight gain will allow a straight figured girl like me to acquire this sexy curvaceous shape.

  3. Hmm, I think I disagree with Sagan because (IMHO) beauty ideals seem to sprout from either immediately controlling environmental factors (as in the idealization of fat in times of famine) or vestigial social Darwinism. As our society distances itself from dependence on the environment (as opposed to dependence of human innovation)the instituting the later looks sillier and sillier. If that makes any sense.

    Anywayz, College Girls if definitely going in my Pile of Perpetually Unfinished, But Very Really Interesting, Books. All of which I will get to.

  4. @Nora: I agree totally about the Social Darwinism-type roots of society’s beauty standards. “Rich women are skinny!* Poor women are fat!* I don’t want to look poor!”
    *a bit of an oversimplification, granted…

  5. Lynn Peril has another fascinating book called Pink Think, which is all about the ways in which femininity is trained into women from an early age. It’s a thoroughly grand read, with lots of those “did they really just say that?” ads from the 1950s.

    Also: the measuring of women and declaring one to be the “perfect specimen” has lots of echoes to fields like phrenology and early psychology, which declared that you could tell a lot about someone’s mind by measuring the dimensions of their skull. I wonder if measuring health by BMI will seem equally ludicrous at some point.

  6. As I have an NYT account, I logged in to read the full NYT article. (It is fascinating to read articles from nearly 100 years ago online.) It almost sounds tongue-in-cheek, she sounds so larger than life. Case in point:

    “She eats but three meals in two days and almost always goes without breakfast. She does not believe in eating mechanically. Her favorite food is beefsteak; she doesn’t care about delicacies, and has no liking for candy. She has never taken a drink of tea or coffee in her life, and keeps regular hours. She says she has never been ill and doesn’t know what fear is. Girls would be happier if they got over the fear of things, she says.”

    Then it ends with, “When she finishes her course Miss Scheel is going to grow vegetables on her father’s farm on Long Island.”

  7. @closetpuritan – it may be an oversimplification, but there’s a lot of truth in it. There are many physical markers related to class. Hairstyles, manner of dress, and body shape/weight … all of these are part of it.

  8. Nice to have documentary evidence of how the beauty ideal shifts over time. It would be even better if society could move beyond having a beauty ideal at all and just appreciate beauty in all its forms.

  9. Okay, I am still geeking out on this. Interesting in that there was some “hubbub” about this little article after it was published. In one of several follow up pieces (in which there’s fuss about an artist declaring Englishwomen the most beautiful, and the Venus de Milo’s figure), a Frenchwoman wrote in.

    “Let me tell you that, though I have very nearly the measurements of the Venus de Milo and I know it for years, I am not at all glad of this. I will tell you the reason – from the modern point of view. We are living in the 20th century and not in the times of Praxiteles; the features of the Venus de Milo are not at all those of the perfect beauty. Beauty changes with the centuries, like morals do change.

    “The Venus de Milo is, of course, very beautiful on her pedestal, but I wonder if a modern Pygmalion would fall in love with her. Let me add that measurements mean very little indeed. I shall not go into details, but if you take a hundred women with exactly the same ‘measurements’ every one of them will have a different figure ….”

  10. @the fat nutritionist

    Me, too. Really. I would have been like, “Awesome, I’m close to the perfect specimen!” It would have been totes awesome.

  11. My January 2010 Journal “Obesity” came in the mail a few days ago. The article titled “BMI and Mortality: Results From a National Longitudinal Study of Canadian Adults” caught my eye. This study involved 11,326 adults over 12 years. To sum:

    underweight BMI <18.5 ((relative risk of death 1.51)
    normal BMI 18.5 – <25 (relative risk of death 1.0)
    obesity class I BMI 25 – < 30 (relative risk of death 0.75)
    obesity class II BMI 30 – 35 (relative risk of death 1.09)

    Except in the extreme, obesity is protective and even in the extreme it barely increases the risk of death. Look how much worse it to be underweight. Over 50% higher relative risk of death. Yet people actually strive to increase their risk! Talk about a paradox. Surgical procedures for people with BMIs of 27 to lower BMIs into a riskier classification!

    We have US Preventative Service Task Force Guidelines goading physicians to encourage patients to lose weight (and thus increase mortality if this study and others like it are true). Where are the guidelines to encourage weight gain in the underweight?

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I look at the fat people and see healthier people.

  12. Excuse the mistake above, should read:

    underweight BMI <18.5 (relative risk of death 1.51)
    normal BMI 18.5 – <25 (relative risk of death 1.0)
    obesity class I BMI 25 – 35 (relative risk of death 1.09)

  13. Last try, chart not saving when I submit:

    underweight BMI <18.5 (relative risk of death 1.51), normal BMI 18.5 – <25 (relative risk of death 1.0), obesity class I BMI 25 – 35 (relative risk of death 1.09).

  14. Relative risks of death are in order from lowest BMI to highest 1.51, 1, 0.75, 0.84 and 1.09 for BMIs less than 18.5, 18.5 to 25, 25 to 30, 30 to 35 and greater than 35 respectively.

  15. I wonder what a man in 1912 — or any age, for that matter — would have thought of a newspaper article that pronounced that his dick ‘should measure 8 inches.’ Because that’s how invasive this ‘ideal woman’ bullshit feels to me. THE ankle. Not even HER ankle.

  16. … Ah, okay, I see what yr difficulty was – it doesn’t like the greater than/lesser than signs. The link has the headline figures in the abstract, then.

  17. Bob,

    Fascinating. I had read that those classed as “overweight” had the lowest mortality, but I did not know that class I obesity was also lower mortality than “normal” weight. Sort of makes all that “OMG ur totally gonna die, fatty!” ranting seem even more ridiculous. Too bad it’s now entered into the realm of stuff “everyone knows,” so it will be difficult to get anyone to actually read the damn research.

  18. I think the perfect measurements would be 10-8-10 and weighing about 4.5lbs. I don’t know what size that would be in Gap or Banana Republic, but then the Ring-tailed Lemur section in both shops is disgustingly and notoriously small. They also make their lemur clothes too tight – infuriatingly tight under the arms which makes clinging, leaping and throwing shit virtually impossible.
    God how fashion restricts the varied.

