As previously mentioned, back issues of Photoplay have been archived online. A quick flip through of the January 1929 issue revealed a piece that feels chillingly current: It warns that women are putting their lives at risk when they try to be as skinny as Hollywood stars. We've been talking about this shit for 84 years?!
The copy, written by Katherine Albert, reads thusly:
The stars have set the style in slim figures.
The correct weight for a girl five foot two inches tall is 119 pounds. The average screen player of this height is only 108 pounds.
A survey of all the studios embracing the film plants of Culver City, Burbank, Westwood and Hollywood and including one hundred fifty of the most famous, most envied film celebrities, resulted in the compilation of a table of heights and weights showing that the players are from ten to fifteen pounds underweight, according to medical standards.
This means that they have starved themselves for pictures, for personal whims, or to be fashionable until they have lowered their physical resistance to the danger point and are unfit to do the strenuous, nervous, emotional work required of them!
Albert goes on to list some actresses who passed out — or passed away in the midst of dieting, and names actresses whose careers were ended by "excess weight."
This magazine article also provides a "Correct Diet" — which involves eating codfish for breakfast, having a glass of buttermilk at lunch, and eating cantaloupe in the evening — and compares it to a "Star Diet," which is basically hot water and saltines. (What, no kale?)
The following spread warns readers that "the camera lies" and Albert dishes:
I have seen Joan Crawford make an entire luncheon on a few tablespoons of cold consomme, a dish of rhubarb and a half a dozen crackers thickly spread with mustard, And this a day after day performance.
Sigh. Not much has changed. The average size of a Hollywood actress is just a fraction of the size of the average American woman. A svelte women like Jennifer Lawrence thinks she is "obese" by Hollywood standards. Tabloids shame female celebrities for gaining weight — and losing weight. We still have young women looking to pictures of actresses and models on the internet as "thinspo." We may know more about physical and mental health than we did in 1929 — and we now know that 70% of women feel depressed after looking at a fashion magazine for three minutes — but apparently we still have celebrity diet stories, we still have women trying to be as thin as celebs, and we still we still warn women not to copy the stars, all the while putting them —and their bodies — on a pedestal. And policing women's bodies? Tale as old as time.