The Hourglass Physiques Of The 1917 Forverts

Dove UK is catching some online criticism for a curious promotional stunt: It’s promoting a “limited edition” series of body wash bottles, in six different shapes, meant to represent the various forms of women’s bodies. Which is nice and all but… why? At The Pool, Amy Jones explains that these bottles are not filling an unmet niche in the market:

I don’t think anyone in the history of the world has thought, “You know what would make me feel a lot more empowered? If I could pretend I was squeezing my soap out of a tiny-scale model of my own body”

Correct. And as Ian Bogost points out in The Atlantic, the bottles would if anything prompt the woman purchasing them to remember whichever body image concerns, at a time (buying soap) when one normally is thinking of other things (namely, buying soap). And yet, it’s an outrage story. It’s coverage. I have, in writing this, unavoidably reminded you of the existence of the brand in question.

The controversy might make you nostalgic for a time uncorrupted by advertising, and by unrealistic expectations of women’s physiques. Surely 100 years ago, our foremothers had no such concerns!

Not quite.

A Forverts ad from 1917, showcasing “Wonderlift” corsets, offered women a century ago the option of looking hourglass, hourglass, or hourglass. (Or as it’s known today, like the body-wash-shaped Dove body wash container.) The main part of the ad depicts three women, of subtly different builds, cinched to approximations of the same. They’re just sort of standing there, together, as corseted women are wont to do (?), the tall one in the middle smiling gently. “Uplifting support seated or standing” promises an inset image zooming in on the… corset-covering areas of a seated woman wearing a corset.

Have things for women improved, body-image-wise, in this, the (mostly) post-corset age? When en route to the Forward offices today, I pass a gym promising a workout that “lifts your seat.” I don’t not own Spanx.

What comes through, then, is an advertising universal: reminding women of our bodies, and any anxieties we may have about them, sells.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy edits the Sisterhood, and can be reached at She is the author of “The Perils Of ‘Privilege’”, from St. Martin’s Press. Follow her on Twitter, @tweetertation

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The Hourglass Physiques Of The 1917 Forverts

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