Caplin - Health and Beauty (1864)/Chapter VIII
"At this period, in all well constituted women, the fat being absorbed with less activity, is accumulated in the cellular tissues under the skin and elsewhere; and this effaces any wrinkles which might have begun to furrow the skin, rounds the outlines anew, and again restores an air of youth and freshness."
IN speaking of the middle age of woman there are a few things which must be taken into consideration in reference to her anatomical construction, which influence the whole that we have to say in relation to the peculiar support which she will require in that particular period called "middle life;" for unless this conception be fully realized it will not be perceived why we have gone out of our way to invent certain things which are specially adapted to this time of life.
Middle age is that period which dates from the completion of the whole organic structure, and continues until the decline of the innate force, and hence may be called the autumn of life. The change, however, takes place so gradually that it is scarcely perceived, and when protracted, as it may be by proper care and favourable circumstances, the middle life of woman is never without its charms, and the freedom and polish of maternity are often more admirable than the evanescent glory of an earlier period. This is the time, too, more than any other, when woman can and ought to enjoy the comforts of life. The changes, however, that take place in the constitution are of the greatest importance, involving the complete revolution of the whole of the vital forces. A new direction is given to the course of the natural law; and according to the care which is taken, so will the determination of the result, either to elegance or deformity in the declining days. Naturally, there is a deposition of fat in the cellular tissues, which gives the particular appearance which the French call embonpoint, which simply means that the nutrition which has hitherto gone to the development of the figure is now employed in the accumulation of adipose matter beneath the cuticle. When, however, the overtaxed membrane gives way, the tissues relax, and the muscular fibres losing their tenacity, fail to maintain their normal position. Then is the time to aid Nature by the judicious application of another layer of muscles, which shall support the former in the performance of their functions. It is not mere pressure that is demanded, for this will too frequently increase the evil, and it often happens that middle age is burdened with infirmities in consequence of the compression to which the waist has been subject in youth; and hence that enormous distension of the abdomen with which some females are troubled. The uterus and other internal organs will, from sympathy, be affected also, and this will give rise to numerous painful disorders in the region of the pelvis. But we have already spoken of the evil of tight-lacing, and need not recur to it again here; we appeal to the experience of every lady who may read this, whether much that we have said has not fallen under her own observation. The extreme disfigurement to which the human body is liable may be seen by a reference to certain nations and races, in whom the deformity is great; and although the picture is rather calculated to inspire disgust than any other feeling, still it is well to exhibit it as an advertisement of how far the frame may be mutilated through ignorance or misconception.
Having stated the fact that women need support at particular periods of life, and given the reason why it is so, we may attribute to this cause the common practice of seeking, by the use of the stays, to sustain the figure. Before the introduction of cloth amongst them, the American Indians used the fine bark of the white birch-tree for the purpose of enveloping the body in it. Now they use narrow bands of calico, which being wound round and round the body, in imitation of the manner in which a bandage is applied by surgeons to a swollen limb, they in this way compress and sustain the abdomen. If it be asked why those poor mothers of the wild woodsmen have adopted this custom, it will be found in the want of Nature, which has spoken through their organization, and demanded support. And where this aid is not rendered, women become proverbially ugly in middle life, as is the case with many of the African and Asiatic races, whose breasts hang down to an inordinate length, and whose bodies become deformed and decrepit at forty, and in many cases at a much earlier period. This premature decay of the figure may, without doubt, be attributed to the neglect of suitable hygienic means, for in early life those females are in no way deformed.
Many travellers have spoken of the large and pendulous mammæ of the females of certain barbarous tribes, particularly in Africa. There is no original difference in these cases. The Hottentots and Negresses, previously to child-bearing, have bosoms as finely formed as any women; but after this, the breasts become very loose and flaccid, so that they can turn them over or under the shoulder, and suckle their infants on their backs. This practice, and that of long-continued suckling, probably tends to increase the elongation.
