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Weight disorders in 1912

This discussion on "Weight disorders in 1912" is in the Health Medicine and Hygiene section; I was just wondering if there were many cases of anorexia (nervosa) and bulimia in ...

      
   
  1. #1
    Joćo Carlos Pereira Martins
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    I was just wondering if there were many cases of anorexia (nervosa) and bulimia in the beginning of the century... I know that Empress Elizabeth (Sissi) of Austria was 47 kg at the time of her death in 1898, by assassination, and she was 60!! Apparently she used strange methods to achieve her weight goals, like having bath in freezing water to then get exposed to hot steam. She believed that the thermal shock would help her to lose the "extra pounds".

    Regards, Joćo

  2. #2
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    >>I was just wondering if there were many cases of anorexia (nervosa) and bulimia in the beginning of the century<<

    Probably. I don't know if any such were documented as such, but that doesn't mean they didn't exists. Such issues were just unrecognized for what they were.

    People had all sorts of strange ideas regarding what was and was not healthy during this period of history. We may laugh at them, but perhaps we shouldn't be too cocky. We have enough strange fads and fancies of our own which I'm sure will be regarded with the same degree of amusement by future generations.

  3. #3
    Vikki Aris
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    Also, particularly among women, there was a greater degree of delicacy in discussing matters of health back then - sometimes to an almost ridiculous degree of euphemism. Given how hard it can be to diagnose eating disorders even nowadays, I'm sure it would have been harder back then. I'm not sure when they were diagnosed as particular disorders, but I'm sure there were cases even if they had no specific diagnosis.
    Another factor making it more difficult to diagnose eating disorders (if, that is, they were recognised as such at the time) would have been the fashion for small waists. Corsetry and other devices to fashion the right figure would have made it harder to tell just from appearance whether someone was thin enough to be potentially suffering from an eating disorder.

  4. #4
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    Pale complexions and small waists were considered fashionable in the 1900-1914 period, so a woman lunching on a cracker and a bit of lettuce may have been seen as just watching her waistline. Perhaps she would be considered vain, but not a victim of a disorder.

    The woman who could not keep down her meals ... hysteria? Ulcers or intestinal disease? Someone feeding her poison? As Michael said, anorexia and bulemia were probably not documented as such. The doctors might not have seen the problem as a disease itself but as a symptom of another disease.

    Also, the patient was usually female; the physician male. I don't want to lump all male doctors as chauvinists. Most GPs did right by their female patients, but I get the feeling that the profession was dismissive of "female complaints".

    A thought: What about Dr. Kellogg and Dr. Graham and their health food sanitoria? They were part of the alternative medicine of their day and their cornflakes and crackers became pretty famous - for which my stomach thanks them. What did they have to say about the average diet? Were some of their patients anorexic? How were they treated in those sanitoria?

  5. #5
    Joćo Carlos Pereira Martins
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    This has nothing to do with the title but did women shave their bodies in 1912? I know it's a delicate question but in Cameron's film, Jack shows Rose some of his draws and the one-leg prostitute had body hair. However, in the "drawing scene" we see Rose perfectly shaved.

    Best regards, Joćo

  6. #6
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    Thre was the Victorian 'female complaint' Chlorosis aka The Green Disease from which previously vigorous young women went into a marked decline, became pallid, listless, showed no signs of appetite and complained of constant fatigue. It waned with the growing emphasis on sports for women- particularly tennis and bicycling- and one can have a pretty rousing debate over whether Chlorosis was a physical or psychological condition. It DID share many of the symptoms of Anorexia but whether it was the same thing or not....?

    Thre was that rumor that refuses to die~ 90 years later~which claimed that Anna Held expired after having her lower ribs removed to maintain ehr hourglass figure. Not exactly anorexia or bulemia but still pretty strange if true. And, for the record, I dont believe that it is.

    Jumping ahead 13 years: when film star Barbara laMarr died of tuberculosis and the effects of long term drug abuse, her studio blamed her death on a heart attack brought on by "too rigorous dieting." So, the link between the sudden death of an (assumed) healthy young woman and anorexia can be traced back to at least 1925.

    >This has nothing to do with the title but did women shave their bodies in 1912?

