“Big is beautiful,” is the motto behind Stella Reichman’s 1977 book, Great Big Beautiful Doll: Everything for the Body and Soul of the Larger Woman. In her late fifties when the book was published, she also advocates for older women. As she states in her opening chapter, being thin and young are not the only way to be beautiful. Reichman takes on what she calls “thin chauvinism” and draws on a number of medical sources to underscore her point that you can be what society might call “fat” and still be quite healthy.
Much of the book follows a standard beauty manual format, but aimed at an older and wider audience. She recommends an exercise routine based on Pilates and a “no makeup” look that requires a staggering eighteen steps, including false eyelashes. Her fashion advice can be summed up in one phrase: “Don’t be a tent.” To show off her shape (she claims measurements of 48”-38”-48”) Reichman poses in a long line girdle. She advocates finding stores that treat larger women well and complaining to the management when service isn’t satisfactory.
Many of her complaints are sadly still relevant: clothing lines that only go up to size 12, rude saleswomen who treat larger women badly, and the constant fat shaming that comes with a larger figure.
Of course there is also much that is dated. Romance is only mentioned in regards to men, and one of her main arguments for being plump is that men like it. Women of color get only a passing mention. In several spots, she makes an effort to distinguish being big (good) from being obese (bad), but she doesn’t make clear where the line lies. She also revels in her hour glass shape, implying that a different distribution of weight might not be so appealing.
However, her basic message sounds quite contemporary. As she says in her conclusion, it’s time to create a new concepts of beauty. Too bad we still aren’t there yet over forty years later.