We generally hate any attempt to describe what the "perfect" woman looks like, weighs or does. But reading the articles written about Elsie Scheel, the 24-year-old Cornell student who was declared the ideal woman in December 1912, drove home just how much our idea of "perfection" has changed since the early 20th century.
Elsie Scheel was interested in automobiles and horticulture, loved to eat beefsteaks, never drank tea or coffee, was an "ardent suffragist" and according to the New York Times, she didn't "know what fear [was]." The Times also called Scheel "the most nearly perfect physical specimen of womanhood."
Cornell University's medical examiner, Dr. Esther Parker, selected Scheel from a pool of 400 Cornell women. The New York Times described her as "a light-haired, blue-eyed girl whose very presence bespeaks perfect health," and The Star, a Wilmington, Del. paper, reported that Scheel was 171 pounds, 5 ft. 7 in. tall and had similar proportions to the famous Greek statue, Venus de Milo.
All of which proves that American culture in 1912 upheld a very different ideal of female physical perfection than the one we see promoted today in the majority of women's magazines, on TV and in movies. In January 2010, blogger Kate Harding calculated what Scheel's BMI would have been. She wrote:
Miss Elsie Scheel’s BMI would have been 26.8, placing her squarely in today’s dreaded “overweight” category. At Banana Republic, to pick a random contemporary store, she would wear a size 8 top, a 12/14 bottom, and probably a 12 dress with the bust taken in.
See there, what constitutes the "perfect specimen of womanhood" is totally subjective and cultural. Glad we got that sorted out. In the meantime, we'd totally hang out with Elsie Scheel, perfect or not.
LOOK: Scheel's measurements as printed in The Star in February 1913.