    Various creams to remove "unsightly hair" can be found advertised long before 1912. I dont know how it was in Europe, but in the US as far back as the early 1880's advertisements designed to make women self conscious about hair and odors were common~ at least in the less refined magazines and papers. The 1890~1908 Sears catalogues offer some torture chamber like devices for The Discerning Miss (including a bust enlarger that resembled a pair of toilet plungers and an electric cord, and a hair remover that appears to have been potentially fatal if misused. Just as a BTW~ Police Gazette ran MANY ads for the frightening to ponder male equivalent of the bust enlarger, for the "Underconfident Man" as they delicately called him) so it can be assumed that although not everyone at that time went for the clean shaven look, there was at least SOME pressure applied to the American Victorian Miss to go for a somewhat less 'natural' look. Have not studied the ad sections in the equivalent papers in the UK or France and so have no idea if that particular societal pressure was brought to bear there as well.

  7. #7
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    Jim, the final par of your post brings to mind alarming possiblities for a turn-of-the-19th century equivalent to today's spam mail. I'm sure some of the drivel that finds its way into my inbox past the mail marshall must have used the phrase 'for the underconfident man'!

    Michael Ondaatje's fictional The Collected Works of Billy the Kid has some interesting passages describing - somewhat erotically - the impact of a woman shaving her legs!

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    >so a woman lunching on a cracker and a bit of lettuce may have been seen as just watching her waistline. Perhaps she would be considered vain, but not a victim of a disorder.

    Perhaps not - as corsets weren't exactly the evil things we imagine them to be today. Some women were trained from infancy to wear a corset. Children's and infant's corsets can be found in many catalogues, though how many were ordered has yet to be seen - as everything that's offered in a catalogue isn't wildly popular... such as the Princess Bust Developer - similar to the 'enhancer' that Mr. Jim describes. I don't think many women went for that - and I also don't think it worked. People probably thought THAT was vain.

    Let's not forget the ideal look at the time - yes the tiny waist was in - most extant shirtwaists I've seen from the 1902 - 1906 period have twenty-four inch waist measurements. But it also seems that full arms were also considered attractive. A woman who may have been thin and waifish was probably considered unhealthy and was told to eat more in a manner - I suspect - that is eerily similar to the stereotype of the Jewish mother.

  9. #9
    Vikki Aris
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    Actually being trained into a corset from an early age is, for me, rather more scary than wearing them later. The effect on a person's body would be similar to the effect of the old Chinese custom of binding a child's feet at age 3. Basically you are constricting the natural growth of the body and forcing it to remain at roughly the size it was when corseting started. Ok, it may not be as acutely painful and breath-robbing as we tend to think it, but I have no doubt that it caused long-term problems. This is without thinking about the moral implications of doing this to children, rather than allowing a grown (or almost grown) woman to make the decision.

    You're right about the difference between waif-like and wasp-waisted, though. But on the other hand, thin arms could be disguised by sleeves.

  10. #10
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    >effect on a person's body would be similar to the effect of the old Chinese custom of binding a child's feet at age 3. Basically you are constricting the natural growth of the body and forcing it to remain at roughly the size it was when corseting started.

    Indeed this is very true - there was once a photographer (I can't remember his name, I only read of him) who did nude photography of women who had been in corsets in the 1880s. It was some kind of fetish I think. Anyways, the shape of the waist was actually changed in some cases of corset wearing - and the effect was, to say the least, unnatural looking from what I understand. They were probably women that were trained in corsets from childhood. Some costumers will actually wear corsets beneath their costumes - and some say they are quite comfortable, but I am sure that if they wore them for years on end, they would certainly see a very abnormal waistline developing.

    There were some efforts made even back then to curb the unhealthy effects of corsetry back then and dress reform movements then, where some women went corsetless (and this was NOT a scandalous thing. I wouldn't be surprised if women in rural areas often went corsetless.)

    >You're right about the difference between waif-like and wasp-waisted, though. But on the other hand, thin arms could be disguised by sleeves.

    This is possible, but sleeves of the time were only loose-fitting up until 1908, in most cases. Even before then, many shirtwaists had fitted sleeves all the way down the arm with only a very slight (almost at times, indetectable) pouf at the shoulder. Indeed - leg-o-mutton sleeves were not worn very much past 1900. The bishop sleeve was heavily worn, which could have concealed skeletal arms. It was a sleeve that was fit at the top and gradually widened at the wrist. Sometimes you had the bishop sleeve going down three-quarters down the arm, and then it would be fitted to the wrist. Of course the sudden swing to elongated silhouettes of 1911 changed all of this - and corsets became much more forgiving than those of the S-curved "pigeon" fronted silhouette of 1901-1907. Both styles existed at the same time, however, as middle class women wore their clothes as long as possible before they replaced them.

    So it all depended on what the woman had available to her to conceal anorexic arms. I would imagine that many younger women were given hand-me-downs or made their own clothing, and at times couldn't choose exactly what they needed to conceal their disorder.

 

 
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