  19. “When she finishes her course Miss Scheel is going to grow vegetables on her father’s farm on Long Island.”-hsofia

    The “perfect” woman indeed. Look pretty. Be only smart enough to grow vegetables. That college degree won’t get in your way if you vow to do absolutely nothing with it. /rant

  20. @Mercy
    “…lots of echoes to fields like phrenology and early psychology, which declared that you could tell a lot about someone’s mind by measuring the dimensions of their skull. I wonder if measuring health by BMI will seem equally ludicrous at some point.”

    We can only dream.

  21. Mmmmmm steak.

    My Wii Fit thinks that it is of the utmost importance that I weigh myself every single day and then tell it why I have gained weight instead of losing it. Because the Wii Fit’s idea of ~perfection is like, 100 pounds.

  22. I totally want to be friends with a Cornell grad who knows no fear and grows vegetables on Long Island. Maybe more than friends.

    Ooh, and a good time for it, since I’m officially deathfat now. (Do I look the same as when I was just fat? Yes. Yes, I do.)

  23. The health/mortality risks of being fat are SOOO great, especially when compared to the mortality risks of being, say, male, that even a woman who weighs over 350 pounds has a very good statistical chance of outliving a 6′, 170 lb. male by 3 to 4 years, & for a woman of my size (5’6″, around 210 pounds), the difference can be 6 years or more. However, we do not hear a public clamor for all men to take estrogen &/or sex change surgery.

  24. You can’t look at these body ideal shifts without taking into account the introduction of photography. I’d have to look up when magazines shifted from illustration to photographs, but it happened during this period.

    When you are just walking around 24-7 in your subjective reality, you really don’t have an acute sense of what size you are compared to anyone else. You read how you are perceived by others through all sorts of different social cues. A photograph of you standing next to someone else removes all of that. You see your shape and their shape – and in a media that has since it’s introduction has been perceived as revealing “the truth.”

    I went to a lecture where the speaker talked about how ads for dieting products had an upswing that tracked with the numbers of ads for amateur photography products. I’ve never tracked down the data on this, but it stands to reason that family snapshots could have the same sorts of impacts as mass media images.

  25. The article notes that our Miss Scheel is “an ardent suffragette”. Mens sana in corpore sano. I hope she had a wonderful life.

  26. @Mo. Interesting…

    I wonder why photography would cause a shift in the ideal body? If the ideal body was already more slender than many/most women, then simply getting a clearer idea of where one stood in relation to others could cause more dieting.

    In order to change what the ideal is, there must be something tricky going on. I always thought “the camera adds 10 lbs” was just a result of the more critical visual scrutiny, and self-scrutiny in particular, that a camera allows. Maybe there’s more to it?

    Or maybe when you can see how much space you take up, the “women shouldn’t take up space” messages activate and make you think you’re too large, even if the people around think your size is no larger than the current beauty ideal. Then, once more people are striving to be thin (with some temporarily succeeding), the ideal itself starts to shift…

    In the lecture you went to, what time period did these shifts cover?

  27. @Patsy Nevis

    I have, however, unfortunately heard men who says stupid things like ‘but how can women claim they’re discriminated against when they live so much longer”.

    I’m always conflicted about stories like this one. I love reading about them, just from a history!geek pov, and of course I do love the reminder that beauty is socially constructed. But, on the other hand, I wish we weren’t so hung up on beauty above all. Why should anyone have to fit into a beauty standard, whatever it is?

    (And, for the record, I know that none of the Shapers is saying that. This blog is always fantastic at combatting that. It’s just a train of thought from the newspaper piece)

  28. Some things never change, though: women’s bodies were and are public property, to be evaluated and judged

    Word. They did it to male students, too, but according to Peril it was seen as especially urgent for female students to be tracked in all matters health-related (or “health”-related) because one of the biggest arguments against higher education for women was that it ruined their reproductive health. Some doctors claimed intense studying sessions actually snapped the bits that hold your womb in place, like ancient hysteria!

  29. Why should anyone have to fit into a beauty standard, whatever it is?

    Oh, completely. I mean, the idea that the student body of Cornell was voting on “most nearly perfect specimen of womanhood” is REVOLTING to me. But it helps put paid to that particularly obnoxious anti-fat line of argument about how it’s “biological” that men want to mate with thin women with enormous tits and it is always and ever thus because Darwin said so, dudes.

  30. “Pear shaped” women have always been considered attractive–note that her waist-hip ratio is 0.75, close to the 0.7 “ideal” found by men who have studied the attractiveness of various female shapes to men. The only thing that has really changed as far as ideals is the size of the pair

    Except for right there in the post where the ideal shape has changed to a very thin, very not pear-shaped ideal.

    Look, we don’t do this “blah has always been this way” bullshit here, and this post is an illustration of why. I realize that your comment is coming from a place of pain and self-doubt, but we also try not to do that here. I suggest you reread the post.

  31. @Mercy: Actually, phrenology was more concerned with the shape and configuration of ‘bumps’ on the skull than actual size (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phrenology). It was mostly concerned with personality traits. Think of it as fireside psychology cum astrology for the touchy-feely crowd.

    The ‘science’ of the measure/capacity of the skull was called craniometry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phrenology) and was used to ‘measure’ the intelligence…particularly the ‘obvious and inherent’ superiority of the European mind over that of Asians, Blacks, and other miscellaneous races who couldn’t possibly be as smart as us white folks. (feels all stabby at the arrogance and stupidity)

    No, I’m not a science geek, but I’ve always wanted to play one on TV.

  32. <>

    Um, HEY. That’s not fair.

    One of my best friends from college now grows vegetables on her parents’ farm, and she loves it. Heck, one of my dreams is to someday own a dairy farm and become a cheesemaker.

    It’s not fair to assume that the people who grow your food are stupid. I have a degree from a great school and I think I’m pretty smart, and I’d love to own my own farm. I certainly wouldn’t say that farming involves “doing absolutely nothing” with your degree. And I take offense, to be honest, at the assumption that anyone who enjoys such pursuits is somehow wasting his or her life, or is too stupid to do anything else.