Bruce says of the Shangallas, that, "after a few days, when the child has gathered strength, the mother carries it in the same cloth upon her back, and gives it suck with her breast, which she throws over her shoulder; this part being of such a length as, in some cases, to reach almost to the knees."
Captain Tuckey also notices the "pendant flaccidity of bosom" belonging to some of the African women.
Dr. Sommerville also says that the breasts of the Hottentot women, "after one or two births, are flaccid, wrinkled, and pendulous, hanging down sometimes to the groins, like bags suspended from the neck."
Cuvier, Barrow, Ulloa, and others, have noticed the same thing, not only in the African but in other races.
The same thing has also been observed in some European females, who from slovenly habits have neglected to give the necessary support to the parts in question. Lithgow, in his "Rare Adventures and paineful Peregrinations," p. 433, says, "I saw in Ireland's north parts, women travayling the way or toyling at home, carry their infants about their neckes, and laying the dugges over their shoulders, give sucke to the babes behind their backes without taking them in their armes: such kind of breasts me thinketh were very fit to be made money-bags for East or West Indian merchants, being more than half a yard long, and as well wrought as any tanner in the like charge could ever mollifie such leather."
It is true that Englishwomen are not subject to the same extent as those females are, to this falling of the breasts; still there is in all women a tendency in those parts to give way, and in many cases, if support be not applied, the bosom becomes unsightly. In ladies who have a predisposition to corpulency it becomes too full, whilst in others it seems to wither away altogether; in those spare people, also, the figure becomes flat and unsightly, whilst in the fat the abdomen becomes pendulous, and if there be no organic disease, there is what is called a falling abroad of the figure, which gives an appearance of premature old age. Women have always more fat in the cellular tissues than men, and it is this that gives that softness and those undulating lines to the form which ever attract the admiration of mankind. Hence her flesh is naturally yielding, is easily compressed, and when the muscular fibre is weakened by child-bearing, the weight of the bones, or the advance of age, the softer portions of the body become flaccid, and the whole assume another form. In early life, when the circulation is brisk and the nervous system energetic, one can appreciate the exclamation of Gray—
"No stubborn stays her yielding waist embrace."
But when she has passed the meridian of life, or has just arrived at that period, we imagine that no poet would like to have his wife's figure become unsightly. It may be, and indeed is, impossible to bring back again the buoyant elasticity of youth, to pour the life's current through the heart with the same freshness at forty, that it rushed on with at eighteen, when eager, gushing, and hopeful life gave intensity and animation to every fibre of the whole body. There is something gay and beautiful in youth, when the eye is bright with joy, and the brow unwrinkled with care; but there is a deeper charm in middle-life, when the faculties have all been matured and perfected—a difference as real and as appreciable as is seen between the ripe and golden fruit of autumn, and the silver blossom of the early spring. We may even pursue the simile further; for, as the tree has exhausted its internal force to bring forth its leaves, its blossom, and then mature the mellow fruit, and requires the hand of the gardener to prop up the bending branches that are ready to break with their own profusion—even so is it when the summer of life fades into the autumn; the vital stimulus which has hitherto sustained the frame gives indications of exhaustion, the fibres become relaxed, and the muscles flabby; the bones and the ligaments will, in the mean time, from the same cause, have become changed, and the whole body will need the sustaining care which intelligence, aided by art and science, can impart to it, propping up the weakened parts, and enabling them to maintain their normal position.
From what has been already said, the reader may perceive the wonderful influence which cultivation has upon the human body. Properly speaking, there is no difference in the organization of the Englishwoman and the Hottentot; there is the same assemblage of bones, the same combination of muscles, the same organic structure in the one as in the other. The only difference is, that our women are living under more favourable circumstances, and hence the deformity, which is almost universal amongst the Africans, is rare with us. The tendency, however, may be discovered everywhere, and should always be anticipated in providing for the elegance and comfort of middle life.
