Popular Science Monthly/Volume 65/September 1904/Conservation of Human Energy, Preservation of Beauty
|CONSERVATION OF HUMAN ENERGY, PRESERVATION OF BEAUTY.|
THE paramount importance of retaining human beauty is a fact requiring so little demonstration as to simulate a fundamental truth. All historical records bear witness to this verity. Popular interest seems extraordinarily awakened in this direction of late years, and in particular the daily press teems with observations on the subject. Much of it, however, is misleading and liable to bring a really vital subject into contempt. This paper is the expression of a desire on the part of the writer to place the matter on the plane which it deserves. Whatever merit the following observations contain, at least they seem to the writer worth offering, being the result of practical labors in the right direction, and from which satisfactory results are known to have come to a few faithful followers. It will be admitted, too, that the theme eminently merits the attention of all; for if so much of beauty as has been vouchsafed to each can be retained beyond the period when that elusive quality ordinarily subsides, it is a quest justifying some effort.
It is not to be expected that delicacy of coloring in skin or hair, the special prerogative of youth, shall be preserved beyond early middle life. Arduous attempts to modify the inevitable changes which normally appear in these tissues, are of doubtful efficiency, even questionable propriety. It is true that through the exercise of care and temperance much may be done to postpone serious marring of the skin texture and quality, but coloring must change. Nor is it advisable to resent this. Beauty of youth is sui generis; so is that of maturity; and it is the part of wisdom for each one to adopt measures which shall bring about a fitness in appearance consistent with the actual age reached. It is, however, entirely possible to postpone indefinitely those changes in bulk and contour, in form, in poise, in gait and carriage, which arise chiefly from neglect of suitable precautions; for these defects need not obtrude till toward the end of a long and busy life. History, both ancient and modern, is replete with examples of persons who, appreciating these facts, have enjoyed well-deserved reputations for great charm of appearance, especially grace and symmetry, well beyond the fifth and sixth decades. We have in our time conspicuous instances of men, and women also, who are of the age of grandparents, and yet are altogether attractive and beautiful.
The time was, and recent too, when most men on reaching the age of thirty-five or forty adopted a quiet costume and demeanor of stability and left off regarding themselves as sharing in any part of their resigned youth. The same voluntary transition was even more noticeable among women, especially the married ones. When the duties of life lay most largely about the domestic hearth the duties and privileges of parenthood were accepted and enjoyed with no, or little, thought of acquiring the pose of perpetual adolescence. A change has been wrought, for good or otherwise, and it becomes a matter of common remark that we have no middle-aged folk any more. People are either young or they are old. As for inevitable conditions, little need be said; they must be accepted and made the most of. It has been decided, however, that now-a-days we shall stay young as long is possible, hence it behooves those of us who are the conservators of health to teach our clients the best measures by which youthfulness may be conserved and cellular structures held in equipoise.
There is much to be said in favor of such a decision. Assuredly, a man is to be commended for* desiring to see the wife of his bosom long retain those qualities which first swayed his judgment and determined his choice. The Almighty put into the heart of his people certain instinctive impulses, the following of which brings about mating. Beauty of face and form, varying as it inevitably must, in accordance with racial or local standards, is the deciding factor in espousals. No doubt we can be made to believe that soul appeals to soul in these momentous yet sudden decisions, which we all made, and our children will make yet after us. But comeliness is and should be the final arbitrament. Happily there are many types and adequate varieties.
" There is a beauty of the flesh, and there is likewise a glory of the spirit which illumines the flesh. In the most pleasing of human countenances these good gifts are blended in just, though varying, degrees." It is possible for one or the other extreme to prevail and each be satisfactory to the beholder. This again depends upon the caliber of the spectator; his or her mood and training. If the spirit works so powerfully here as some would have us believe, it follows that the wisest men and women should make their choice less by reason of propinquity than is demonstrated by history and experience. The instinctive impulses are primarily wholesome, and make for good, but, unless modified by judgment, tend inevitably toward selfish indulgences which mar the most beautiful human complex.
It would seem pertinent, however, to make some effort at understanding what the elements of that beauty are, which is so well worth the preserving. While this concept might be attained, it is by no means certain that it could be reduced to words, or formulated with exactness. Standards of beauty exist consonant with views not fixed and immutable, varying with many factors, racial, national or local, and fluctuating with fashion and accident or precedent. There is great dearth of agreement among the arbiters, and those who have been most industrious in promulgating their views differ so widely that we are, in the main, reduced to accept individual opinions, and our own always seems the most rational or acceptable. However, allowing for the great diversity which exists between the standards prevailing in Darkest Africa, the Valley of the Amazon, the South Sea Islands and New York or Paris, certain rules hold good, with rare exceptions.