  33. AcademicGirl – you seem to be missing the body acceptance theme of this place. And yes, saying combatively that “you pear-shaped women” should be feeling some particular feeling you assign to the shape is judging and making other people feel bad for the shapes of their bodies. You’re furthering the idea that women naturally judge themselves and each other, something we work very hard not to do here. Not cool.

    DRST

  34. Regarding Miss Elsie Scheel’s plans to grow vegetables on her father’s farm after graduation… Lest anyone think that her plans were a waste of secondary education–Cornell University features a College of Agriculture and Life Sciences which is currently ranked #1 in the nation.

    From the CALS website: “Originally, the College focused on improving farming practices and before 1900, the departments of entomology, agronomy, horticulture, dairy industry, and animal industry were formed.”

    I’d wager that Elsie’s father’s farm really benefited from her education.

    (Great post! And the book is one I will definitely have to pick up.)

  35. Shoot, my comment above was directed at soclosetolife’s comment. It doesn’t seem like the quote I took from her is showing up, though…the cats walking across my keyboard may have had something to do with that.

  36. I have found a response to the original article from the Auburn NY Citizen, which shows that fat-shaming is nothing new (it is the story headlined “A PERFECT WOMAN” in the centre):
    http://fultonhistory.com/newspaper%202/Auburn%20NY%20Citizen/Auburn%20NY%20Citizen%201912.pdf/Newspaper%20Auburn%20NY%20Citizen%201912%20(1161).PDF

    We should hate to meet Miss Elsie Scheel alone some dark night, in a
    lonely place, without just provocation. But what a picture of superb womanhood she must be! With the moral stamina back of it to make an ideal helpmeet. What girl in this town dares to follow in her footsteps, and give up sweets, and eat beefsteak, and go to bed with the chickens? And what girl will dare deliberately to chance 171 pounds, and waist measurement of 30.6 inches?

    What girl indeed?

  37. soclosetolife-

    I’m really uncomfortable with the idea that farming is somehow for stupid people, and that if she was really using her brains, she’d do something else. I live in the country, and it’s a really annoying and damaging when people look down on a difficult and extremely vital profession as something simple and minor that’s no more complicated than tossing a couple seeds in the ground and calling it a day.

    Also, how is growing vegetables (y’know- to FEED people) “doing absolutely nothing” with her snazzy edumification?

  38. thegirlfrommarz – and nor is it anything new to find men, publishing their opinions anonymously, being really, really rapey, apparently!
    At least, that’s what I got from that first sentence you quoted. Ick.

  39. I have been working up a ranty little essay about the nature of “attractiveness”–a social construct that varies constantly according to what femininity is supposed to look like–and “desirability”, which is essentially the level of sexual interest one person has for a specific other person. It’s hard to dismiss or ignore beauty, particularly sexual beauty, since most of us are pretty sexually driven and want to be desired by our partners. And yet we see things like this and it seems clear that the measurement of sexual beauty we use is completely flawed, variable, and demeaning.

    I like to think of “attractiveness” as a ratio of sexual desirability over the population. People who are considered highly attractive may hit the buttons of 30%-40% of the population, for example. People who are considered unattractive may hit the buttons of far fewer. But there’s a huge pool to work out of, and those who are not considered “attractive” according to the everchanging social standards are still pretty damned desirable to a significant number of people.

    Fortunately, with the exception of models and performers, most of us have no practical reason to want to be super-hott to 60 million Americans. We can throw away that standard. Some things show as pretty strong minority preferences, whatever the prevailing standard of beauty, so the pear-shaped thing can safely be said to push a lot of men’s buttons, whether the prevailing standard is Kate Moss or Sophia Loren. But, then, so does petite and not particularly curvy. So does tall and big all over. So does fat. So does thin. There are a lot more than 31 flavors of people out there, and I think all of us are in the category of someone’s preferred physical type.

    I personally have a weakness for large guys with bellies and coloring so light it makes their eyebrows and eyelashes completely disappear. (Good news for pasty blond guys everywhere!) And bald guys. And a host of other type of men, some of whom might show up in GQ but most of whom won’t. I’m trying very hard to accept that, whatever Cosmo might think of the sexual beauty of my body, the only opinions that matter are the opinions of people I find hot, and want to find me hot. And, to my delight, there are plenty of them who are into tallish women with dark hair and eyes, no hips or butt to speak of, and a BMI well above what the phrenologists–oops, sorry, medical establishment!–would approve.

    Short version: saying to hell with arbitrary standards does not mean dismissing the body or the importance of physical desire. It just means that no one can please everyone, and that “attractiveness” is a sucker’s game and a tool of the patriarchy to distract and demean women.

  40. There’s an article I just read about how the winner of a fashion model context (a lady by the name of Jen Hunter – who won by the public vote) was rejected from all the major modelling agencies and in the end was signed up by a “plus size” agency. Urgh! Sh’e s SIZE 12!! The article is here: http://crooksandliars.com/nonny-mouse/battle-bilge

    I read it and thought I would post it here as it might be of interest – not that it’s telling you ladies anything new but it’s a depressing reminder of just non-skinny someone can be to be labelled “fat”.

  41. BTW I found this blog through the wonderful Schrodinger’s Rapist article, and I’d just like to say thank you so much for posting it!

    As a man, reading it was a real eye opener. Any objections I had were served a nice hot cup of STFU by the EPIC comments thread. I’m in the same camp as Matt, a gay man taking Feminism 101, and listening to what women have to say about their own bodies/issues/boundaries etc. I think I get it (one can never be 100% sure) and I have been telling my male friends they should read it too. Talk about contientious!

    So thanks again for publishing it, and for going to the effort of moderating all the feedback. I like how you wield your banhammer, and it actually makes me find HOPE in humanity reading the comments, a feeling so easily dispelled by pretty much all comments found elsewhere on the web.

    I wanted to send this as an email to a contact address, but as there is none I will send it as a comment. It’s not for publishing, just to say thanks :-)

    Niall

  42. @Starling, I often think of the line from Little Women, “You don’t need scores of suitors. You only need one – if he’s the right one.” Obviously, the pronouns are intended for hetero, monogamous women, but the point stays with me.