But here we imagine an intelligent friend inquiring how this is to be attained; for many call upon us in a state of utter incredulity, and tell us that they have merely looked in to satisfy the desire of some friend. When this happens, we are generally told that they have tried every party without success, adding, perhaps, that they have a stock of corsets collected from the first houses in France, Germany, Italy, and England, and that the whole were perfectly useless; and this is no doubt correct. The material of which they are composed maybe of the very best manufacture, and the stitching be faultless; but, for want of proper knowledge of the structure and requirements of the body, all the efforts have been in vain.
The principles on which our corsets for middle age are constructed are precisely the same as those which have been laid down in a previous chapter. Due attention is paid to the particular figure presented to us, and the state and requirement of every organ having been perceived, our adaptations are made to the physiological and pathological conditions of that particular individual. Without this, all proper fitting of the corset is ridiculous; for, to pretend to fit a form that has neither been seen nor described, is simply to trifle with the common sense of mankind. The human body is a wonderful congeries of organs, each of which requires due care in its development and preservation, in order that the whole may work harmoniously together. And the corset-maker who cannot perceive the requirements of those organs in their growth, maturity, and decline, has not yet learnt the first lesson upon which all success in her art must be based. At the particular period treated of in this chapter, the common sense of everyone will suggest that it is the weak and yielding parts that require support, and that this must be done in such a manner as to give elasticity to the envelope, and ease to the wearer; and when this is perceived, it only requires sufficient mechanical genius to ensure an adaptation which shall preserve the figure and be conducive to the general health. Half an hour spent in our anatomical gallery will convince any lady or medical man, not only that all this can be, but that it is done by us every day, and that numbers treading the down-hill of life are grateful to us for the ease and comfort which we have been enabled to give them.
If we have been earnest in our condemnation of dressing in an unnatural manner in the earlier periods of life, we would, if possible, lay a stronger emphasis upon our warning in middle age. At this time nature will have lost much of the vigour with which she repaired and renovated the system. The waist can no longer bear the cutting with strings and violent compression to which it is too often subject in the heyday of fashion. It is natural that ladies should desire to retain as long as possible the charm of beauty and the appearance of youth; but it should always be kept in mind that, to do this, Nature must be obeyed. Art may, and often does aid her, but nothing can ever compensate for the native vigour of the system when unimpaired by disease, and free from the oppression of fashion and habit.
At this period, no lady who values her health, comfort, and appearance, will be without an abdominal supporter.
It is well known to physiologists that the loss which females sustain at what is called the turn of life, is amply compensated for in another direction. The reason why the constitution assumes a new character is because there is an increase of blood thrown into the system; and if the organic laws have not been violated, there is an absolute gain of physical power when the transient disturbances to which she has hitherto been subject have ceased; it is at this time also that the mental powers acquire their most substantial solidity. During the early part of life there was little or no difference in the strength of constitution afforded to the two sexes; but if the health of the female has been properly cared for, after the age of forty-five years she has a decided advantage over the man. It is really surprising what toil some women will endure, and how superior they often are to their married partners in middle age. Food, dress, tastes, and habits, have all no doubt an influence upon the general health; but it is a fact that must be clear to everyone who has studied human nature, that he who was the protector in early life, is the object of solicitude at a later period, and is often grateful for an able nurse in an affectionate wife. It is not necessary that we should descend to particulars in this matter; what we wish to impress upon the reader is, that in the decline of life, when age lays its hand upon the constitution, nature deals less gently with the male than the female.
We have already spoken of the aid which can be given to the corpulent lady in the decline of life. Let not those, however, who suffer from the opposite evil suppose that there is no aid for them. The stooping of the body, or the straight, inelegant appearance which characterizes the lady who is what is generally termed "thin," may be as easily corrected. We forbear saying much upon this subject; but those who know precisely how the bones should be clothed can easily supply the appearance of what nature has denied, and if they cannot give the freshness of youth, they can at least impart the external proportions of mature life; but this is a matter to be accomplished, not written about.
We are often asked why it is that ladies are not so strong and healthy now as they were in former times. Our reply is, our grandmothers did not cut the waist with an unyielding ligature, and by dividing the abdomen induce those diseases which always accompany premature old age. Let those who value life and dread a premature death be careful how they dress.