Side Talks with Girls/Chapter 19

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THE PHYSICAL LIFE OF A GIRL

BEAUTY of body and face, which is much to be desired, constitutes a letter of introduction to the people one meets, but does nothing beyond that. A woman who seems to be beautiful may become absolutely ugly by showing herself to be ill-tempered, vain, or malicious. Wrinkles upon the face are very often the result of bad passions. The mouth, my dear girl, draws down at the corners from malice; the eyes grow small by the lids coming together when one is possessed of a cunning curiosity; the chin doubles itself from gluttony, and the cheeks incline to fold over when one allows one's self to grow cross and to speak with shrill, high notes. The strain that results from speaking loudly causes the muscles of the throat to over-develop, and makes it look stringy and unfeminine.

So, first of all, she who would be charming must remember that the woman who allows her temper to control her will not retain one single physical charm. It is said that gluttony and anger will deform a face. The greatest charm—that something which we feel and yet cannot explain, is what is best described as beauty of expression. It delights the eye, but it cannot exist where there are low, sordid feelings, and when encouragement is not given to everything that is high and noble, pure and womanly. After one has cultivated these virtues and made them one's own, then it is necessary to study the physical side of life. Fortunately you are starting out in life with no inherited disease, and with everything in your favor, therefore what remains for you to do is to learn the laws of life, and to live up to them. The treatment you give your body shows, and so you must take special care of the casket holding that jewel, your soul.

ABOUT YOUR BATH

Your skin and your eyes, my dear girl, constitute the thermometer that tells whether you are well, physically, or not. If your skin has little spots upon it, is dull to look at and feels dry, and your eyes have a glazed appearance, with yellowish whites, then be sure it is time to think whether you are living rightly from the physical stand-point. Now, what does your morning bath amount to? Do you dab over your face, whirl the cloth around your neck, carefully bathe your hands, and then go out of the bathroom fully satisfied that you are quite clean? There are thousands of girls who consider this all that is necessary, and yet, as the old darky mammy would say, "That's nothing more than a lick and a promise." There are few American houses in which there is not a bathroom, and if one is so unfortunate as to live in a boarding-house where one has not a private bath there will be wisdom in paying a little extra for the privilege of having the bathroom to one's self at a certain hour, and saving this on car fares. My dear girl, I know exactly what this is, and it is not a woman who has never lived in a boarding-house who is talking to you. Therefore, I say take five minutes to yourself and scrub that tub out well with soap and water before you get into it. I do not recommend for any girl in this country a perfectly cold bath. American women are inclined to be nervous and are not over-strong, consequently the wisest thing to do is to plunge into water that is tepid, and which, when one gives one's self a thorough rubbing, will not cause the much-to-be-dreaded cold. This morning bath is taken for cleanliness, and it is the only way, unless, indeed, one stands up and is carefully sponged, by which one can be sure of perfect physical sweetness. Use soap? Plenty of it. But this soap need not be of an expensive kind, and the wise girl is that one who chooses the simplest quality and that which is not scented. A hot bath, which is desirable at least twice a week, should be taken at night, and the tired girl will be surprised to find not only how restful it is, but how perfectly delicious her own body feels when she lies down and the eyelids gradually fall over the eyes weary of looking all the day long. The cheap napery that is sold makes a good wash-cloth, for you must remember that, while the sponge is desirable in the bath, something more than a sponge is required to make one absolutely clean. By the bye, a light quality of flannel, one combining cotton with wool, is also recommended for a wash-cloth. It is only after one has grown accustomed to the morning bath that one realizes all that it means; how, in the best way, it wakens one up mentally and physically, and starts one out ready to begin the work of another day.

AFTER THE BATH

After you have bathed and dressed yourself, putting on underwear sufficiently warm, but not heavy, arranging your stays so that they are well fitting, but not tight, and having a gown out of which all the dust has been shaken, so that none of it will seek a refuge in your skin, you go to your breakfast. And what do you eat? First of all, meal, because you have heard it is healthy. Now, oatmeal is good for a big, strong man who is out in the open air a great deal; for a woman who is not, it, first of all, has a tendency to cause a greasy skin, and in time to upset the digestion. In addition, nine times out of ten oatmeal is not well cooked—it is served in lumps, whereas, when properly boiled, it should be like good rice, each grain being absolutely separate from the other. Then, do you eat the oatmeal properly? More than any other food it requires to be well chewed, or else it will solidify and form an indigestible and heavy lump in the stomach. Physicians say that oatmeal that is swallowed whole is more to be dreaded than meat taken in pieces at a gulp. If you are really found of a cereal, then choose cracked wheat, which is not as heating as oatmeal, is more easily digested, and is more generally well cooked. That the brawny Scotchman is a wonder of health upon an oatmeal diet is not denied, but he, unlike you, is taking much exercise, and spends nearly all his time in a wonderful, bracing air. After this you elect to have some beefsteak. In the first place that should have been broiled, and the only gravy about it should have been that which comes from the meat itself. And then you ask for a well-done piece. Oh, dear! There you have made three mistakes. Beef is not fit to eat when it is cooked until the juice is gone out of it and it is dry—in the way of giving you strength you might as well choose sole-leather for your breakfast dish. It is always possible to ask, if you wish to eat meat in the morning, for an underdone bit and one which has no gravy upon it; but to keep you in good condition I would advise your having as much toast as you care to eat, and instead of meat one or two soft-boiled eggs. You will not find these heavy, and they are nourishing, while at the same time they are helps to one's digestion. It may be taken as a good rule that to keep the complexion in order, while one may eat good things and encourage the appetite, all grease should be avoided, as well as overdone meats and any great quantity of sweets or sauces. If one is inclined to be stout, potatoes and all starchy foods are omitted from the bill of fare, but for the slender woman all foods of this kind are desirable. Your dinner will neither build you up nor make you comfortable unless you eat it properly, and when I say properly, my dear girl, I mean the exact opposite of the way you usually eat yours. You must cultivate eating slowly; then your food will be well chewed, will be easy to digest, and during the time that you have been eating your body will have been resting.