    Unfortunately, our appearance isn’t only a matter for ourselves and our potential partners. It seems to play a role in how we are treated by our parents, schoolmates, bosses, neighbors, hiring managers, doctors, customers, viewers …. If only that were not so.

  43. Rachel – I think what the anonymous author means is that he’s afraid that she’d beat him up (certainly in the UK it’s what we mean when we say we wouldn’t want to meet someone on a dark night). But the “without just provocation” bit is a little perplexing…

  44. @MinervaKoernig – “I wonder what a man in 1912 — or any age, for that matter — would have thought of a newspaper article that pronounced that his dick ’should measure 8 inches.’ Because that’s how invasive this ‘ideal woman’ bullshit feels to me. THE ankle. Not even HER ankle.” WORD.

    Re: Elsie Scheel – for the record, I thought she sounded friggin awesome with her fearless, I don’t worry about what I eat self, farming self. Confidence is always attractive in my book. She was also into basketball, walking, and fixing cars. People with a range of hobbies and abilities are always interesting to me.

  45. hsofia–
    Exactly. Making attractiveness the measure of female worth in general is hardly new, but it is a vile practice. I’m trying to change my own POV by allowing myself to accept the evaluation of a partner as a reality: he says I’m gorgeous? Well, cool. Gorgeous it is, then! And I’m trying to keep my judgmental little eyes off of anyone else. The single criterion ought to be: is this person pushing my own personal buttons? If no, then his or her physical appearance is none of my fucking business. No more of this, “Oh, she’s so pretty, I wish I had that ____” or “Ack, check out that fugly outfit.” (We are now straying into New Year’s Resolutions territory.) It’s a little push against the Powers That Be, but I don’t know any other way to strike out against such a damaging and pervasive message.

  46. It’s not fair to assume that the people who grow your food are stupid…. I certainly wouldn’t say that farming involves “doing absolutely nothing” with your degree. And I take offense, to be honest, at the assumption that anyone who enjoys such pursuits is somehow wasting his or her life, or is too stupid to do anything else.

    Not to mention that a natural inference from this is that degrees are similarly wasted by people who choose to do things like, oh, be a full-time parent to young children.

  47. In relation to the discussion of career goals and courses of study, I highly recommend Peril’s book for a look at what career paths were available to female college students, including what majors, and the incredible social pressures there were to maintain hetero marriage as the ultimate “career goal” for women. There was a lot of debate among feminists and anti-feminists about what women should study, and whether subjects like domestic science (aka home ec) were liberating women from the tedium of housewifery or confining them more strictly to it.

  48. @ Closetpuritan re photography

    Yes to seeing a photo of yourself and analysing how much space you take up (and “how society really sees you”), but also the flipside – seeing what amounts to an undisputable fact about the ideal body in the form of a photograph.

    An illustration of a person could be seen as “subjective”, and perhaps more easily dismissed. Thus for people new to this technology to see a photograph of the ideal body form, they probably thought (or coerced into thinking) “it MUST be true”.

    Perhaps, anyways. :-)

  49. Surely any life task undertaken by someone with an informed and open mind will be done more mindfully than one done by someone unable or unwilling or unallowed to learn? I mean, there are better and worse ways of hanging laundry, sweeping streets, cleaning toilets, weeding plants, laying tiles, using a screwdriver, washing dishes, making the opening incision in major surgery, laying out a document for ease of information transmission – pretty much everything anyone does can be done well or badly, efficiently or inefficiently, and applying a little thought is often the best way of bettering a method.

    Or am I just too knackered and hungry to make sense?

  50. Hi Starling, cheers! :-)

    You totally made my Xmas week by writing the damn thing! ;-)

    One topic that I didn’t see touched upon though, even in the comments, was the myth of “the chase” and how men are lead to believe that women are just playing “hard to get”. I think this is the root cause of why some men won’t leave women alone. We have it fed to us through the media (especially comedies) and hetero-masculine culture in general.

    It’s a whole other post in itself, and enough derailing on here, but it’s interesitng to me as someone who rejects it, and definitely worth a mention.

  51. I always thought “the camera adds 10 lbs” was just a result of the more critical visual scrutiny, and self-scrutiny in particular, that a camera allows. Maybe there’s more to it?

    I think there is. Mind you, I’m no expert. But … the camera erases the viewer’s participation, in a sense; or, rather, we engage with the physical photograph, or the projected film, rather than their subjects. Look at people in real life, and what you see … changes from moment to moment, both from your own movement and as your eyes flicker, shift, to look at different parts of them and what’s around them. Look at a photograph, and what you perceive in these ways is the artifact, or in the case of film, the image projected onto a surface, rather than the subject. And the subject … within the image, whatever the camera does not record, might as well not exist; no matter how you move, shift, manipulate the image, you’ll never actually see what wasn’t recorded. The subjects are therefore … forever incomplete, trapped in time, light, a given set of angles, in many ways … static, even when the image moves.

    Film, also … I don’t know about videotape, but film is a series of still images. So the images shown … bear some relationship with stop-motion animation; it’s far finer-grained, so to speak, but there’s always something lost. It’s not a perfect capture.

  52. The original post reminds me: When I was in junior high in the late 80’s/early 90’s, I went on a brief classic SF kick, which included E.E. “Doc” Smith’s “Lensman” series. Quite literally the ONLY thing I distinctly remember from those books was reading that Kris (The Love Interest(tm)) “was a perfect five-foot-four and one-hundred-forty pounds.”

    Reading that one sentence, during the time of “never too rich or too thin”, blew my mind a little bit.

  53. I have been meaning to pick up Peril’s book for quite a while, as the ‘teens and twenties of the previous century is the preferred era of much of my writing, and I have heard that it contains some answers to the many mysteries of the time. It, of course, does not shock me one bit that women were judged on standards of perfection both in the ‘teens and twenties (and today!), but WHAT was it that really caused the dramatic aesthetic shift in beauty ideals? WHAT was it? I simply do not buy the simple “flapper culture” and “right to vote” arguments, and the whole “WWI and urban alienation” argument also seems so incomplete. There’s got to be something else, and I just don’t know what it was.

