From ingesting tapeworm eggs to smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes promised beautiful bodies to “fleshy people” as far back as the late 1800s. Every one of today’s ridiculous diet fads had an even more ridiculous one as a forerunner. It appears as if the need to lose weight to please men has been a part of women’s lives forever.
Diet fads of the late 1800s and early 1900s
The diet industry exploded in the 19th Century when Victorians kick-started the competition to produce the best fad diet. That was also when Fletcherism became the in thing. The American food faddist, Horace Fletcher, told people to chew the goodness from foods and then spit out any leftover fibrous material. For example, people had to chew a single shallot 700 times. Dinner party guests were even timed to make sure they chewed enough.
Some of the wonder-remedies, potions and diet drugs had extremely dangerous ingredients like strychnine and arsenic. Dieters swallowed beef tapeworm cysts in pill form. The tapeworm eggs would grow up to 30 feet long, with the theory promising that the worm would absorb the food the person eats. It caused weight loss, vomiting and diarrhea. Once they reached the desired weight, they took anti-parasitic pills. However, getting rid of the tapeworms was often unsuccessful, leaving many people with severe consequences like dementia and epilepsy.
Non-medication fads around the turn of the 20th Century
Prof. Eugene Mack from New York created a chin reducer and beautifier that helped eliminate double chins. It was a contraption placed on the head with a cord to pull to reduce enlarged glands thought to cause double chins.
Rubber undergarments, a patent of a company called Dr. Jeanne PH. Walter Famous Medicated Reducing Rubber Garments promised weight loss due to excessive perspiration. The weight loss range included rubber bandages to reshape ankles, making them more attractive.
Weight loss fads of the 1920s
A company in Central London promised its La-Mar Reducing soap would wash away fat, shrink the skin and stop aging.
Wallace M. Rogerson of Chicago created a program called “Get Thin to Music.” He created records to play on phonographs with music for exercise dancing to lose weight. This is one of a few weight loss plans that made some sense.
No shortage of weight-loss fads in the 1930s
The most ridiculous fad in the 1930s was Lucky Strike’s claim that smoking cigarettes cause slimmer bodies.
Furthermore, this decade also introduced vibration machines that could help you shake off excess fat from any part of the body.
The Walton Sears Roller Massager promised to remove cellulite and fat. It was a simple piece of equipment that made magic simply by rolling the body part over the wooden rollers.
The 1930s had its own perspiration-based weight loss jumpsuits for men and women. It promised to tone the bust, waist, stomach, legs and arms.
This was also the decade that offered a rowing machine to change bodies into hourglass figures. The “machine” was no more than one bandage to go around the neck and one to go around the feet, with a metal spring joining them. The rowing involved using the legs to pull the bandages against the resistance of the spring.
The 1930s even had anti-skinny promotions
Even then, most people were unhappy with their bodies, also those who were not overweight. According to the promotion of ironized yeast tablets, men didn’t like skinny women. The pills would help women gain up to 20 pounds to make them fill their bikinis perfectly.
A Swedish Figure Control contraption was available by mail order. It was a resistance band that could shape the legs, waist and increase the bust size by working it for only 10 minutes per day.
Slimming in the 1940s was dangerous
After WWII, doctors prescribed an amphetamine, Methedrine, for treating depression. However, when it became apparent that it caused weight loss, doctors prescribed it for people who wanted to lose weight, regardless of the potentially severe side effects.
The desire to lose weight made many women visit Slenderizing Salons, where machines rolled and stretched their bodies. This treatment included electric shocks that broke down the lumps of fat.
In contrast, a company marketed a product to gain weight in certain areas of the body, called Wate-on. The campaign said every woman needed a bit of padding. Women consumed condensed food tablets, super and regular homogenized emulsions and instant powder meals for that purpose.
The 1950s brought the vibrating massager
Milwaukee Sentinel started marketing the Electric Spot Reducer on Oct. 1, 1950. It could be used on specific areas to break down fat. Most importantly, people could slim down, watching TV while relaxing on the couch.
1960s ads promoted sugar for weight loss
Have an ice cream cone before your meal! Sugar-filled recipes were popular because the ads promised that sugar would boost their willpower to control food cravings.
In the 1970s, you could also sweat away your fat
A manufacturer of heavy-gauge vinyl sauna pants promised slimmer thighs, hips, stomach and waist. Wearing the sauna pants while working out was the answer to weight problems.
What can be better than appetite suppressant candy?
In the 1980s, you could choose AYDS candy or capsules that contained benzocaine local anesthetic and a stimulant, phenylpropanolamine, to suppress your appetite. However, the candy option was more attractive than the capsules because it came in flavors like butterscotch, chocolate and peanut butter.
Weight loss fads manufacturers will always benefit from people’s dissatisfaction with their bodies.