Reading all the recent brouhaha over Vogue’s skinny standards got me thinking. Can we expect things to ever improve? Or will magazines always perpetuate the thin-is-in ideal? I decided to look back in time to find a clue—back to the October 15, 1952 issue of Vogue....
First of all, look at this cover. I mean, gorgeous doesn’t cover it. And, look, Anna, it’s not Sienna Miller or Cameron Diaz, but a model! The cover price, by the way, was 50 cents.
OK, Mad Men fans, get ready to salivate. The next set of photos are part of a shoot entitled, “For the Woman Who Wants to Change Her Looks.” It’s a make-up story, but even the intro reinforces the message that “make-up isn’t everything; so we go on to show the news in coiffures, and the change they could make to a face. And we remind you, as we always do in every beauty issue of Vogue—that a beautiful face needs the help of a beautiful figure.”
Need more specifics? Just turn to pages 62–63. Here you’ll find instructions for a “Change in Attitude” (ie: drop the pounds, lady). Here’s the deck: “Beauty statistic: the body is, ideally, seven and a half times the length of the head. So a pretty face is not, in Vogue’s Eye-View, everything. A beauty needs a slender and supple figure.”
To wit, the story gives us a series of “completely un-gymnastic muscle-controllers”—deportment moves illustrated with line-drawings. Most are designed to train the smallest of muscles for a straighter posture. (Tracy Anderson, eat your heart out.)
Underneath the “carriage” advice is “Welcome Change: A Delicious Diet,” which tells us, “A weight-reducing diet does not have to be a grim sentence for past caloric sins. What it can be is just a different way of eating with pleasure.” This section is helpfully illustrated with large crosses through the sauce boat, olive oil, and butter, just in case you weren’t able to follow along. Still, they do make depriving oneself sound so much more poetic than the fashion mags of today. How could you not step away from the fatty stuff after reading lines such as: “The undressed vegetable is often too nude for taste. But butter is not the only dressing” and “Salad ingredients have been so usually swathed in oil dressing—their own, unadorned flavours comes as an adventure.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for lunchtime so I can have a dry lettuce-leaf adventure!
Just in case you didn’t heed this diet and exercise advice, the issue follows up with a fashion spread entitled “Made-to-Order Slenderness.”
Overall, this 1952 issue seems like one Anna Wintour would’ve been right at home with. And the answer about whether U.S. Vogue will follow the lead of the mag’s U.K. and Australian editors in decrying tiny sample sizes appears to be right there on page 52. That line about a beautiful face needing the help of a beautiful figure is followed by this: “and the expressions of both should be graceful. On this point, we never change.”
Looks like someone’s been reading her title’s archives! Sigh.
On another note, the ’52 issue had another prescient story, this one coining the phrase, “Nillionaire.” As in, “the girl with a name for fashion, and a fortune that’s nil.” The spread featured cheaper American versions of Paris fashions that “fit into her clothes allowance.” Kind of like your ’50s-era designer knock offs sold in chain stores? Perfect for today! Expect to see a 2009 issue of Vogue bring back this term in 1, 2, 3 …
Until next week,
Your NY Nillionaire, Rebecca