A Celebration of Women Writers

"Intelligent Treatment of the Body." by Mrs. Marie Mott Gage.
Publication: Eagle, Mary Kavanaugh Oldham, ed. The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman's Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893. Chicago, Ill: Monarch Book Company, 1894. pp. 737-739.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 737] 

INTELLIGENT TREATMENT OF THE BODY.

By MRS. MARIE MOTT GAGE.

MRS. MARIE MOTT GAGE.
I am one of those who believe in the dignity of the body; the sacredness of things physical. I am convinced, however, that a very large proportion of people do not so believe, and that the vast majority have no definite ideas or convictions whatever upon the subject. It is matter of common experience to hear the human body depreciated, not to say reviled, as frail, infirm, perishable; a heavy burden to be tolerated with as much resignation as possible until final dissolution shall set the uncongenial spirit free from a hateful bondage. Now this is all wrong; all contrary to nature; betokens conditions wholly morbid, and, as I believe, results in untold sorrow, misery and suffering, and loss, spiritual and intellectual not less than physical. For so fine is the adjustment, so delicate the balance established by nature between the physical, the moral and the mental, that you can not ignore or neglect one of these without serious damage to the others. The world at large is incapable of dealing successfully with abstract ideas. The vast majority of people are neither by nature nor by training spiritual, and if we really desire to benefit them in any given direction we must adapt our methods to their possibilities. In other words, we must be practical. The accepted method of working, first, for spiritual, and second, incidentally, for physical regeneration and uplifting is empirical, illogical, wholly unscientific and out of harmony with nature. Otherwise how can we account for such pitifully meager results from so gigantic and persistent efforts. As the visible material universe is the physical manifestation of Deity, so I regard the human body as the mental manifestation of the human soul. As such it rises to very high dignity and demands thorough, honest and respectful attention. When a mere child I had the good fortune to hear a truth bearing upon this point so forcibly and clearly presented that it impressed me more profoundly than any sermon which I have ever heard. The words of wisdom fell from the lips of a noted educator, casually, in the course of general remarks to his pupils. He said: "Respect your bodies, for they are sacred." Whether regarded as a divinely perfect machine, or as the abiding place of the soul, the human body is of the highest dignity. Never permit frivolous or careless familiarity with your person on the part of your companions; though seemingly innocent, the tendency is wrong. Regard the violation of the simplest law of health as equally sinful with the violation of a moral law." This is the doctrine which I believe, were it earnestly and universally taught, impressed upon the young and carried [Page 738]  out in detail, would result in the complete physical and moral regeneration and salvation of the nations of the earth. I would make physical health and development the solid foundation of all spiritual and intellectual work. I would place the dignity of the body on a level with that of the spirit and the intellect. I would make physical laws pertaining to the health and preservation of the body as sacred and binding as the most sacred moral law. So much for theory. Now how shall we obtain practical results? In all efforts for the improvement, the uplifting, the advancement of our fellows, I hold that we should take advantage of and utilize to the uttermost all the natural instincts and impulses, only one of which, in so brief space, shall I attempt to discuss. I refer to the almost wholly misunderstood instinct for physical personal beauty, involving the universal desire to be pleasing to others. This instinct is usually characterized as vanity, sinful, selfish, ignoble. The desire to please is so deeply rooted, particularly in the feminine breast, that it certainly must be recognized as a natural instinct. If it is a natural instinct it is of God, and is intended to serve some wise and useful purpose. As such, it should neither be ignored nor suppressed. In fact, its total obliteration, if such a thing were possible, would result in utter paralysis and stagnation of the entire being. If we closely scrutinize humanity, we find that every natural impulse, when rightly directed, serves some high and necessary end, promoting true development in some direction. We also find that in order to accomplish development or regeneration in any desired respect, the surest and easiest method is to stimulate the natural impulse tending thereto. This is nature's method, and we can not possibly improve upon it. Now in this desire to please, usually and fashionably denounced so unsparingly as woman'a vanity, I can see a lever by which womanhood can be moved to its very depth, and woman may be made to strive most ardently for self-improvement along all lines–physical, spiritual and intellectual. For is it not manifestly better economy to utilize a force already in existence than to attempt the double task of suppressing the natural motive and creating an artificial one? By the inductive method I would teach women to strive for perfection in all things. Upon the broad and enduring foundations of the necessary and the useful would rest the development of the beautiful. Women must learn that beauty is soul deep, or it is not true beauty. The old saying, "Beauty is but skin-deep," originated in an unscientific age. Modern science brings forth records to prove that there never has been a beautiful idiot or a really comely lunatic, Shakespeare to the contrary, notwithstanding. It is fully proved by all asylum records that the downfall of spiritual empire obliterates whatever of beauty the unfortunate may have once possessed. The features lose their harmony of contour; the divine light vanishes from the eyes, which now become either dull or fiendish; the skin becomes coarse and of repulsive color; the very hair degenerates, growing harsh and lusterless.

