The Dress of Women: A Critical Introduction to the Symbolism and Sociology of Clothing

By Charlotte Perkins Gilman | Go to book overview

Chapter Four
Physical Health and Beauty

IN THE efforts made in the last half century or so to [reform] the clothes of women; an effort made, as we have before stated, mainly with a view to health improvement, and secondarily for greater beauty; some natural confusion has resulted from our lack of clear understanding as to the full meaning of either.

Health, to most people, consists in the absence of disease, just as virtue is held to consist in the same negative quality—absence of sin.

The virtue of high well-doing, which often co-exists with many minor errors, we do not so popularly demand, nor the health which means the highest functioning of all our parts and processes, fullpowered. As to beauty, that universal blessing, the desire of every heart, no subject of common discussion is so little understood. Yet in so concrete an instance as the human body and its clothing, we ought not to be so uncertain.

The measure of good health in a milch cow is not merely in a sleek hide and a lustrous eye, but in the amount and quality of her milk. In a horse we estimate his health not by being able to stand up in his stall and eat heartily without indigestion, but by ability to go fast and pull strongly.

A woman may be [well] in the sense of not being sick, yet remain throughout life at a grade of health far lower than was easily possible,

-37-

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