ABOUT YOUR WALKS

Many of the books that I have read giving suggestions about walking, do not hesitate to talk about five miles a day as being proper exercise. Now, there are a great many of us who couldn't walk five miles one day without being laid up for the next. Personally, while I regard walking as good exercise, I think it is more apt to do one good when it is taken either with an object at the end of the walk or in pleasant companionship. Over-quick walking is not good for anybody, and the time to stop walking has been reached before one gets tired. Tennis, golf, and croquet are all healthy out-of-door games, and I advise my girls to indulge in them as far as possible, always with a proviso that their love for the game does not make them stay at the sport too long, nor in their excitement must they allow themselves to be too energetic. As I have never ridden a bicycle I can say very little about it, only I cannot believe that it is wise for one to overdo any good thing, no matter how charming it may seem at first. I wish that all my girls would learn to walk well; good walking means neither to stride nor to hop, but to place the front part of the foot deliberately on the ground, allowing the heel to follow, and then to take a step in proportion to the length of one's legs. Dancing, when one does not do too much of it, and when it is limited to a well-aired parlor in one's home, is a gentle, desirable exercise. Much good may come from the exercises in a gymnasium, but so many young girls overdo athletics nowadays that I almost fear advising them.

THE VALUE OF RUBBING

The old-time remedy, a thorough rubbing, is now a fashionable one under many names, massage being the usual one. A good rubbing is the best remedy for the tired body; but that rubbing must be given evenly and quietly, and the patient must not be allowed to talk. To the worn-out girl who cannot sleep a few pennies are well spent when this mode of gaining rest is chosen in preference to opiates. The arms, the back, under the knees, and the forehead should all have even rubbing, made smoother by the hands of the rubber having a little cocoa butter or vaseline upon them. If one is fortunate enough to be with one's own people, then a sister, or, better still, the mother, will be the masseuse. In addition to giving one a good rest a rubbing tends to develop the body and to make it more supple. The rubber is advised to cultivate a very even, impressive movement, but while it suggests strength it must not be rough, else sleep or rest will never come, and excitement be the only result.

When the head and eyes are tired a systematic smoothing of the hair, which, of course, must be loosened and have all its pins taken out, is a great relief. The eyes may be rested by being dabbled with hot water—remember, gently dabbled with an old handkerchief, not with cold water, and not rubbed. Rubbing will irritate them, when the soft pressure of a good dabbling will relieve them very much. As soon as there is the slightest evidence of a weakening on the part of the eyes go to a good oculist. Economize as you will, but if you can, keep your eyesight.

ABOUT YOUR MEDICINES

If one is ill it is proper to go to a doctor. And the doctor should be sought at the very beginning of the illness, so that a cure may come sooner. However, there are various little medicines that one may keep among one's belongings for the little troubles that are certain to come, and which are easily cured. For the girl who suffers from indigestion there is to be taken from April until September, whenever it may be needed, for it is not recommended for cold weather, the creamy mixture of sulphur and molasses. This will clear the eyes, make the skin white and firm, and, unless the trouble should be of long standing, put the stomach in good condition. A good prescription for slight indigestion is the drinking, just before breakfast, of a glass of tepid water, in which a teaspoonful of ordinary table-salt has been dissolved. Then, of course, among your medicines will be—and, by–the-by, it is rather odd to count it a medicine—a rubber bag which will hold plenty of hot water, and which is used to warm your feet, or to draw away the pain from any part of your body which can be soothed by this heat. If you have a slight inclination to rheumatism, keep two small flannel bags filled with coarse salt, and when the pain first comes heat these by putting them in the oven, and then lay them where the pain is worst. As they give a very dry heat they are to be preferred to that which comes from the hot-water bag for either rheumatism or neuralgia. In a small bottle is myrrh, for you will use a few drops of this in the water with which you rinse your mouth, making it taste well and smell sweet. I do not believe in dosing one's self, but there are some simple teas that are good to take, and which every girl should know about, so that she may be permitted to doctor herself for ordinary ailments. Very often the best medicine is a day of rest. I do not mean an idle day; I mean one when one deliberately goes to bed, if possible sleeping most of the time, but at least not talking, and certainly, as far as possible, not thinking about one's worries.

THE MIND AND THE BODY

I want my girls to understand thoroughly the close relation that exists between the mind and the body. With the body uncared for it does not seem as if the mind could be in good order. And surely, when one has bad thoughts and bad manners the body will cease to be beautiful. The best motto for you to take in regard to your body is "Be clean."

Many of us are unhappily handicapped from birth by ill-health. Then all that we can do is to try and keep as well as possible, and to determine that the weakness of the body shall not be reflected upon the mind. When "one's back is bad and one's legs are queer," then to make an effort to forget this and to fill the mind so full of cheerfulness that the looker-on will believe one beautiful is the greatest heroism. My dear girl, take care of yourself; try and keep well and cheerful. Few people die from overwork. Many lose their good looks from idleness and sulkiness. It is said that it is better to wear out than to rust out. Now, you and I are not anxious to do either in a hurry, but we will join hands and resolve that, being happy, healthy, and wise, we will make ourselves, physically and mentally, a joy to all those who love us, or whom we love.