As to the features of the face we need offer few comments; this would become too wide a discussion. The largest measure of beauty capable of preservation lies in the contours and poses of the body. It will be useful to indicate briefly what standards should be held in mind toward which to strive. Ease of movement and gracefulness of carriage are at the basis of what is called style. The other elements are dignity and restraint, betraying reserve power; always normality and accuracy of coordination and suitability of action consistent with the demands of environment and circumstances. The term 'well set up' is often used and may be taken to evidence such balance in the tension of the opposing symmetrical muscles as shall preserve a nicety of equipoise with economy in motor energizing, so that each movement follows with accurate and unconscious, though restrained, force. Full relaxation is the starting point of all effort; the conservator of action.
One so endowed will be found, as a rule, to exhibit a straight back, the spinal column practically vertical, viewed from the rear, and when looked at from the side, the normal curves at neck and waist line will be distinctly less marked than common. The pelvis will be nearly on a level and not markedly tilted forward and down in front, so obvious in fat people or those of lax fiber. The shoulders are held well down and directly in the mid-line (viewed from the side), but with the ribs more nearly at right angles to the spinal column than is seen in those who exhibit exaggerated nuchal and lumbar curves. The head is well balanced upon a round straight neck, which is slightly inclined forward, and there will be almost no curve in the upper thoracic vertebras. A vertical line would fall from the back of the head to the middle of the shoulders. These features originally possessed or acquired, as they can be, make possible a slimness of waist fully compatible with health. If this attitude is maintained the depth of the chest consists of an elevated position of the ribs, giving them their largest diameters, anteroposteriorly and laterally.
The level pelvis and relatively straight lumbar spine compel a wholesome action of the abdominal parietes, by which full support of the loosely attached abdominal organs is maintained and the waist kept small, preventing unsightly thickening of the tissues in this region.
A small waist is only beautiful if the lateral line drops into the hip gradually and passes out over the hip bone in a steady but not sudden curve. If the curve dips in abruptly and springs over the hip bone at an acute angle, giving a waspish appearance to the waist, it argues for flabby tissues about the abdomen, sides and back. Such slimness evinces a lack of early development, weak digestive and other vital organs, and tendency to speedy shapelessness. It is a difficult matter to regain vigor in such tissues. The upper chest should be full and fairly broad, and if the collar bones show, as is often seen in both plump and thin people, some fault exists in the tension of the muscles and tissues of the thorax, shoulders and back and the lungs have not attained full apical expansion. This being overcome, the clavicles should not appear at all, because the ribs will then be held normally and nearly at a right angle to the spinal column. There should be ample space in the lower rib areas, indicating lung room and vigor of diaphragm. The arms should hang easily, without tension, and fall a little in advance of the middle of the hip bone. Any stiffness in the arms or shoulders or elbows makes for awkwardness. In walking, the pelvis should be kept practically level, the tissues between the shoulder blades and along the backbone should hold the chest erect and keep the breastbone well up in front. Then the thighs will be able to move easily with no undue weight falling on the heel. If a person strikes the heel heavily on the ground in walking, these precautionary points are neglected and grace can not follow. The normal sway of the arms in walking is slightly toward the mid line in front; any tendency for them to fall toward the back, or worse than all, behind the back, is a hideous fault, and unless the back is grossly curved, causes the body to pitch forward clumsily on the heels. A good rule is to keep the base of the neck well back against the collar and the lobes of the ears as far as possible above the tips of the shoulders.
It is obvious that to retain beauty one of the first considerations must be to habitually exercise economy of all the natural forces; avoiding so much of those wastefulnesses of wear and tear as is possible in the ordinary exigencies of daily life. It may be answered to this truism that it is scarcely feasible, or indeed desirable, to order one's life on such a plane of artificiality or selfishness, as shall make for the shirking of communal labors and responsibilities. This need not be claimed-as the result of the practise of these normal economics. It should be the duty of all teachers, parental or professional, to inculcate in the young a philosophic attitude toward annoyances, disappointments, even calamities, for of these every mother's child of us must meet his full share. Indeed, to escape all such vexations would by no means tend to elevate the soul or ennoble the mind, but rather evolve an insipid character, bereft of the essential attributes which make for that perfect quality of spirit, the possession of which can alone impart a desirable beauty to the countenance. "Fortitude, steadfastness and the makings of character come not of rainbow dawns and quiet evenings and the facile attainments of small desires;" and the defences against ugliness which wealth and position are supposed to afford (by those who have them not) are at best disappointing. A little with contentment is admittedly the ground of great gain. Again, labors and the meeting of difficulties hurt neither body nor spirit unless they so affect both that the habit of worry inculcates a mental bias toward peevishness or despair. Nothing mars the human image of God so swiftly and inevitably as fretfulness and complainings. So true is this, as an item of common knowledge, that the countenances of chronic invalids and real sufferers are known often to be, and remain through long painful years, beautiful and satisfying. Again it frequently happens that persons thus successful in enjoying for themselves, and presenting to their friends, a fund of pleasure and satisfaction, did not originally possess the key to this boon, but acquired their charm by wisely schooling their minds until the blessing came. Much more could be said to demonstrate that features, mental or physical, which one may greatly desire can often be gained in spite of original shortcomings and the buffets of fate. So much then for the higher possibilities which lie open to those who earnestly desire to do, or be, or get something better than their circumstances seem to warrant.
