“A Rolling Mill for Ladies” Beauty Through Suffering: 1905, 1915


vintage exercise machine2


You must suffer to be beautiful, according to a French saying. There seems to be some truth in the statement, if a lady’s maid in Paris is to be believed. She has revealed the secrets of her mistress’ boudoir, or, rather, torture chamber. The lady herself is now beautiful, but one wonders that she is alive. For months she lay flat on her back on the floor, motionless, with her arms close to her side, during several hours every day. This was, it appears, to improve her figure. During the rest of the day, for the same period of time, she sat on a high stool rocking the upper part of her body backward and forward and from side to side unceasingly. By this process she is said to have acquired a statuesque throat and a sylph’s waist. The lady’s nose, having a soaring nature, was corrected and made Grecian by the constant application, day and night for months of a spring bandage. One nostril was originally larger than the other, so she wore a small sponge in it for a year. Her cheeks have been filled out and rounded by injections of paraffin. Her ears for months were compressed against the sides of her head by springs, while heavy weights were attached to the lobes to produce the required elongated shape, which has been successfully achieved. Having suffered this complicated martyrdom for a year, the lady, as already stated, is now beautiful.

Savannah [GA] Tribune 30 September 1905: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil will confess that, in her many forays as a lady’s maid, she never deliberately tortured her mistresses in the name of beauty—only in the interests of justice—and, to use the American vernacular, “they never knew what hit them.” Mrs Daffodil does not believe in causing unnecessary suffering.

While a stately, swan-like, and full-prowed appearance was the approved figure at the turn of the century, by the time of the Great War, matters had altered. The figure of the period was a lithe and slender one, culminating in the garçon silhouette of the 1920s and the sleekly girdled look of the 1930s. As such, the ladies of the 1910s were deeply concerned with reducing their avoirdupois to the fashionable tolerances. Technology was summoned to their aid, as we see in this article from 1915.

When Mark Twain took his first Turkish bath he decided that the efforts of the masseur were painfully slow and inadequate. He said it would take hours to reduce him to the desired size. Would he not go and borrow a jackplane?  

Now for a long time we have watched with sympathy and concern the efforts of women to adjust the waist line to the demands of fashion. The ancient methods seemed so pitifully slow. No sooner had a woman succeeded in shifting her equator the requisite six inches to the north or the south than she received imperative orders to shift it back again. And when the new arrangement had been accomplished it was quite on the cards that a wireless from Sayville would demand that the waist be abolished altogether. And there you are. There was a lack of reasonableness and of consideration. One would think that the waist line was detachable, that it could be raised or lowered with a derrick, that it could be taken off at night and put on again in the morning in a new place. Of course every married man knows that this is not so, and that a woman can not change her equator without prayer and fasting, and particularly fasting.  

But now science and invention have come to the relief of the much-suffering sex. A man out in Kansas City has devised what he calls a “‘rolling mill” for ladies whose waists have been obliterated. When he speaks directly to his clients he calls his invention a “scientific system of weight reduction”‘ and he is said to be doing a roaring business. His machine consists of a polished wooden roller shaped like a U and it revolves by machinery. The lady who has mislaid her equator and who cannot tell precisely where her southern hemisphere ends and her northern hemisphere begins places herself inside the U, which is then clamped closely around her and the rollers are set in motion. After a time the pressure of the rollers is observed to slacken, which means that the fill-in is being slowly dispersed north and south, although where it actually goes heaven only knows. Then the rollers are tightened up again until the excavation is of the necessary depth.

If there should be any subsequent slides like there are in the Gatun Dam the operation can be repeated until the natural subsidences have been overcome. 

The inventor, with a modesty inseparable from true greatness, says that his machine is intended for those who wish to avoid the equivalent exercise. For example, there are ladies who have derived much benefit from rolling on the floor, but then one must roll such a long way to get the requisite benefit, and rolling on the floor is quite exhausting.

Other ladies were in favor of chasing an orange around the room with the finger tips and without bending the knees, but this also is too slow when you have every reason to fear that the waist fashion may change again tomorrow afternoon at 4:27, like a train. But the new machine is quick, dependable, and it is guaranteed not to exhaust. In half an hour it will do as much as 5,000 rolls on the floor. Just think of that. And you can even read a fashion book, or a suffrage manifesto, or an uplift magazine, or a sex hygiene book, while the good work is going on, and thus kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 24 July 1915

To be Relentless Informative: Sayville is a village on Long Island. In 1912 a German wireless transmitter was built there to send broadcasts to Germany. In 1915 the station allegedly sent messages from the German embassy regarding the proposed sinking of the RMS Lusitania. The transmitter was seized in 1917 by order of President Wilson.

The Gatun Dam was a large earthen dam across the Chagres River in Panama, which is part of the water-regulation system for the Panama Canal. There was doubt whether the ground was stable enough for the immense project and the newspapers reported repeated landslides.

See this article for more historic ways in which ladies have suffered for beauty.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



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