As we get ready to head into the New Year, no doubt many of us will be making resolutions. While I hope your plans for 2013 include having more fun, pursuing your goals, and seeing the world, I’m sure some will also want to lose weight.

While living healthy lives—no matter what the scale says—should be a priority, many have unrealistic goals when it comes to their weight.

These days, many women want to look more like a Victoria’s Secret model than be the best version of themselves they can be, and even if they reach their mythical, magical “goal weight,” they aren’t pleased.

This morning, while getting my daily Jezebel fix, I read an article about Elsie Scheel, a Brooklyn woman who was deemed “The Perfect Girl” by the New York Times in 1912.

At 5 feet, 7 inches tall and 171-pounds, Scheel beat out 400 coeds at Cornel University to be dubbed the “most nearly perfect specimen of womanhood.”

Today, Scheel would be considered overweight, her BMI (a rather arbitrary number that calculates healthiness based on your height and weight, not muscle mass or fitness level) would be 26.8, and she’d no doubt be pressured to change her diet of “sane living,” or as Scheel put it, eating “only what I wanted and when I wanted it,” to something more restrictive.

Reading about the then 24-year-old Scheel being held up as “physically perfect” (in addition to her very progressive ideas of what women can do) in 1912 helps to put into perspective the many ways in which women’s bodies have been viewed throughout the years.

Though the media hails ultra-thin actresses and models as the standard of beauty today, many woman are pushing for a more inclusive image. From plus size fashion bloggers demanding designers be more inclusive, to fitness conscious women teaching others how to live their healthiest life, more and more women are defining what “perfect” looks like for themselves.

[Via Jezebel & Gothamist]

  • BriA

    Sorry but everyone was pretty fuckin poor like no food for the average person to eat so of course the larger/rich people would be seen as more desirable/attractive – they had food to eat and fed their children! lol…..being physically/mentally/healthy fit is what is attractive now soooo yeh……

  • NoKKs

    I think 171 is big, though. I guess it depends on the woman’s height and where most of her weight is.

  • Starla

    If I went up to 171 I would look like an oompa loompa. At just a little under 5’4″ I look and feel my best at 118lbs. I can go up to 125 and still look fairly decent, but over 125 I start looking little Kermitish.

    It’s not just about weight, but how your body distribute the weight. Some women look better with more weight because it goes in all the right places. Not all of us are so lucky, so I’ll stick to being thin. I love Kermit, but I sure as hell dont want to look like him.

  • Sugar Drop

    Being 5’7 and weighing 171 will still give the illusion of a somewhat thin body, especially if you have a high muscle mass. I’m 5’6 and weigh 150 but still look as if I’m “boney” and skinny. Everyone jokes about me being a size 0 when actually I’m a 6/8. Just because the perfect woman then was 171 doesnt mean she was obese like some women are now. Also, there was alot more exercising and walking going on during that time so I’m sure most of her weight came from her muscle mass. Most obese women in our time are actually shorter (and don’t exercise), which is why they look and are much larger. Please ladies, do not allow this one research to sway you from losing and keep your “new year” goal. This finding doesn’t mean that you can now slack on hitting the gym. Many of you ACTUALLY need to lose weight.

  • omfg

    and this was part of the point i was going to make.

    in times of famine and poor access to food/calories, we are attracted to heft because it may indicate that someone has the money to buy food in a time of either scarcity of food or money for many people.

    today people have access to an abundance of calories without paying much money. food is cheap. and now, anyone can get fat. so obviously, fat/obesity is not coveted.

    following this logic, it makes sense that we would begin to think of people who are slimmer as people who can restrain themselves from indulging in the excesses around them, particularly the cheap barely food products that are pushed on us regularly. and, we regard people who eat better quality of food as higher class, more educated, etc.

    our beauty standards are not necessarily determined by some objective idea we’ve cultivated in our minds. they also are determined by what is going on socially and economically.

    i wish people would keep this in mind when they think longingly about the beauty standards of another time or country.