In securing economy of the vital forces, admittedly so desirable, the chief factor is to conserve the ebb and flow of innervation. Tins is the key to the situation. The cellular waste may be estimated as direct and indirect. The direct waste is simpler and less hurtful, as the needless energy expended by the muscles of an arm exerted to raise a weight in such a fashion that twice the power is put forth required to perform a task. Indirect extravagance of energy is a far too common habit (for habit it becomes whatever the original impulse) by which tension is maintained in more muscles than are concerned in the performance of an act, whereby a prodigality of nervous force is expended. Again between the performance of all muscular acts, there should be periods of complete relaxation of tension, by which alone prompt repair is secured. Back of and controlling all this is the emotional balance whereby the nervous energy is made to act to an undue prolongation, or to a squandering of the cellular consumption. Thus it is that two persons, or the same person on different occasions, set forth to do a bit of work requiring precisely the same effort. One will by economy accomplish the full result and not be fatigued—the other works excessively and is wearied. The first is the better for the doing—the second feels exhausted at the end. The nervous system is in continual education from the cradle to the tomb. It is better to maintain constant and accurate though economic functionation. Overuse, or worse, disuse, results in dimming the lamp of life, and the consequence is a marring of the elements of beauty. Complete relaxation or poise is the starting point of all effort.
The most important ground for possible safeguarding and prolonging of human comeliness is by means of securing and maintaining full elasticity of all the tissues. Old age may be described from the standpoint of physiology, as the period of hardening of the structures; it is one of development, not necessarily of decay. This is both inevitable, a normal change, and also there are many threatening exigencies standing ever ready to carry it over to the realm of disease. The prevention, as well as the cure, lies in the deliberate, accurate employment of normal movements. If the activities have been habitually of an objectionable sort, monotonous in character as from labors limited in scope or from choice, or inadequate in variety and character, the tissues acquire stiffness sooner than they should. If the individual has never acquired full symmetric development of muscles, as is true of the large majority, these changes will appear earlier, and become more conspicuous. Again, full muscular balance and competence is conditional upon a certain degree of intelligent direction and impulse. Sensations exist for the specific purpose of inciting us to action, either immediate or remote. If they fail to initiate the proper actions their failure is absolute. Brain exercise of all kinds is accompanied with motor elements; no force is lost. If the associative fibers in the brain are inadequately developed by use and training there must be a deficiency both in motor and in sensory areas. If the early sensory promptings are insufficient in kind and variety there must result inferior human machines. Action of all kinds, mental and muscular, conditioning both efficiency and grace, can only exist in proportion to the power and variety of the stimuli and responsiveness of the centers. Action is the result of memory images, the outcome of sensory promptings. It is efficient if encouraged and is not if these stimuli are neglected or suppressed.
Old age is too often looked upon by those who have reached it as an evil fate to be resented or bewailed. Without combating this view from the standpoint of philosophy, let us reflect rather upon the many instances of beautiful old age which it has been our privilege to know. Is not this picture of well spent years familiar? "She was a wonderful creature with bloom and color, endowed with an intensity, a mobile charm, which breathed of forces long maturing and almost perfect. She regarded life from a standpoint of abundant humor but never to the detriment of highest ideals."
In man old age is admittedly a crowning of honors won and esteem earned. It remains for him to secure or lose this reward. Fate rules, it may be, but his rulings can be potently modified by him who wills and acts. To woman advancing years come as the sealing of a well, if she has eyes only for the surface of things, and is blind to the warmth and life of the under-currents whose power is oftener overlooked than weakened. It is far more a question of what manner of woman she was, or has become, than of age or appearance as judged by the critical. If she feels tempted to grow slovenly in the niceties of pose and expression or in her dress, let her check this as a sin: for sin it is, and an offence against God and his good gifts. Women of three, or even four, score years have reigned queens in society. Many prefer a smaller kingdom, content with modest spheres of influence; but let them exercise care as to the line and direction of ambitions and be sure of their fitness to fill the niche of their choice. Once chosen it is a simple equation between vigilance and tact, rather than between the inherent worth of their charms and the fusing points of their subjects.
If hints are needed how to attain exalted posts of honor or ornament, here are some modest ones. Interest in the doings of her fellows, exhibited judiciously; a capacity to listen with an air of real interest to the fountains of speech artfully loosed; a clarity of mind on matters of the day, private and public; a gentle dignity coupled with what we may call graciousness; these will carry a woman miles beyond another in the esteem of her fellows who, making light of these gifts, yet possesses much intellect, endless accomplishments and striking physical beauty. If a woman tends to become giddy or frivolous, especially in her later years, so soon as she realizes this ruinous bias let her quell it or seek a cloister without delay. If she acquires, moreover, a manner of condescension or patronage, she may attune her mind to move thereafter much alone.
It may be said by any one who has read so far, that generalities may incite to reflection, but specific directions are required to demonstrate how each one may attain that grace and elasticity which is the very basis of original, and much more so of retained, comeliness. Beauty may be given to a few, and fewer are able to hold it without effort beyond the ordinary period when it tends to fade. It is a plain physiologic fact that comeliness may be enormously enhanced, but it is necessary that intelligent effort be exerted to secure a continuance of this endowment. Again, a person may possess many, or enough, of the elements of beauty and yet so abuse these gifts by omitting to exercise a self-respecting care that their physical attractiveness may never exert the influence which in duty bound it should. The possessor of beauty is, to quote the immortal Bunthorne, 'a trustee' with responsibilities definite and grave. To ignore these, to suffer them to fall into neglect, is a misdemeanor in young or old.
Beauty may be marred by factors both psychic and physical. Physical deteriorations are of wide variety, some preventable and others inevitable. Where disease steps in it should be philosophically endured, but only up to a certain point, because even here apparent destiny need not be accepted as final. Disease is sin, hence preventable in great measure and remediable in a large degree. The greatest peril is from listlessness, self-indulgence or indifference, or, worst of all, from unwise meddlesome advice.
Can beauty then be increased by effort? Yes, and to a conspicuous degree. Can good looks be retained as age advances to, or beyond, middle life? Decidedly much can be done, even for those who in earlier years had little or none, and be made to remain with one till death. This is practicable, too, by the expenditure of only a moderate degree of time and pertinacity. The sine qua non, however, is a sincere and zealous desire for results. No tepid willingness will suffice. The arrogant woman or man who condescendingly submits to such measures as shall be outlined here, but fails to supplement them by earnest cooperation, should use time and strength otherwise. There must be an investment of hours and energy, and above all of intelligence. Along with this must be assumed a submission to some slight bodily discomforts, at least at first; by and by the means employed become a positive and unfailing source of pleasure and comfort and there soon arises an increased and sustained capacity for enjoyment and usefulness.
It is possible only to speak in general terms in so brief an article and to enunciate merely fundamental principles. These can be amplified in proportion to the wisdom and vigilance of each. They are best first taught in outline by experts and later can be systematized and pursued alone. The line of action should involve a clear notion of bodily hygiene, food, rest, sleep, bathings, care of the skin, teeth, hair, outings, clothing, etc. Every one may think he or she knows enough about each and all of these points, but will find that there is yet much to be learned if the subject is approached with an open mind. A great deal that is currently accepted on physical fitness isarchaic, and yet ample knowledge exists for those who search diligently. Recognized authorities are too often palpably ignorant in some important quarter, and all the dicta of teachers should be critically weighed in the light of advancing physiology, and only their tenets accepted if genuinely sound.
The one central thought which I wish to emphasize is the paramount principle that beauty of form depends upon accurate adjustments of the skeletal structures along with the fullest possible elasticity of the tissues. Perfect equipoise assumes elasticity of muscles and complete mobility of ligaments and tendons consonant with their functions along with capacity for fullest relaxation. Further, as age advances and disease or mal-use exerts its deforming effects, undue pressure is placed upon vital structures such as blood vessels and nerves, and innervation and circulation are interfered with, less or more, until as middle life passes and plasticity subsides, various noble tissues are impaired and vital organs suffer functional limitations. For instance, the eye, the ear, the brain thus fail to maintain perfect nutrition, and acuity of vision, hearing and cerebration lessen steadily, unless the tissues of the neck are kept free from rigidities. The fact is obvious enough and capable of easy demonstration, that the more elastic person enjoys fuller organic competence than one whose tissues are dense or rigid.
Density is bad enough, for reasons cited, but it is worse if deformity is added. For thereby is not only the caliber of blood vessels and nerve fibers, tendon sheaths, structures of the thorax, etc., compressed, but the lungs, because of thoracic incompetence, become incapable of exerting their full duty in oxygenation, and the power of the great oxygenating grounds, the muscles, begins to wane. Ugliness inevitably follows, not confined to shapelessness and warping, but color suffers, not only of skin or hair, but congestions or lividities are shown upon eyes, lips and nose. Nothing so centralizes the esthetic effect as the condition of the eyes; if these are clear and bright much else is overlooked.
