When I saw the photo below, of a young woman circa 1870 looking at herself in the mirror, it made me think of a passage in Joan Jacob Brumberg's book The Body Project: An Intimate History Of American Girls. Brumberg read girls' diaries from the nineteenth century and discovered that young women's concerns used to be very different from what they are today. She observed:
"Nineteenth-century girls often noted in their diaries when they acquired an exciting personal embellishment, such as a hair ribbon or new dress, but these were not linked to self-worth or personhood in quite the way they are today... character was considered more important than beauty... And character was built on attention to self-control, service to others, and belief in God -- not on attention to one's own, highly individualistic body project."
I'm not saying that the woman pictured below had no concerns about her body or appearance. I'm certainly not saying she was better off than modern women -- to review quickly: she couldn't vote, have a bank account, own property or control how many children she had, and she probably wasn't an equal partner in her relationship and never earned any income of her own.
But, based on Brumberg's analysis, I started imagining the inner workings of this young woman's mind and realized there is a huge chunk of many contemporary women's inner dialogue that probably wasn't part of hers. Just my guess, but here are 14 things I think this woman probably isn't thinking as she looks into the mirror in or around 1870:
- She isn't thinking that she needs to lose weight.
- She isn't thinking she needs to lose it from her thighs, specifically.
- She isn't thinking that she's going to "pay" for the bread she ate with lunch.
- She isn't thinking, I don't deserve to eat.
- She isn't thinking about how many pounds to lose on her next juice cleanse.
- She isn't thinking that men would want her more if she were thinner.
- She isn't thinking about labiaplasty.
- She isn't thinking about what age she should start getting botox.
- She isn't thinking that she should run 10 miles a day. She isn't thinking that if she ran 10 miles a day, things would be better.
- She isn't thinking, How can anyone stand to look at me?
- She isn't thinking, I am disgusting, inferior, worthless.
- She isn't thinking that she will look ugly during pregnancy because you gain weight when you're pregnant.
- She isn't thinking about what people say about pregnant women when they gain weight.
- She isn't thinking, If I have a daughter, how will I keep her from thinking the way I think?