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1960s mccalls pattern

One of my gym buddies is a lady in her mid-80s. We ride the stationary bike at approximately the same time every weekday morning. During our rides, only one body part moves as fast as our legs—our mouths. We talk. It’s one of the reasons exercise isn’t a chore for me. I hate to miss those visits because I learn things.

Is dieting a modern phenomenon?

Ann says people didn’t diet or exercise to lose weight 60 years ago. The word “calorie” was hardly known to womankind. This news fascinates me. Is she right? Scanning a recent diet book, I found a similar claim, suggesting that weight used to be much less important than it is today. Used to? What does that mean?

Sure, a round belly and bottom were beautiful in Renaissance times. Enough so that Fat Bottom Girls didn’t just Make the Rock’n World Go Round. Thousands of years ago, there was a Latin word to celebrate our condition: calliopygia, for beautiful (and ample) buttocks—the bigger, the better.

But what about the past 100 years? How much could the human body change? Perhaps only perception and fashion change. Here’s what I learned.

In 1960 the average 40 to 50 year-old woman weighed 140 pounds—a good twenty pounds lighter than today. At that weight, women still relied on undergarments to look good in their clothes. It’s a well-known fact that Marilyn Monroe’s hourglass figure was sculpted by undergarments while she yo-yo’d up and down the scales.

If we are to believe a spread from an October 1958 issue of Seventeen magazine, all that stood between you and a proper-looking sheath dress were the right foundation garments. (Can you say marketing?) The average 140-pound gal would have worn foundations with the 1961 McCall’s dress pattern shown above. Whether women were wearing a 1920s drop waist flapper dress or a 1958 sheath dress, it’s clear that very few of us have ever had the physique to look “fashionable” without a little help.

Eat as much as you want and never gain weight. Sure!

Given the aesthetics of certain eras, it’s hard to fathom that weight is only a recent preoccupation. I found plenty to suggest that my 80-something friend’s view of reality didn’t square with the content of fashion magazines. In a 1956 edition of Ebony, you could send away for the Knox Eat-and-Reduce Plan—a weight loss program that was promoted as safe and practical. It allowed you to “eat your fill and lose two to five pounds a week.” Other examples abound.

This is only a blog post—not a scholarly work, so I don’t know an exact date we came unglued about our weight. Based on casual research, my bet is that the first contemporary women to become prey were readers of fashion magazines. If you were unplugged from that influence, blessedly, you knew nothing. It’s the only way to explain how my very practical mother-in-law, in the bloom of youth when Elsa Schiaparelli was a household word, knew nothing of Schiap. She was busy raising a family, minus the time or inclination to read a fashion magazine.

Maybe it’s my natural resistance to being “controlled,” but I can’t stand anything that constricts my body. I understand the beauty of a good pair of Spanx, but I would rather dress comfortably than feel like I’m being cut in two—especially on special occasions when I’m already slightly uncomfortable.

Today’s Control Garments

If you find control garments as miserable as I do, here are two alternatives I’ve found tolerable, the Spanx Higher Power Brief and SPANX HIGH – WAISTED BODY SHAPING tights.

Reason I like them: they rise above the waist so they don’t cut across your middle—not that I’m advocating on behalf of control garments. No, I’d much rather see women of this generation come to terms with our bodies. Have you ever thought about what a control garment can do to the digestive system? The next time you’re at a dinner party, you can assure everyone that you’re not the slightest bit overweight–you just have calliopygia.

What’s your take on the world of control garments? Love ‘em or hate ‘em? Do tell!

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.