Again, inadequate oxygenation and lymphatic stasis are correlated. Mere bulkiness is not displeasing to the eye, and many fat people are exceedingly handsome, often graceful, and exhibit most agreeable lines and color. A far more uncomely appearance is produced by the unhealthy thickening of tissues, only too common, occurring about the waist line from lymphatic stasis in those otherwise not overnourished. This water-logged condition often indicates grave departures from health and is capable of much amelioration, oftentimes it can be entirely removed, and always with advantage to health as well as to appearance. Free exercises will not accomplish so much as elasticizing movements judiciously increased, full passive stretchings, readjustments and full accurate breathing. It is true that violent and prolonged gymnastic performances will do a good deal, but these are often not feasible, or are distasteful, and the intelligent employment of personally directed exact movements can always be most safely relied on. The one essential principle is accuracy, with increased forcefulness to the limit of tension, with intervening periods of complete relaxation.
If medical men knew more of the subject of the physiology of bodily esthetics, they would be preeminently the ones to give counsel. Physicians know, however, almost nothing of the science of physical economics and leave this whole most important department of improving physical efficiency to those who teach for hire. They occasionally recommend loosely that those under their care shall take physical culture, but they would be sorely puzzled to differentiate between good and bad instruction. This is almost as true for those who have been, in their day, more or less athletic themselves as for the contentedly sedentary. Hence when the assertion is made that it is among the most exalted duties of the physician to give specific advice in this line, many will brand the statement as absurd. Nevertheless, the physician is the one who by his scientific training should be best able to point out the faults of posture, the defective quality of tissues, why they are not fulfilling their functions properly, and precisely how they can be made to do so. The consequence is, now that physical culture is so popular, all manner of blatant ignorant folk are posing as instructors and specialists in improving the body, and much harm is often thus caused, sometimes unrecognized till long after. Yet so much good is often thus effected that people are disposed to welcome these ignoramuses as prophets of wisdom and abide by their advice rather than seek counsel of legitimate educated conservators of health. Nevertheless, the fad of physical culture is distinctly to be welcomed with all its present limitations and even its perils. It will leave a valuable impress on the period. In due time the medical profession will give it their attention, and competent expert advice can be expected from them.
Let me make a few suggestions, from the standpoint of a medical man long and practically interested in this subject, to those who desire to preserve their looks and by so doing their health; for the terms are in effect interchangeable. As has been said, this essay is directed chiefly to the conservation of elasticity, poise, movements and graceful contours. Much can be accomplished by free movements, plays, games, both indoor and outdoor, but among those who are brilliant exponents of all these pastimes will be found many very awkward in action and faulty in poise, who are sufficiently well formed and of skilful and accurate coordination. Some such persons, even of advanced years, have been trained by the writer to move and appear to vastly greater advantage by pointing out the key-note defect and showing just how this may be overcome. For illustration, take the position of the torso in one who stoops or droops. This may be only a bad habit of holding the head, yet if this alone is corrected without having the attention called to the correct position of the neck on the chest, or the balance of the shoulder blades and the tonicity of the erector spinæ muscles, etc., erectness of the head may appear merely stilted and arrogant, and little is gained.
To tell a person of slouching figure, stiffened by advancing age, warped by ligaments in faulty poise, to stand up straight and throw back the shoulders, etc., will accomplish little or no good. It is necessary to point out specific faults of structure, correct weakened or contractured tissues, to teach just what precise movements can strengthen the one and elasticize the other. Where contractures are noted (and they are always present, less or more) the parts must be sedulously overstretched. This will be somewhat painful, but only at first. For daily or bi-weekly systematic teaching a skilled masseur or physical trainer can and will take more time and give more constant attention than the physician could afford, but it is impossible to expect these trainers to estimate individual needs scientifically or carefully, especially as progress must be made, if at all, in a consistent direction. Movements for acquiring elasticity should by no means be confined to the limbs; the largest gains are to be secured in the deeper structures of the thorax, shoulders, back and loins. Here the expert eye of an anatomist is needed. Even more so in those most important structures of all, the abdominal organs. Large knowledge and experience are required to permit or encourage accurate adjustments of these parts. All movements, active or passive, of an educational character, should be made with the utmost accuracy of direction, or they fail in some measure of utility. Furthermore, a fundamental principle is to make each movement with increasing forcefulness, till at the end of the act the fullest tension is secured. In this way alone can strength, elasticity and full coordinative power be attained.
Time also is a potent factor, along with persistence. There is always more or less rigidity to be overcome in the tissues, often unrecognized minor deformities and limitations which mar both attitude and freedom of action. It has taken the writer years to rid himself of some such rigidities, and most folk are similarly circumstanced. Especially is this true of the thorax, which, even in late middle life or advanced age, is yet capable of large emendation and increased efficiency well worth the effort. Much indeed can be effected here by right breathing accurately taught; full forcible inspiration followed by complete expiratory expulsion, always with careful rhythm and judicious variations in rate.
It must be remembered that voluntary movements of the muscles are always valuable and often necessary to maintain the powers of oxygenation by which cellular interchanges are carried on, so that nutrition may progress, the organs kept to their normal activity and restful sleep obtained. It is possible that the nutritive balance may continue more or less well in some people under certain circumstances and for a long time with very little bodily activity, but the omission is a grave peril.
This capacity for passive circulatory equipoise varies widely, but can not be relied upon to carry any one far unless supplemented by a moderate amount of voluntary action. Some folk claim to obtain enough physical stimulus from mental activity, especially when energetically directed, to suffice for their apparent needs. By intense cerebral energizing undoubtedly metabolism is stimulated, more food demanded and waste disposed of, than when thought is lowered to musings. Some can do with active conversations and laughing. Also music acts wholesomely in the same way. Hence it is compatible with fair health to live a sedentary life, but only if the circumstances of life be, and remain, uniform and wholesome, and the bodily functions so symmetrically carried on that no great strains come and no nutritive nor degenerative disorders arise.
For all, young and old, it is important, in order that full mental and physical health be maintained, that systematized bodily activities shall be practised with some regularity. From this conclusion there is no escape save by self-deception. Assuming then that we have a perfectly normal body upon which to reckon influences for good or evil, we will proceed to analyze the effect of voluntary movement. If a person is entirely oblivious to his own consciousness, that is, entirely free from hyperconsciousness, movements will be made easily and in accordance with instinctive impulses. If the mechanism be perfect or nearly so, the movements made in the ordinary activities of daily life will be entirely natural and consistent with the special structure and abilities of the individual. Provided also that the opportunities for these movements be natural, and sufficiently varied, and if there be adequate stimulus to move, and continue to move, throughout the ordinary exigencies of a working day, and further, if nothing interferes with the normality of these movements, the result should be perfect action and development.
It rarely happens, however, that such a status is maintained. Several influences creep in more or less forcefully to interfere with the symmetry and naturalness of bodily movements. The first factors which should be reckoned with in altering the symmetry of the body are minor inherent defects of development in the skeletal structures by which a tendency is early established for the stronger side to overwork the weaker one. This will be better understood in the brief anatomical description which will be given later. The second thing is dress. In proportion as dress exercises undue pressure on one or another part, it is capable of modifying structure and altering growth. What these influences are we shall mention in detail later. Next such influences as environment, habits, fashion and energy or indolence largely deviate shape and carriage. Lack of variety in movements due to repetition of laborious acts exerts a modifying influence, usually for harm. It is not the effects of fatigue on the entire organism, but rather continued repetitions of movements by which the one part most exercised adjusts itself along the lines of least resistance to do its work most comfortably, which produces a warping of the unused complemental part. And finally the most potent agency of all in producing awkwardness and tension is exaggerated hyperconsciousness.
By far the largest proportion of those peculiarities of gait and carriage which are noticed in almost every one, although they may begin primarily in some structural peculiarity and are modified by dress and occupation, nevertheless are exaggerated enormously by this over-consciousness which affects somewhat every one. It will be plain to those who will reflect for a moment how differently they will walk and act in the privacy of their own rooms or among their families and friends from that which they will present if called upon to exhibit themselves in some public position. Let any one remember the time when first called to walk the floor of a crowded room while for a moment the cynosure of a large number of watchful and presumably critical eyes. Here the hyperconsciousness may become so marked as to produce in some a mental agony, which will be vividly reflected as a rule in suppressed writhings or contortions. This effect upon the body may not be outwardly shown to any marked extent, but an irregularity of tension is produced in the various parts which distinctly mars their natural ease of action or attitude.
Many of the deformities which come upon women are not recognized by them as such, and yet to the critical eye they are departures from the normal lines of development, and the results of habitually faulty attitudes, not present in youth. They need not have been acquired except through the artificial restraints of custom and a desire to conform to conventional poses. Such are the stiff or awkward and certain hyperconscious positions assumed by a lady when arrayed for display in public; witness the indrawn elbows, the contractured hands, either clutching a portion of her dress or a pocketbook, or both. It is apparently against the canons of taste to permit any freedom of motion, either at elbow or at shoulder. The gait becomes a constrained strut, because it is practically impossible to allow the thighs to move with naturalness and ease. In mobile adolescents, this is not so offensive to the observer, but as age creeps on and youthful elasticity is gratuitously sacrificed, as well as rapidly lost from senile changes added to disuse, the picture presented of an elderly woman parading the thoroughfares is too often a repulsive one. On the other hand, if she ceases striving to make a good appearance and abandons herself to indolent attitudes, to droop and slouch, the spectacle is even worse. This unfortunate state need not arise, if, as a girl, the woman becomes acutely alive to the value of retaining grace (which is entirely practicable), provided nature has endowed her with fairly symmetrical bodily proportions along with accurate instincts as to attitudes (all too rare a gift). More to be welcomed, because thoroughly acquirable by any one, is a wholesome guidance of the growing body and wise instruction in the right standards of breathing, standing and moving. There is an eminently practical value in avoiding this state of acquired awkwardness, which has a direct and important bearing upon health and longevity. It may be permitted to again direct attention to the derangements which follow upon constrained attitudes, habitually maintained, in compressing the chest, hence the lungs, heart and the great organs, and particularly because of the less. obvious, but equal, peril from constriction of important arteries, veins and nerve trunks. It is difficult to convey to the lay mind the gravity of posture deformities, practically the same condition as occupation and costume deformities; the differences being merely of causation and degree. It is quite comprehensible how grave an effect is wrought upon the morphology of the organs, for example, in a miner who assumes various unnatural attitudes demanded by his work, in nooks and crannies of rock. Here he lies or stoops for hours at a stretch, digging laboriously, and in time becomes grossly misshapen. Still he is in constant action and the elasticity of the tissues is not lost so early as in many other occupations where constrained positions are maintained with little change and only such movement demanded as is limited in scope, monotonous and exhausting by endless repetitions. The song of the shirt has brought some phases of the subject to the public attention. Let any one visit large manufactories and he will acquire a vivid object lesson. It will be perhaps more clear to call attention to the deformities of neglect. Unless a child has enjoyed the fullest opportunities for spontaneous activities, numberless small abnormalities will arise and become emphasized. Observe any group of school children critically and there will be readily noted posture deformities in most of them well established and liable to become fixed and exaggerated in later life.
A strong argument for employing a wide variety of bodily movements can be drawn from the fact that man being the only upright mammal, many of his organs assume and are maintained in positions and relationships foreign to their original adaptation. Ages and generations of characteristics acquired in the upright attitude have given him large control over these organs and their supporting tissues have developed admirable adjustments adequate to all ordinary needs and under ordinary requirements. Among the requirements for healthy organic structures is always exercise or use whereby alone function is conserved and organs maintained in normal position and condition. These exercises should be along the normal functional lines, not out of them, but keeping in view the fullest range of customary movements, many of which become impaired and almost lost from lack of accurate use even in young persons. First of all, bear in mind that nine tenths of ordinary movements of the arms are flexions, hence it is necessary, in order that one may become symmetrically developed to practise forceful, accurate extensions till complete extensor competence is attained. The movements of the legs are mostly extensions, hence in them flexions must be cultivated systematically.
In the motor areas of the brain there are probably two sets of cells coexisting alongside, one for flexions, and one for extensions. In the arm centers those for flexions are in constant use, hence well developed, and the extensor cells suffer degenerative change. In the center for the legs the reverse obtains. The neck and structures about the shoulder blades in man are little used in the ordinary demands of life, where few movements are called for, and hence are seldom brought into full action. These readily become rigid from disuse and fail to maintain symmetry. Yet in this region lie some of the most important subsidiary nerve centers. The effects of these rigidities by exerting pressure on nerves and blood vessels impair nervous mechanisms, and hence the nutrition of the organs of special sense in the head suffer. As these are removed dimness of vision grows less, hearing more acute, discomforts or pains in the head cease, and youthful capacities and bienfaisance are in great measure restored.
Unless these tissues are kept mobile, especially at the age when free activities are gradually abandoned, this region loses beauty rapidly and nowhere is the evidence of age more conspicuous.
Diet, already alluded to, exerts a most influential bearing on health, and hence comeliness. It is enough to offer here a brief summary of the guiding principles of dietetics which will suffice for all ordinary exigencies. A word must be said about the care of the teeth upon which often the whole proposition depends. Teeth receive good attention by nearly all civilized people to-day, yet we physicians are often amazed at the instances of neglect which fall under our observation. Many of these dental defects prove to be the chief factor in obscure conditions of deplorable ill health, even among people of wealth and refinement. This is especially true of disorders of the gums.
In order to maintain digestive competence, from intake to output, it makes far less difference what food is eaten, than the manner of taking, and the amounts consumed. In the choice of foods, a good rule for most people is to make a selection from those articles which are ordinarily accessible and eat with contentment and thankfulness, being guided by a purely natural appetite. Artificial environment and faulty upbringing tend to impair the sanity of taste and appetite, and ill health may, and does, vitiate both. Instinctive desires are always present, if not obscured, and can be trusted.
Varying conditions of the body, fatigue, emotion, exercise, indolence and the like, make conditions which influence choice at a meal, both of articles and amounts, which demand obedience. Not one mouthful more than nature craves should be swallowed. Certain rules obtain as to times of eating, and sequences of dishes, to which we must conform, but it is entirely possible to do so with judicious selections and rejections. Age makes much difference in all this. In middle life, and later, a small amount of food will suffice for all requirements. The greatest safeguard lies in cultivating the tastes of earlier and simpler years, bearing in mind that in the period of full development we eat to maintain life with little need to develop structures, unless acute or prolonged illness has caused unusual destruction demanding repair. Forcing the appetite may be at times needful, but it is always a peril unless advised by a physician. When in doubt, go hungry for a day. Thus will the whole array of disorders of metabolism, gout, diabetes and the like be limited. Careful preparation of food is desirable, but superior cooking is secondary to many other considerations. Simplicity in preparation comes next to cleanliness, and soundness is of course to be assumed as necessary, particularly in articles of the more perishable sort. It is well to avoid adventitious aids to flavoring such as tricks of combination and overmuch condiments. These irritate the organs of perception and ultimately impair both digestive vigor and the sense of taste. By far the most important rule to observe is that all food shall be most deliberately masticated and each mouthful involuntarily swallowed before any more be taken into the mouth. This holds good for fluid foods, especially for milk.
Finally, one word as to fluids with meals. Digestion is a process of solution by hydration and about a glassful of water is needed at each meal. Fluids taken before or after meals are ordinarily permissible. If any is taken during the meal at least no partly masticated food should be in the mouth to be 'washed down.' If so it has not been sufficiently comminuted or insalivated, and does not enter the stomach in perfect condition for assimilation.
One word as to the effects of the corset. The use of the corset we may be compelled to accept as a feminine necessity, but if so it argues for the wearer a loss of normal tissue vigor much to be deplored. As an auxiliary to modern dress, which fashion dictates shall be close-fitting around the waist, we have little to say, but as a support to the abdominal structures, a remark is justified. There is no essential demand for artificial aid to sustain the abdominal organs, but if such need is felt to exist, it is, and can only be, duo to consciousness of a structural defect. This has been demonstrated repeatedly in many women, old and young, by educating the muscles of the waist till they were able to comfortably meet all demands, actual and artificial. If corsets are claimed to be required on esthetic grounds, the reply is, that among well-constructed women, whose tissues are normal and who have acquired and retained normal attitudes, no improvement can be made by empirically adapted mechanisms. This is proved by the universal admission of the fact that a young girl of good figure does not require corsets. A bust support or special waist can be used if demanded, but this should not be a confining, unyielding cuirass. Then it follows that those who insist that elaborate molding contrivances are imperative by the making of this demand, tacitly admit that they have become already deformed. The question must then be faced whether this deformity is the mark of fate, or is due to individual culpability. If the former be true, let them accept if they must the compulsion of machinemade figures to conform to the dictates of fashion. If acquired by faulty attitudes, lethargy or epicurism, or all three, let them set about recovering as from a disease. This is entirely possible, and only otherwise if the person is irresolute or ill-taught.
Again, there are long backs and short backs, with various degrees of space between the ribs and the pelvic bones. A woman with a long back and plenty of room between the thorax and the pelvis, can wear a corset with less danger, because the greatest hurt is from interference with the action of the lower parts of the lungs. It is a grievous sin against health to restrict the chief oxygen laboratory. For this oxygen interchange full muscular action alone will not suffice; free lung room is essential. A woman with a short back, but plenty of room between ribs and hips, may wear a low or narrow corset with small danger. When there is little soft tissue between these parts the ribs are readily prevented from full play. Then not only lung action is impaired, but liver, kidneys and stomach are all compressed and made to relax from their supporting tissues, and tend to fall down confusedly toward the bottom of the abdomen. Hence arises the long train of ills growing commoner daily in all corset-wearing countries: movable kidneys, livers, dropped stomachs and intestines, and above all displaced organs of generation. The chief damage from the corset is the circular compressing action exerted upon the blood vessels of the waist, whereby passive congestions are induced in all tissues, and the great organs are forced downward, aggravating the weakness of the already mechanically frail normal supports. The straight front corset is only a little less bad, since it presses inward constantly, and all continued pressure exerts paralyzing effects on vaso-motor nerves and muscles. The least harm is done by that form of corset which has as part of its action, a low-placed firm semi-elastic belt so adjusted as to hold up the contents of the abdomen from a level with the outer hip prominence, and thus prevents the downward pressure of the rigid waist-encircling garment.
- See The Popular Science Monthly, March, 1904, article by author—subtitle 'Physiology of Decadence.'