It is not necessary to argue in this enlightened day to convince women that a perfect physique is desirable. The day of the artificial is wholly past. The wasp waist, drooping shoulders and invalidism in general, which under the name of delicacy were wont to be admired, are now, thank Heaven! out of fashion. Women, the world at large, have learned that nothing is beautiful which is artificial; or, in other words, a perversion of nature. Consequently any new theory or system of physical culture advanced today must, at the very outset, prove itself to be scientific–strictly in accord with the sacred laws of health–or it will be promptly rejected. True beauty can not be cultivated without the most careful observance of health laws, consequently the development of physical beauty has today the full sanction of modern science, and rests upon a sound scientific basis. Listen: if you would be beautiful, if you would have an admirable physique, you must have exercise in the open air, pure air in the house, proper food, sensible hygienic clothing, frequent baths and plenty of refreshing sleep. Again, if you would be truly beautiful, you simply must practice self-control. You must not, at the peril of your beauty, indulge in evil passions, such as envy, hatred, malice and anger. Why? do you ask. Because all violent emotions by unduly contracting the facial muscles, not only rob the face of its calm dignity, [Page 739]  always one of its chief charms, but also tend to harden the entire countenance, engraving harsh, rigid lines where only softest curves and dimples belong. Again, unhappy states of mind habitually indulged, particularly fretfulness, discontent and despondency, by depressing the animal spirits, tend directly to paralyze the sympathetic nerves which control the vital functions. The general physical tone or vitality being thus lowered, stagnation more or less complete of all the vital organs is the sure result. Those members most directly and unfavorably effected are the stomach, liver and heart; and right here, in indigestion, torpid liver and sluggish circulation, is to be found the origin of nearly all unhealthiness, and at the same time the chief blemishes of beauty. Is it not a most significant fact, and one worthy of respectful attention, that every noble, worthy, generous, gentle and pure emotion, without one solitary exception, tends directly to beautify the face and to produce physical grace? The beautifying power of love is well known. Under the magic influence of this gentle and tender emotion the hardest face will soften into lines of beauty. Sometimes the transformation is so marked that beholders are amazed and wonder how it is that homely, commonplace Mary is actually growing beautiful. On the other hand do not fail to observe the boldly destructive work of all harsh, violent, ignoble and selfish emotions stamping their ugly traces deep into the brow and about the mouth. Obtuse indeed must be the woman who does not read between these lines a message both of warning and of inspiration. I would have every woman understand that it is worldly wisdom to cultivate an angelic disposition. Why, I personally know numbers of beautiful women who simply can not be ruffled by any annoyance. The world wonders at their remarkable preservation of youthful charms, their grace, their loveliness. Only those who penetrate into the charmed circle of their private life can know that the physical beauty so largely a reflection of the angelic spirit is the result of absolute self-control. The woman who realizes that she is undeniably plain and unattractive should at once take a strict and careful inventory of her traits of character and her ruling emotions. She must show herself no mercy in this introspection–beholding herself "as in a looking glass." If she be an intelligent woman she will not go about the task in an aimless, haphazard manner, thereby lessening her chances of final victory. She will not only take a rigid inventory of her defects, but also she will seek out the most scientific and trustworthy methods for their eradication. She is doubtless in danger of becoming disheartened, but she must be made to realize that her case however serious is not hopeless; that it all rests with her whether she shall continue to sit idly down and nurse her defects, silently envying those graces in others which she lacks, or whether she shall nobly gird on the armor of high resolve and successfully encounter and overcome every foe. I have a gospel of hope for every daughter of Eve. I hold that there is no woman blessed with reason, average physical endowment and good common sense, who may not, if she will, become an ideal woman after her type.


[Page 737] 

Mrs. Marie Mott Gage was born in Vermont. Her parents were Hon. Ashley Mott, a professor of physical sciences, and Rosetta Abigail Graves, also a teacher. She was educated at Vassar College, receiving in 1885 the degree of B. A. Her specific aim is to teach women how they may make the most of themselves physically; how by intelligent observance of Nature's laws, physical beauty and grace may be developed and retained. Her principal literary works are contributions to the "Century," Harpers' publications, Christian Union and New York Tribune. Her profession is chemistry as applied to the manufacture of toilet preparations. She is a member of the Protestant Episcopal Church. Her postoffice address is Chicago, Ill.

[Next]

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This chapter has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this chapter were the work of volunteer
Mary Hitchcock.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom