Figure, carriage, manners, and expression are four accomplishments which the English woman does not understand. For this reason, perhaps, the nation is said to possess more of the raw material of beauty, and less of the finished product, than any other. Of late years we have wakened up a little, and innumerable women now go in for Swedish exercises and other calisthenics, with a view to improving their figures.
Something can be done, no doubt, to straighten and supple the body, even though the bones are fully set, but the outline cannot be altered once a girl is grown up. In the nursery, however, this is quite possible. A flat back, a deep chest, a round neck, and slender waist can be ensured to ninety-nine girls out of a hundred by calisthenic exercises, well chosen and daily persevered in from the time the child begins to walk.
The average domestic servant has a better figure than the average mistress, because housework gives gentle exercise to all the muscles of the body, whereas sitting over a desk at school tends to cramp and deform it. Mothers try to remedy this by letting their girls go in for athletics. That this remedy, however, is no cure is shown by the angular figures possessed by many golf and hockey girls.
Violent exercise once or twice a week does nothing for the figure; what is wanted is gentle but scientific exercise of all the muscles for ten minutes every morning and evening.
Trapeze artists and ballet dancers always have good figures, because they have been trained from earliest childhood, when the whole body is plastic and readily shaped.
The exercises should be learned from a first-rate certificated teacher. In this way a guinea or two may be well-spent, for once the child has mastered the motions, she can persevere with them under her mother's eye. The exercises, however, must be suited to her individual needs.
Usually the exercises are in four groups:
1. Bending the head slowly backwards and forwards. This rounds the neck, and will even lengthen a short, stiff one if begun early. Also it tightens the muscles of the throat and jaw, and keeps their contour sharp and prevents double chin.
2. Arm exercises. These make the back narrow and flat and the chest full and deep.
3. Body exercises. These make the waist slender, the hips shapely, and strengthen the muscles of the internal organs, and so promote the general health and the circulation, which, in the case of girls, often is interfered with by corsets. These exercises include such movements as bending, with arms outstretched, till the finger tips touch the floor, and having the feet held down while the body is raised without touching the floor with the hands.
4. Curtseying exercise. Sinking to the floor and rising on the toes. This gives balance and strengthens the legs.
These exercises must be done slowly and gently. At first three or four movements will be sufficient, since, if fatigue is caused, all the good is undone. Later they may be increased to ten times each, but never should be allowed to continue for too long a period.
A bad walk often is caused by ill-fitting shoes, and especially by trodden-over heels. Children should have boots amply wide, with practically no heels, and shoes with gaiters are better than stiff boots, since the latter weaken the ankles and interfere with the supple movements of the foot.
Ill-fitting, uncomfortable clothes, especially collars, tend to a bad carriage, but, as a rule, a child whose body is kept supple by calisthenics will not be troubled with an ugly walk or ungraceful movements.
She should be trained from the first never to swing her arms; this is an ugly practice, and quite unnecessary. The Indian women, who walk with exquisite grace,. never stir the body above the waist.
An ugly walk can be cured by doing the "goose-step" - i.e., marching on one spot, throwing the feet out well, and balancing a book on the head so that wriggling movements of head and shoulders betray themselves at once - five minutes at a time, several times a day.
A medical inspector once found that about half the children in a single school were suffer- ing from curvature of the spine. This was directly traced to the desks, which were unsuitable, and forced a contracted sitting posture.
It requires trouble to make sure that each child has a chair at a suitable height from the nursery table, especially when children are growing fast. Also it is tiresome, especially to shy, diffident mothers, to insist on seeing the desk at which a girl will sit at school, but the mother who values her child's figure and health more than the " touchy " feelings of a school-mistress, will not neglect this precaution.
Every ugliness that flesh is heir to - even positive deformity - may be redeemed by pretty manners and a sweet expression. It is remarkable, therefore, that many mothers leave their children's manners to be formed by a nurse. Manners are formed before the age of seven, and children who are allowed to run wild until then will never develop real, instinctive courtesy. Boys, especially, find it difficult to learn manners later, because they are shyer than girls.
The shyer a child is, the more she or he should be brought forward into society. It is a cruel kindness which lets a shy child hide itself. The trifling torment of being dug out of one's shell as a baby is nothing compared with the agony the grown-up goes through when she longs to go into society, and finds herself gauche and self-conscious.
Again, one cannot teach a sweet expression to a child. One may, however, show the child how horribly a naughty temper or a cross look writes itself upon the face by producing a hand-mirror at the psychological moment, and letting the child see its own distorted face.
Wrinkles, except the fine, not disfiguring lines which come from laughing, are mainly caused by some trick of frowning. If a child is shown herself frowning in the mirror when she first begins it, and then reminded not to do so, she will probably be able to control the impulse. This will be almost impossible when she has grown up; she will go to a massage specialist, and hear that no permanent good can be achieved while the habit remains
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