How much is beauty dependent upon physical exercise ? Beauty of form is undoubtedly the most potent kind of beauty - can it be cultivated by physical exercise ? Immediately to one's mind's eye arise pictures of women who exercise strenuously and yet are not beautiful, and of women who exercise not at all and yet have perfect forms.
The secret of the matter is that the foundation of a beautiful figure in the fulness of time is laid in the days of slender youth. At the same time, this fact has been so distorted in modern times" that many a girl grows up "weedy " and probably with round shoulders, although she has indulged in all kinds of outdoor sports and gymnastics. Probably she bears comparison badly with her own grandmother who kept her "figure" far on into the years when she dubbed her own granddaughter unladylike or not "genteel."
Beauty is harmony. The girl who "en-thuses" over one particular sport runs a chance - by developing one set of muscles at the expense of another - of spoiling the harmony of the whole. The girl who sets out to get enjoyment out of life, and who has been allowed in the earlier days to " run wild" with her brothers, is the girl making a bid for beauty. Active, bright, and alert, she will ride, run, swim, row, make beds or pastry, sweep a room, or play tennis, just as occasion offers. She takes the medium course between that of the "athletic" girl and that of the "ladylike" girl who learns deportment and probably. walks or seats herself with stiff self-consciousness. She then becomes good to look at, and good to live with, because she has learnt the habit of making the best of life, however it comes along, instead of adopting the more selfish attitude of mapping out a course and forcing life to conform to it - in plain words, of going her own way. The modern girl with her definite and even scientific modes of cultivating beauty is yet not beautiful.
Only the other day a critic from overseas said he found that she had developed a "ruthless" expression and a haughty demeanour in late years. A person with a ruthless expression and a haughty demeanour cannot be said to be beautiful, and it is a fact that sport can develop both expression and demeanour. The outdoor girl becomes in time a devotee of one particular game or sport, and then gets an over-developed look, whilst the genteel girl - since extremes meet - does something of the same thing, though her face is white instead of wind-tanned. For the girl strong on "deportment" does too much walking, and not enough exercise with her arms. She is generally fond of dancing, so fond that she further sacrifices the development of her lungs by constantly breathing hot and vitiated air, and will generally do still further mischief by tight lacing. This latter is done in an instinctive effort to restore the harmony, the smaller waist giving an apparent importance to the narrowed upper part of the body.
Nature has made young limbs active, and the whole body pliable, and this applies as much to girls as to boys. Given health, freedom, and a wise guardian who can restrain excess either of work or play, a girl has every chance of attaining a beautiful figure without submitting to any special exercises for the purpose. The general activity promotes appetite, good food makes good blood, and Nature, unimpeded, does her work well.
Of course, there are many girls who have not the opportunity for free movement in the open air, and for them a home gymnasium has its interest. This article, however, is not written from the standpoint of the teacher of gymnastics, who regards her subject from one of two points of view.
She either inculates the teaching of tricks and the art of the gymnast, and so develops the pupil's strong points, or she studies her weak points in order to overcome them by judiciously selected exercises, the final object being to restore harmony which has been lost by inaction and a consequent defective formation.
But there is no need for either of these courses to be taken by the normal girl, who is not going to become a " show " gymnast or an invalid requiring treatment.
A loose house-dress allowing perfect freedom of movement is as great an aid to beauty as a gymnastic costume. To scrub, bake, or make beds develops the arms as well as rowing or swimming; and sweeping is a good all-round exercise. A family dance gives all the benefits of ballroom dancing without the drawbacks accruing to the latter.
It is easy to add to these exercises by fixing up a horizontal bar in some doorway; practising to walk well by carrying a book on the head, and adopting some of the exercises of Swedish drill.
The point of all this is to so arrange matters that the woman makes no break in the active habits of youth. She so often fails on attaining womanhood to continue a well-begun story. For it is the active woman who walks well, who holds herself erect, and who can accomplish the rare act of sitting down gracefully, and the still more rare one of being able to stand in one place gracefully for any length of time.
Just as a dancer, however expert, or an acrobat, however pliant his limbs, can never afford to miss a day's practice, so a woman who wishes her figure to keep young, graceful, and well proportioned can never allow herself to get "set" and staid by non-activity.
This is one of the secrets of that marvellous woman whose figure is young and movements graceful, although she is a grand-mother - Sarah Bernhardt. When this great actress, who astonishes the world as much by her sustained youth as by her genius, is not on the boards, she is taking active exercise in the country. She rides, rows, skips with a rope, swims and climbs, but there is no record of her adopting any scientifically arranged gymnastic exercises, unless one counts the light wooden dumb-bells beloved of every sensible woman. The result is that this actress who has long passed sixty years, can dress for the part of a slim youth to perfection.
But it must be conceded that the middle-aged woman must use that perfection of art which conceals art, and gives the natural result instead of the spontaneous movements of active, lively youth. She must use some system with her exercise, or some set of muscles will shirk work. For her is appended the series of movements formulated by Dr. Schreber. They are simple, efficient, not over-tiring, do not require any apparatus, and may be adopted at discretion. But to be of any use they must be executed regularly. No corsets must be worn during these exercises :
1st. Describe a circular movement with each arm twenty times in succession. Extend the arms forward, outward, and upward thirty times in succession, taking eight or ten deep inspirations between each series.
2nd. Execute a circular movement from the waist, swaying the upper part of the body slowly round, the hands resting on the hips, thirty times. (Caution: Move slowly.)
3rd. Extend the leg as nearly at right angles with the body as possible twelve times each side, taking eight or ten deep inspirations between each series.
4th. Extend and bend the foot twenty times each side; perform the gesture of reaping or sowing thirty times; bend each knee rapidly twenty times; take eight or ten inspirations.
5 th. Raise the arm swiftly and rapidly, as in the action of throwing a lance, twelve times in succession; throw out both arms simultaneously twenty or thirty times; take eight or ten deep inspirations.
6th. Trot on one spot, resting the hands on the hips and lifting the feet briskly, a hundred to three hundred times. Take eight or ten deep inspirations.
7th. Jump with the hands on the hips, and the head and body erect, fifty or a hundred times. Take eight or ten deep inspirations.
The danger in adopting exercises in extension of the usual activity to which the body is accustomed lies in one getting overtired. By this more harm than good is done. It is a great mistake for anyone to suddenly break off old habits and enthusiastically adopt new.
In beauty culture one must aim at getting the body into habits conducive to beauty - habits are adopted slowly, almost imperceptibly. Harmony is desired - sudden changes create consternation, so to speak, and consequent disorder, the result being antagonistic to beauty. The middle-aged woman will therefore be wise in " making haste slowly." She must seek to avoid further inactivity rather than promote unusual activity.
Physical exercise is another name for motion, and what will be too much motion for the beauty of one will perhaps be too little for another. The aim must be to give the body sufficient exercise to exhilarate and stimulate; every part must have sufficient attention, and none too much. In this way the body is kept "fit" and in the highest state of beauty possible to it.