Becklard’s Physiology, or the Quaint Backwardness of 1850s Medicine, Part Twelve

Chapter 14. Let’s discuss beauty! Yes, it IS in the eye of the beholder, but, for grins, Becklard has a whole checklist of characteristics, from the general, like height (approximately 5 feet 10 inches), to the shape of the nose, and even the type of instep! Also, obvious Adam’s apples are a no-no, and there should be approximately eight inches between the tips of the middle fingers and the knees. This whole thing is way too specific, and frankly, creepy. It puts me in mind of that guy who built a website years ago, looking for his perfect woman, with his sketch of what she should look like.

But it is not enough to have the body. Clothes make the man, you know! All black suit, white cravat, diamond pin, and no ruffles, please! Too many metal buttons are objectionable. Blue is alright, but must be used sparingly.

For women, height doesn’t matter, and complexion is a matter of personal taste. He then gives a highly specific example of perfect woman – five foot five inches, wrinkle free, of low forehead, with long eyelashes; aquiline nose; a mouth that is somehow short, small, full, and pouting, at the same time; small chin and ears; a delicate blusher; a sweet smiler; has a flexible neck (O RLY? for what?); a gently swelling bosom; full hips and buttocks (so she’s a good birther, don’tcha know?); small waist and hands; plump thighs and calves; and a high instep with small feet and knees. This would be a disproportionate woman. I will call her 19th Century Barbie.

He reiterates that this is merely HIS own example, and tastes vary widely. And, above all, character is the most important attribute. He gives three other ridiculous examples, much like the one described above.

Becklard next attempts to advise ladies on how to dress. Color should be uniform, simple jewelry, feathers on one side only. No short waists for drooping-shouldered women. And so on, with hints to correct flat chests and butts. He advises washing in cold water only, and drying with soft towels. Goat milk is good for the skin, as is a rich diet. Lacing is very bad for the body. But we knew that.


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