A new book by French historian and sociologist Georges Vigarello, La Silhouette, naissance d’un défi, describes the change in the use of the word silhouette in the 20th century. In the 18th century, a silhouette was a portrait cut from paper and style favored women who were pulpeuses, or curvy. Then along came Coco Chanel, Madame Grès, and Madeleine Vionnet, and out went the corset. Liberté! Now the style was for long, thin bodies and sillhouette was the term for the female form.
It’s ironic that what the designers intended to liberate women now enslaves them. Corsets had provided a sillhouette where none existed naturally. A tiny waist was possible, thanks to whalebone and an enormous capacity for discomfort. Post-corset, a woman’s true sillhouette was on display for good or for ill.
Today, every women’s magazine trumpets weight loss promises. Last week, I even saw one declaring “Lose 45 pounds by Thanksgiving!” That’s 9 pounds a week. Really? This craze all started in 1937 with Marie-Claire’s first issue dedicated to slimming down. With each new decade came new promises and programs – exercises routines, diets, and even creams and lotions designed for weight loss. Even our household products are constantly slimmer and lighter, and thinner is always better. Just consider the television or cell phone. Our whole culture is obsessed with the pursuit of thinness, what Vigarello calls le culte du corps (luh koolt due kor), the cult of the body.
Histoire de la beauté, by Georges Vigarello
- Fab Read: Madeleine Vionnet (fabsugar.com)
- Madame Grès Exhibition at MOMU Antwerp (dianepernet.typepad.com)
- Shocking! Famed fashion house Schiaparelli revived (miamiherald.com)