Defects of Beauty (Snippets 27)


Sophie, from Howl’s Moving Castle, Studio Ghibli

In 1836, a Scottish physiologist named Alexander Walker published a book called Beauty, subtitled illustrated chiefly by an analysis and classification of beauty in women.  The book examines every aspect of the female form and characteristics, in minute detail, giving Walker’s opinion on exactly what constitues a beautiful women.  And he had a lot of requirements for his perfect woman – so many requirements, in fact, that there surely cannot have ever existed a women who would fulfil them all.

The chapter ‘Defects of Beauty’ is a handy reference for the 19th Century gentlemen of what to avoid in a woman, subdivided into ‘Defects of the Locomotive System’, ‘Defects of the Vital System’ and ‘Defects of the Mental System’.  I have selected some of the most interesting (outrageous) defects.

Warning: the following will likely make you very angry indeed, with a man who has been dead for over 160 years.  It is too late to write a letter of complaint to his publisher.

Defects of the Locomotive System

1. If the whole figure be either too broad or too tall; because, the first is inelegant, and the last unfeminine.

2. If the bones, except those of the pelvis, be not proportionally small.

3. If the ligaments, and the articulations they form, be not proportionally small.

Either of the last two defects will produce what is termed clumsiness.

4. If the muscles, generally more slender, feeble, soft and yielding than in man, be not large around the pelvis, and delicate elsewhere.

5. If, in a mature female, the length of the neck, compared with the trunk, be not proportionally somewhat less than in the male.

6. If the upper part of the body (exclusive of the bosom) be proportionally more, and the lower part of the body less prominent, than in man.

7. If the shoulders seem wider than the haunches.

8. If, on the contrary, the shoulders be much narrower than the pelvis.

9. If the shoulders do not slope from the lower part of the neck.

13. If the back be not hollow.

14. If the haunches be not widely expanded.

16. If the thighs of woman be not wider than those of man.

18. If the arms and the limbs be not relatively short, if they do not taper greatly as they recede from the trunk, and if the hands and feet be not small.

Defects of the Vital System

2. If the digestive organs being large rather than active.

4. If the circulating vessels, being inactive and imperfectly ramified, leave the skin cold, opaque, and destitute of complexion.

6. If the neck form not an insensible transition between the body and head, being sufficiently full to conceal the muscles of the neck and the flute part of the throat.

12. If the abdomen, which, as well as being elevated, should be narrow at its upper part, become as broad there as below, and lose that gentle lateral depression by which it is distinguished from the more muscular parts on the sides of the pelvis.

13. If a remarkable fulness exist not behind the upper part of the haunches, and on each side of the lower part of the spine, commencing as high as the waist, and terminating in the still greater swell of the distinctly separated hips.

15. If plumpness be too predominant; because, it then destroys the distinctness of parts, and constitutes an excess productive of inconvenience.

19. If the skin be not fine, soft, and white, delicate, thin, and transparent, fresh and animated, if the complexion be not pure and vivid, if the hair be not fine, soft, and luxuriant, and if the nails be not smooth, transparent, and rose-colored.

Defects of the Mental System

1. If the head, compared with the trunk, be not less than that of the male ; because, the mental system, in the female, ought to be subordinate to the vital, and the reverse is inconsistent with the
healthful and happy exercise of her faculties as woman.

5. If the cerebel be not narrow and pointed posteriorly, that is, long rather than broad (its general form in woman).

6. If the forehead be not large in proportion to the backhead, but on the contrary low, or very narrow.

8. If the mouth be not small, or extend much beyond the nostrils, and if the lips be not delicately outlined and of vermillion hue.

10. If the eyes be not relatively large and perfectly clear in every part.

11. If the eyelids, instead of an oblong, form nearly a circular aperture, resembling somewhat the eye of monkeys, cats, or birds.

12. If the eyelashes be not long and silky, and if the eyebrows be not furnished with fine hairs, and be not arched and distinctly separated.

13. If the ears be prominent, so as to alter the regularity of the oval of the head, or surcharge its outline with prominences.

The less said about all that the better, except to point out that manga artists would probably disagree with Defect 11 of the Mental System!


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6 Responses to Defects of Beauty (Snippets 27)

  1. Roger Pocock says:

    Reblogged this on Windows into History (Reblogs and News) and commented:

    News: the latest historical ‘snippit’ is now online at Windows into History and it’s quite an amusing one! Please visit the contents page for earlier ‘snippet’ articles:


  2. debiriley says:

    well, that snippet was amusing! poor man 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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