  • mEE

    I’m only a half inch shorter than the subject and if I went up to 171lbs I’d be very concerned and depressed.

  • TT

    It honestly depends on how tall you are and where the weight is distributed. But 171 is still overweight regardless.

  • The Bishop

    Also they’re average life span was 50 years. Please stop with the failed comparisons.

  • Darcy

    Though I definitely agree that today she would be considered overweight, I find it funny how some people chose to point out how thin they are and how devestated /upset they would be if they were 171 instead of commenting on the issue directly. As we know clutch’s readers are a diverse group of women so standing on a soap box to announce how YOU are glad you fit society’s image of what weight women should be is kind of classless.

  • Yvette

    Have you seen her picture? Girl was solid.

  • Treece

    Yeah, I totally agree. There were women that mirrored this lady’s size that lived happy and LONG lives. And bragging about your size/weight does nothing to add to the conversation about the article…..give it a rest.

  • Treece

    The comparisons are not lost on me at all. People’s distorted views on weight and what is considered healthy is extremely different than what they are today. People look at those BMI charts and think that they are in the clear if they fit within those parameters. There are women who eat healthy meals and get regular exercise whose bodies look like the drawing of Ms. Scheel above. Just b/c a woman doesn’t have a tiny waist or isn’t celebrity thin doesn’t mean her health is in danger.

    And, the average life span was 50 because of communicable diseases and illnesses that we have vaccines and advanced medicines/treatments for now……not b/c they were overweight.

  • i mean

    The perfect woman was also white. i don’t know why we are even worried about the pressure to be ultra thin, I always thought beauty and ideal body types in the black community were about hips and stuff. I’m not too worried about white people

  • nona

    Haha, are you me? I’m the same height and my weight flucuates between 130-150, usually around 135ish, and people always tell me I’m “skinny” and once I wore jeans that “gave me a butt” and my guy friend was like, “I thought you were just super skinny with no a–.” I’m a size 8 too, although I’m really small on top which prob doesn’t help the “illusion.”

  • cupcakes and shiraz

    Agreed. Excess weight on a person was a signal of prosperity back then. Now…not so much. The comparison here is moot.

  • Kema

    I’m 5’1 and overweight at 143. But I’m pear shaped (34-27-43) I would like to lose weight. It’s easy. I’ve done it twice. Lol I want to figure out how to stay there.

  • Desiree

    that woman and i have the same measurements & i’m the same height O_o

  • http://gravatar.com/ravsmith78 Ravi

    You might be on to something if not for a couple reasons. Back during the early 20th century, there wasn’t a single standard of beauty. It varied based on year and community. The voluptuous standard was more of a lower class standard. Any salience it had universally was likely caused by similarities to European art. The woman detailed in the article was upper class where a thin delicate standard of beauty was one of the standards.

    Also, the 1912 article specifically referenced an athletic and healthy standard. Additionally, the standard that the women were being compared to was the Venus de Milo. The basis was proportion, not weight or size. Other, smaller women were also displayed because they had similar proportions to the statue. This idea of beauty seems more inclusive and natural than our narrow contemporary standards. Our current standard can hardly be considered the model of physical and health. Models and beauty queens have been getting thinner and thinner. Last week’s Miss Universe pageant was more a testament to starvation and fragility than health and fitness. The drivers of contemporary beauty standards seem less about health as they are about toy dolls and the whims of fashion designers.

  • http://gravatar.com/ravsmith78 Ravi

    WTH ratio of .628 — doesn’t sound like you need to worry about weight loss.

  • Shay

    Im sorry but where are all these ppl trying to lose weight? Im thin and all I ever hear about is thick thick thick big booty this big thighs that. So im confused…..

  • Misty_Moonsilver

    Thanks for this article. Its funny how times have changed dramatically.

  • Pingback: In 1912 the ‘Perfect Woman’ was 171...

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