    It would have been a wonderful thing if, in light of these important cultural events, the female aesthetic diminished in importance, but it seems to me that it merely changed, and changed dramatically. This is why I don’t like to promote any “alternative” ideal in beauty, because any restrictive beauty ideal keeps women from holding equal power and respect with men in our current society. Whether it’s a pear-shaped farm girl, a thin flapper, or any other body type, an ideal is naturally exclusive, and a major blow to the collective psyche of the majority.

    So, I’ve got to get this book. I need me some answers!

  54. angelica,

    my numbers were from table 2, page 216, before data was controlled for sociodemographics and selected health-related behaviors. My numbers are all sexes, all ages, smokers and nonsmokers. Since I’m biased in favor of fat people I took the numbers that looked best for my case.

    Actually, both underweight and overweight were far more dangerous for men. Though underweight was significantly worse for both sexes. The overall numbers I gave very closely follow the RR numbers for women from lowest BMI to highest (1.5, 1, 0.77, 0.81 and 1.09) and for men they were (2.54, 1, 0.86, 1.1 and 1.72).

    That 1.72 RR is high enough to get my attention I must to admit. 72% higher mortality is not something to ignore. Though absolute risk is much lower I’m sure.

  55. angelica,

    My numbers were for all sexes, all ages, smokers and nonsmokers before any controlling for sociodemographics or selected health-related behaviors. Since I’m biased in favor of fat people I chose numbers that looked good for my case.

  56. “It’s not fair to assume that the people who grow your food are stupid. I have a degree from a great school and I think I’m pretty smart, and I’d love to own my own farm. I certainly wouldn’t say that farming involves “doing absolutely nothing” with your degree. And I take offense, to be honest, at the assumption that anyone who enjoys such pursuits is somehow wasting his or her life, or is too stupid to do anything else.”- Philosophy

    I have certainly not meant to kick up such a stir. Please do let me expound a bit.

    I do not believe and did not mean to imply with “Be only smart enough to grow vegetables” that either 1) Ms. Scheel was unintelligent or 2) that vegetable growers are unintelligent. Though I understand how the second might be assumed.

    My comment was more intended to address how the article constructed “perfect” in a way that was non-threatening to society. Ms. Scheel would undoubtedly have been less “perfect” if the article read that she was going to take over the running of the family farm and implement new and improved technologies (of which she had just learned). Instead of phrasing it in “masculine” terms the article merely implies that she will be growing her own little garden (Note also: This farm could not be her parent’s farm but only that of her father). As much as the article portrays her as “strong” they couch that description in “Aw-how-cute-a-girl-thinking-she-is-worth-something” language.

    Also worth noting: “…but if she were a man she would study mechanical engineering, as she likes to work about an automobile”… gender normative much?

  57. thegirlfrommarz – I’m actually also from the UK! And I see what you mean, now that I think about it some more.
    I think it was the “without provocation” bit that confused me – I read it as “we wouldn’t want to meet her alone on a dark night without her provoking us, because then we wouldn’t have an excuse to assault her”. But the more I consider that, the less sense it makes. Given that a woman alone at night is often considered “provoking” in and of itself.
    Anyway, your explanation is a lot more sensible.

  58. @Niall

    @ Closetpuritan re photography

    Yes to seeing a photo of yourself and analysing how much space you take up (and “how society really sees you”), but also the flipside – seeing what amounts to an undisputable fact about the ideal body in the form of a photograph.

    An illustration of a person could be seen as “subjective”, and perhaps more easily dismissed. Thus for people new to this technology to see a photograph of the ideal body form, they probably thought (or coerced into thinking) “it MUST be true”.

    Perhaps, anyways. :-)

    Yes, but that only works if the ideal is already skinny. That’s an additional mechanism (insightful on your part) for how the ideal could be more strictly enforced because of photography, but Mo seemed to be saying that the ideal was changed by photography. I have no trouble believing that photography made people more aware of how they differed from the ideal and therefore more aware of their “flaws” and more determined to change them. I’m more skeptical of the link between photography and a change to a skinnier ideal.

  59. Cornell’s motto is “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” That meant admitting women and minorities as students, that means a whole college devoted to the important science of agriculture and growing food (along with colleges for engineering, hotel administration, human ecology/domestic sciences, architecture/city and regional planning, veterinary sciences, industrial and labor relations/public policy analysis, and much more). I am enormously proud of my alma mater. Thanks to those who those who spoke in defense of “growing vegetables” as a legitimate use of a Cornell degree. All my male and female Aggie friends would agree.

    Though, like others, I’m appalled by this egregious example of policing of women’s bodies from 1912, like others I’m also not surprised. The language, the approach of it, strikes me as very typical of the time and place. Relatedly: I worked on an archival library project about the history of Cornell’s school of human ecology (formerly home economics), which included all kinds of fascinating, as well as troubling, subjects of scientific study from times past — I don’t know which was more interesting, the course on marriage (an incredibly popular, very forward-thinking class, always full-with-a-waiting-list with both male and female students), or the scientific nursery where classes of students adopted orphan babies and raised them communally with all the best advantages of nutrition and infant care that modern domestic science had to offer — AGH! Yes. Anyway. Absolutely fascinating post, great analysis of it. Thank you.

  60. @soclosetolife, thanks for the clarification. Given how Cornell’s Agriculture school operated back then, she probably *was* “going to take over the running of the family farm and implement new and improved technologies (of which she had just learned),” which is what, I now realize, my mind automatically substituted for “going home to grow vegetables.” You’re right that the language of the article is gender-normative and demeaning in its construction of the “perfect woman.”

  61. Mo seemed to be saying that the ideal was changed by photography. I have no trouble believing that photography made people more aware of how they differed from the ideal and therefore more aware of their “flaws” and more determined to change them. I’m more skeptical of the link between photography and a change to a skinnier ideal.

