It’s almost New Year’s Eve, and that means it’s resolution time; I bet a lot of us will be resolving to lose weight this year. It is generally known that our culture’s obsession with being skinny is a relatively modern phenomenon. The great painters portrayed Venus as quite a bit more corpulent than today’s supermodels and movie star sex symbols. Most books from the 18th and 19th century I have read have both men and women criticizing skinny women as being unattractive “waifs”, and “ample” women are viewed as desirable. So our culture’s obsession with dieting must also be modern right? Apparently not entirely.
My husband and I recently moved into a new house previously occupied by a retired couple. We are still getting a good bit of their mail, including a new arrival yesterday called, “Tribune, News for Today’s Seniors.” Normally, this would go straight to the recycle bin, but one of the headlines caught my eye: “150 Years of Battling the Bulge – How America Became a Nation of Dieters.” Hmm, 150 years? That would take us all the way back to 1862! Were people really kale-cleansing under Queen Victoria and during the American Civil War? I read on.
According to the article, in 1863 Englishman William Banting published the first “diet” book, called “Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public.” The book outlined a diet surprisingly similar to the Atkins Diet, focusing on eating lots of protein and cutting back on carbs. Sounds pretty familiar. Even more interesting was the 1903 American product called “La Parle Obesity Soap.” To quote the article, “A 1903 advertisement promised the soap would, ‘positively reduce fat without dieting or gymnastics. Absolutely harmless, never fails to reduce flesh when directions are followed.'” Any modern product that promised to “reduce flesh” if I rubbed it on said flesh would certainly send me running to the parallel bars for a little gymnastics as a less-creepy alternative, but someone must have bought this stuff back then. In fact, a quick Google search on “weight loss soap” got me to this site. Someone is STILL trying to market such a thing! Apparently, we were just as gullible in the Victorian era as we are now when it comes to instant, effortless weight loss techniques. Good luck with those resolutions!
Reference: Erickson Living Tribune, January 2013, Erickson Publication.