We are now entering the year 2013 without much guidance as to what this year might bring. Perhaps, then, it is the perfect time to reflect back over the past and see what changes have taken place. For example, 100 years ago, one lady from Cornell was chosen as the epitome of the "perfect" woman. However, the picture and description of this lady would hardly match today's cultural ideals of feminine perfection, leading us to explore how much has changed just in this area.
Elsie Scheel, who was a 24-year-old student at Cornell at the time of the 1912 article, was described as a 171 pound lady on a 5' 7" frame who loved beefsteaks. Her weight was considered healthy, although on a BMI scale, she would be considered overweight today. She was lauded as a product of "modern civilization" and the "most nearly perfect physical specimen of womanhood." The newspaper article also touted that Miss Scheel did not have a single physical defect and had never been ill.
It is clear from the article's focus that "perfection" meant something very different in 1912 compared to today, but it is interesting to focus on why the standards have changed. Certainly cultural norms and expectations have shifted in the last century to make the thin ideal equal to perfection for women. The reason for this is most likely that beautiful is considered whatever is most difficult to attain. In 1912, with sickness rampant and food not as easily abundant, it was much easier to be thin and sick than to be heavier and well.
However, despite the reasons for this cultural transition, it is clear from this example that "perfection" and "beauty" are highly mercurial cultural and subjective ideals, not stagnant concepts. Perhaps it is time to forego chasing these shifting ideals and instead focusing like Elsie did on pursuing a life without fear.
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