    I would say the mechanism worked like this: There was some generic beauty ideal – “slender.” Now the vast majority of people, pre-photography, had no real sense of where they stood compared to others on the “slender” scale. Unless you stood in front of a large mirror next to someone (surely a rare event), you had no real data to make that decision. The role models for female beauty were painted or drawn, meaning their images were known to not fully correlate to their actual appearance. When the amateur photography boom happened (Kodak introduced the $1 Brownie camera in 1900), a woman could suddenly see exactly how she compared to her peers (meaning people who she knew in real life). So a beauty ideal that had been easily overridden by social context became quantifiable and far more anxiety producing.

    One of theories that humans are just not psychologically set up to know what they really look like, that healthy self-image is designed to be internally driven from social inputs, NOT externally driven by images like photography. And that some people just have real trouble coping with the split between the “natural” social self and the very recent invention of the “technologically” created photographed self. It is so hard to realize that until 100 years ago, the vast majority of humans lived their lives without knowing what they looked like. This is the sort of change where our reality is so wrapped up in having seen images of ourselves that we forget that this is a very recent development.

  62. I’m doubtful that photography would lead to a thin ideal, or even that it would necessarily make women compare themselves to each other. Photography was available well before the teens, even if personal cameras became available then. Also, not only has a slender physique not always been the ideal, but wanting to be beautiful would be an undesirable sign of vanity for a respectable American girl before the 20th century.

    In the twenties, movies and magazines became widespread, which would probably have more of an impact on people’s standard of beauty than just seeing themselves in 3rd person. Movie stars normally meet or exceed beauty standards, but they also help set the standard and spread a single vision of beauty to large numbers of people.

    In the 1900s and 1910s, there was a movement towards “health,” wherein outdoor exercise was encouraged and robustness was part of the healthy ideal. Elsie Scheel, sounds quite representative of the qualities prized by that movement.

    I’d recommend the book The Body Project for anyone interested in things like the history of dieting.

  63. @Puffalo: Good points.
    Also: I’d recommend the book The Body Project for anyone interested in things like the history of dieting.

    Hey, I have that book! It looks good. Now to actually read it… So many books, so little time…

  64. @soclosetolife, I’m less upset by what you said about vegetables than by this:

    That college degree won’t get in your way if you vow to do absolutely nothing with it.

    Again, that’s pretty dismissive of anyone who chooses a life path which isn’t structured around a career — which, overwhelmingly, applies to women who prioritize home and family instead. There’s a right way to make that argument, but I don’t think this is it.

    And yes, I do understand that we’re discussing a time period when home/family was more a mandate than a decision. That still doesn’t mean your comment wasn’t vaguely insulting to people who choose a non-career-focused life path. Remember, one of the arguments against higher education for women has historically been that it’s a waste of time/money/resources, since we’re all just going to go off and have babies. It was wrong in 1912, and it’s wrong now, even for those of us who DO go off and have babies.

  65. Mo – that’s an interesting theory. I’m reminded of the number of diet stories in the media where women (usually) say ‘I thought I was OK until I saw the wedding/vacation photos’. Where the photos are actually printed with the story, they more often than not show a happy, smiling, confident looking person. Sad to think that just the act of seeing oneself can trigger self-hatred. Not sure if it works quite that simply in historical context; like Puffalo says, there are a bunch of other possible factors.

    Another thing comes to mind here for me, looking at those flapper era measurements, which is that photography shows the sheer amount of variation from the ‘ideal’. Or ordinary people’s photography does. I collect vintage snapshots, and I wonder where people are looking when they say ‘Nobody in the 20s/30s/40s/50s was obese’. Um, people back then were all shapes and sizes, much as they are now. I have a lovely picture of a wedding from the late 20s-early 30s, to go by the clothes, and the bride is maybe a British 20-22 by today’s measurements – and beaming. You look at images like that, you can see that not everyone was thin, and you can also not coincidentally see, in many families, that body shape and size are inherited. With the advent of Photoshop and the pressure on people now to get rid of ‘imperfections’ in their personal photos – including ‘digital slimming’ built into some cameras – we may not have a similarly accurate picture in future.

  66. Didn’t anyone notice that the “perfect woman” only ate three meals in two days? What do we make of that in itself? In addition, let us note that she only ate three meals over the course of two days and yet weighed 171 at a height of 5-foot-7. How little was the woman meeting the subsequent 5′7″ inch, 110-lb ideal supposed to eat?

  67. @Niall Thanks for the article link, it’s interesting. When I clicked through I was thinking to myself “well that’s not surprising as size 12 is plus-size in the fashion industry”. But actually she’s a size 12 in UK sizes, so she’s actually a size 8 in US sizes! I didn’t think that was plus-size even in the fashion industry. She has a BMI of 21.5. And the girl the judges preferred – her “emaciated rival” as the article puts it – has a BMI of 16.5 and looks it.

  68. And yes, I know y’all think BMI is bullshit and I’m not arguing that here (since there’s a whole separate thread about it). But in this case the girl with the BMI of 21.5 looked slim and healthy and the girl with the BMI of 16.5 looked extremely thin. They were both white European women and not athletes, so maybe it’s one of the rare examples of the BMI being accurate.

  69. Re: AcademicGirl’s comment about the “ideal” .7 waist-hip ratio:

    I don’t think that either the .75 ratio from 1912 or the .65 ratio from 1923 are that close to the .7 ideal… They’re fairly close, but I don’t think it would have been hard to find someone with a lower waist-hip ratio if it had had the importance that the evo psych people think it does.

    I suspect that the .75 waist-hip ratio was pretty much average at that time. According to this article about a recent US-wide study, “white women ages 18 to 25 came in, on average, 38-32-41″ which works out to .78. The article also states that since 1941, “people have not simply gotten bigger; they have gotten rounder in the middle. Women whose busts fit a standard size 8 were 2 inches bigger than the standard in the waist, and an inch bigger in the hips. Women who fit a size 16 in the waist were 2 inches smaller than the standard in the hips and 1.5 inches smaller in the bust. ” If the average American woman in this age group now, in the age of larger waists, has a .78 waist-hip ratio, I doubt they’d have trouble finding someone with a waist-hip ratio closer to .7 than Scheel’s.

