The Average American Woman Is…Ungainly, Has An Appalling Lack of Symmetry, Is Inactive and Badly In Need Of Exercise
Charles Merriles penned a three part article for Physical Culture Magazine entitled The Average Woman which ran from the July – September 1908 issues. He offers a scathing indictment against the average woman as being generally disproportioned, out of shape and defective.
Today an article like the one Charles Merriles wrote would be savagely attacked and he would probably be apologizing on social media. But this was 1908 and it was a very much a man’s world.
Physical Culture Magazine described itself as “devoted to health, strength, vitality, muscular development, and care of the body”
The publisher of Physical Culture, Bernarr MacFadden, was a man driven by perfection, physical fitness and fame. His belief of natural cures and strength training was forward looking. but his many detractors considered him to be an obscene, health-nut.
Later in the 1920s MacFadden founded the New York Graphic newspaper which was ahead of its time for its use of composite photographs called composographs featuring “photoshopped” scenes that did not exist. The New York Graphic also presaged the National Enquirer and other publications of that ilk by its use of lurid and sleazy stories thus earning the nickname “the New York Pornographic.”
Merriles’ article was one of the surefire ways MacFadden’s Physical Culture liked to attract readers with scantily dressed women. To illustrate his article, Merriles advertised for regular looking women that he could photograph in athletic garb that would display their figure.
The photo captions alone are cringe worthy. To say Merriles was critical in his assessment of his models and the state of womanhood would be an understatement.
Here are some excerpts and photographs from Merriles’ article:
The average woman of today has nothing to boast of from the standpoint of mere physical attraction. When stripped of her furbelows and fancy frills we usually find a startling contrast. In but few cases has she anything to be proud of under such instances. Between the corset, false hips, busts, padding here and there to fill out, even the leanest woman is at times able to make what might be termed a fair appearance. And a woman who is suffering from too much avoirdupois can pull in the waist line to an extraordinary degree and thus add to her attractions, so she thinks.
The body to be beautiful must be strong. No unsightly angles should be apparent, all its outlines should be made up of curves. For instance, from the neck to the shoulder, there should be a gradual sloping away until one part merges into the other. There should be an appearance of symmetry, harmony, one part with another, which is the one necessary
characteristic of a beautifully formed body. There should be no large, prominent muscles, there should be no bulging bust, or large, massive hips.
They are so ugly that they might almost be called vulgar. Then again, there is an entirely false conception of the form of women that has been produced largely by the habit of corset wearing.
Though every woman cannot possess features that might be termed beautiful, I believe that my opinion is borne out by the facts when I state that practically every woman can have a finely-developed body. This means, in conventional parlance, a superb form.