    SweetMachine, small criticism of your criticism, though.
    Except for right there in the post where the ideal shape has changed to a very thin, very not pear-shaped ideal.
    The fact that the ideal changed from pear-shaped to an hourglass fits pretty well with AcademicGirl’s argument that “the only thing that’s changed is the size of the pair”. I think that evo psych argument which is distressing AcademicGirl is that regardless of changes in ideal slimness or ideal bust size, the .7 ratio is consistent. The only way that the 1923 ideal is inconsistent with this is that it’s so far under the .7 waist-hip ratio, at .65.

    Again, .75 and .65 are still fairly close to .7, but if they’re picking the “most nearly perfect specimen of womanhood” or pulling “ideal” numbers out of thin air, I don’t think it would be hard to get closer.

  70. Didn’t anyone notice that the “perfect woman” only ate three meals in two days? What do we make of that in itself? In addition, let us note that she only ate three meals over the course of two days and yet weighed 171 at a height of 5-foot-7. How little was the woman meeting the subsequent 5′7″ inch, 110-lb ideal supposed to eat?

    She was described as eating lots of meat and other dense foods, so I was assuming that for whatever reason she just tended to eat very large meals rather far apart. I may be making incorrect assumptions as to how much each meal was, though.

  71. Didn’t anyone notice that the “perfect woman” only ate three meals in two days? What do we make of that in itself? In addition, let us note that she only ate three meals over the course of two days and yet weighed 171 at a height of 5-foot-7. How little was the woman meeting the subsequent 5′7″ inch, 110-lb ideal supposed to eat?

    I make that it absolutely jibes with my experience: individual people have individual metabolisms, and some ‘fat’ people eat surprisingly little. The 110-pound flapper, if she had a less-efficient metabolism, might eat twice as much and still weigh 110 pounds.

    I’ve counted calories so many times in my life that I’m loath to ever do it again, but I would guess that my average daily intake is less than 2K, yet I maintain a borderline ‘obese’ weight. I simply get more out of my food than, say, my husband, who has to consume the feedstock of several small countries daily just to maintain his weight.

  72. I think that evo psych argument which is distressing AcademicGirl is that regardless of changes in ideal slimness or ideal bust size, the .7 ratio is consistent. The only way that the 1923 ideal is inconsistent with this is that it’s so far under the .7 waist-hip ratio, at .65.

    Fair enough, but that magic ratio just reifies what is socially constructed anyway. I get what you’re saying, though.

  73. the girl with the BMI of 16.5 looked extremely thin. They were both white European women and not athletes, so maybe it’s one of the rare examples of the BMI being accurate.

    Someone with a higher BMI will often (though not always) less thin than someone with a lower BMI. The general argument around these parts is that looking “extremely thin” doesn’t say anything about your actual health or whether the BMI is correct to categorize you as “underweight.” Some people’s bodies naturally and healthily settle at a lower-than-“normal” BMI.

  74. Emma B- I risk seeming trollish by responding a second time but I do feel your comment deserves response.

    It first begs to be noted that neither you nor I nor anybody else on the thread know Ms. Scheel (unless someone has been hiding that fact). Once we acknowledge that fact, her unknowability, we are left facing the one piece of information we have, the article.

    In reviewing the article we are to find that there is an incredible, young woman by the name of Ms. Scheel who is studying at a very well known university, Cornell. She is objectified in the article (enumerating her measurements, her dietary guidelines etc). She is described in what, to me, is a very condescending tone. It is in that condescension that her academic achievements are both discussed (briefly) and rejected as less than a man’s achievements (well after all she ISN’T an engineer *sarcasm*). My comment is not about whether Ms. Scheel used or did not use her degree ( we have already accepted her unknowability), but, rather, that the article, in the guise of praising her, dismissed her education and her credibility as a future horticulturalist by demeaning her future job prospects as “growing vegetables” rather than “operating a working farm.”

    I was not saying that Ms. Scheel refused to use her degree or making any judgments about whether she should or should not. I was presenting in a mocking tone the theme of the article.

  75. Seconding LilahMorgan: I don’t think anyone here has ever contested the fact that someone with a lower BMI weighs less than someone with a higher BMI, and will often but not always look it. What we do contest, strenuously, is the idea that someone with a lower BMI is fitter/healthier/more conscientious/more physically active/just generally better than someone with a higher BMI. I have no problem with someone saying “People who weigh more are larger.” I have a HUGE fucking problem with someone saying “People who weigh more are unhealthy.”

  76. I too wonder about the only eating 3 meals in 2 days thing… that seems like very little for most people. I did kind of like how the article presented that information… like it was just one more interesting and cool thing about the “ideal co-ed.” Though, as Sweet Machine and others have noted, the concept itself is very problematic.

    Maybe this was mentioned, but do we think all this “ideal” business (since there was an “ideal” male student too) have something to the do with the fact that Cornell is originally a land-grant/agricultural university? (As Ayelle brought up above.) I majored in agricultural engineering at Michigan State and in one of my courses on food production, we were introduced to the “ideal cow” which would have the proportions considered most desirable for whatever reason, and would presumably be the best choice for breeding. As another example you could look to, say, 4-H livestock judging at county fairs. I bring this up because the requirements (perhaps along the lines of those for show dogs) for “ideal” specimens of livestock would be very rigid and predetermined, and likely based on studies of some kind looking at which animals would be the most useful for food, the healthiest and most vigorous, etc.–and yes, being pleasing to the eye was probably a factor. I can see old-school agricultural science deciding that it would be scientifically valid and interesting to also attempt to get at the “ideal” conformation of the human body (certainly no disabled person would have made the cut, thin or fat) along these same lines. It is certainly plenty dehumanizing in any case.
    Finally, slightly OT and directed at the discussion of the Canadian study… for those keeping score at home, does this mean that we now have independent findings from large, well-constructed studies in the U.S., Japan, and Canada that the “overweight” BMI category is associated with the lowest risk of death, all controlling for illness, smoking, and the like? I think that is what I am hearing. Pretty compelling if so. Also my mom’s Wii Fit can suck it for telling me that a BMI of 22 is associated with the best health (I want to emphasize that I don’t care anyway… trying to lose or gain to reach a certain BMI and then assuming my risk of death would decrease by a set amount would be a classic misapplication of statistics to an individual… plus I don’t think anyone has an obligation to be healthy). Sure, I am using Google and not ScienceDirect, and additionally I don’t really know what I am talking about, but I find no evidence of this anywhere. If 22 is in the range quoted by studies as “healthiest,” it is always on the low end. Boo, Wii Fit.

  77. I too wonder about the only eating 3 meals in 2 days thing… that seems like very little for most people.

    I would go crazy on such a schedule, but I think its what my roommate probably tends to do on weekends. She might eat brunch and dinner on Saturday, sleep till noon on Sunday, then do a blowout dinner at 4 or 5pm. It seems to end up averaging out okay for her, which is interesting because I’m someone for whom eating one big meal /= eating three meals one third the size spaced out at intervals. I really have to do the latter to function.

    Uh, sorry, that’s tangental. And, of course, we don’t know what she’s eating.

  78. “Also, “The ankle should measure 8 inches” [p. 256]).”
    Unless it’s been fractured in a tennis, skiing, skydiving, or flyfishing accident.
    Then you get twelve inches.

    (Yes, I’m punchy.)

  79. I wanted to touch on the hip-waist ratio study – there is no way the men in the study could evaluate what they found attractive independent of cultural factors, so the “ideal” is basically worthless – as Sweet Machine said, it just reifies what’s already considered attractive.

    I wanted to add that the hip-waist ratio corresponds very closely to the fashion of corseting, which, after a short spell in the 1920s and ’30s where the “ideal” was completely straight, with very little in the way of variation for hips and breasts, came back into fashion with girdles creating the corseted “wasp waist” look.

    So, I have a strong feeling that the “ideal” ratio is strongly influenced by the reduction of waist size caused by strong binding around the middle. I think the current increase in waist size (without the corresponding increase in hip and bust) measurements is because we no longer girdle our tummies. Women weren’t being measured naked, they were being measured clothed, as modesty demanded. The ratio is entirely artifical.

    I’m just sayin’. :) Studies to determine “beauty” are confounded from the outset – unless you grow people in a box with absolutely no cultural references, you can’t escape the effect of culture on what is perceived as “beautiful”. It’s all a crock, anyway. People are beautiful.

  80. @Laura M–Wow, what a great point about corseting influencing the “ideal” hip-waist ratio. That blows my mind. All of a sudden I actually get how mind-bogglingly complicated the study of human health is… even something as currently “unassailable” as the idea that a certain waist-hip ratio is associated with better health probably has at least its roots in ideas about beauty and the ideal figure (these concepts would have had some influence in why this was studied in the first place). I considered myself pretty skeptical before, but everything suddenly seems even more mutable and societally influenced than I realized.

  81. @Laura M: Interesting. I hadn’t thought of the fact that their measurements in 1941 could be while clothed and wearing a girdle. Apparently no one writing for/interviewed by that New York Times article did, either. I wonder if I can find anything definite about that. Probably not, but I’ll post another comment if I do.

    FWIW, part of the reason I thought it wouldn’t be too hard to find someone with a waist-hip ratio under .75 was that I have a ratio 0f .71 (without wearing a girdle or corset) and didn’t think my body type was that uncommon. Of course, anyone reading this site should know that we aren’t always the most reasonable judges of our own bodies…

    Anyway, my figure doesn’t look much like the pictures I’ve seen of women wearing corsets from Back In The Day. They’ve gotta be way below the .7 that is so beloved of the Evo Psych people. Still, the corsets could still have a residual effect on our beauty standards…

  82. Considering waist-hip ratio, corsets and beauty: The interesting part about waist-hip ratio is that people across cultures tend to prefer a certain waist-hip ratio (just as people across cultures tend to prefer symmetrical features). This is not true for body size or breast size – so I think there is some value to the argument that what people perceive as “ideal” waist-to-hip ratio is to some degree hardwired. The problem with the “it is hardwired” argument I have is not so much that I think it is impossible a certain “marker of beauty” is not just socially determined, but that some people seem to feel entitled to label everyone who doesn’t meet a supposedly hardwired standard as ugly or even disgusting. (Actually, that’s an interesting philosophical question – is “hardwired” the same as “objectively true”? I wouldn’t necessarily think so.)

  83. Thanks, Ang, that paper is awesome, especially the conclusion! Better than what my quick-and-dirty search turned up. “Description first, explanation second,” indeed–that’s exactly the problem with the way a lot of evolutionary psychology is done, or at least that’s my impression.

  84. Re: photography

    I think the thing here with photography is that it really began the “cookie cutter” image of women. I would assume everyone took for granted that paintings were “spruced up” a bit by those paying for them. Early photography, as opposed to now, gave us “the camera never lies”.

    We probably take it for granted with all the images we see during a day that it’s pretty formulaic – models stand this far away at this angle and take up 1/3 of the shot. The Rule of Thirds is big in art and if you have a bigger model, to get 1/3 she has to be farther away and we will not intellectually recognize why she looks “off”. A Plus Sized model is not really “off” but we pick up on it that that picture of the bigger model is different from the hundreds of pictures of smaller models that we get thrusted down our throats…

    And I won’t touch on the *nerve* of a bigger woman taking up 2/3 of a picture ;-)

  85. I linked to this blog and shared this quote at my own blog. Thank you for sharing the quote with us!

  86. I was admitted to hospital once (at about 5’3″ and 210 lbs.) and described as “well-nourished,” which seems to beat the alternative. I’ve been lucky to have had stupidhead medical professionals tell me “you must lose weight” without giving me any particular reason only a few times.

    Now I’m working on my spine and glucose issues and being treated for sleep apnea (none of which were evident or diagnosed for 49 years), all of which interventions have caused some weight to come off, but my only goal is stable health and I don’t care at what weight I wind up, especially as there will still be many people who will consider it too heavy. (Partly because congenital scoliosis has removed nearly four inches from my adult height while leaving me with the same body.)

    I could easily, statistically speaking, have developed these health problems while “thin” (in fact, a badly healed fracture I incurred while weighing 140 has a lot to do with my back problem) — and I could easily, circumstances being different, have maintained my recent weight and not developed them. There is not a universal correspondence, and since that’s what we keep trying to point out, I thought I would share my story.

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