The title is not my own; it is the comforting caption that advertises a dress sale, comforting because it perhaps indicates an epochal adjustment of fashion to fact. Is it possible that the stout woman, poor dear, has at last become stylish? May she at last be frankly fat, emancipated from the frantic remodelings at the hands of corsetière and couturière? The burden of obesity is not in the carrying of its pounds, but in being forced to treat the obvious as if it were surreptitious. What dizzy elation for the fat woman to realize that henceforth she is suffered to be not only frank but fashionable! Dame Fashion is as fertile in the unexpected as Dame Fortune.
The fat woman has been so long accustomed to commiseration that it may be difficult for her to realize her new dignity; we have all pitied her, been sorry for the bursting glove-clasp, the exuberant girth, the sweets desired but denied, the chin whose apparent hauteur was so unjust to the kindly heart beneath it; and above all for that plump palm laid upon our arm with its accompanying tremulous whisper, 'Am I as fat as she, or she, or she?'
But now all that evil time is forgotten. The anti-fat nostrum, the recipes for rolling, the panting mountain climb, all the many-doctored advice, all the beauty-parlor pummeling—all this is obsolete, for obesity has come into its own. The corpulent dame now has dresses made to exhibit, not to conceal, her shapeliness; these throng authentic fashion-sheets. She has her own clothes, not the adapted 'line' of the lean and lovely sylph. The fat woman is no longer done out of her inheritance by a cruel and carping world. She has become a 'stylish stout.'
The 'stout' is even entering story, not for farcical effect either. There is an increasing number of portly heroines in fiction. The male novelist still averts his eyes a little when he makes one. He leaves his 'outlines' a bit vague, out of deference for past convention; for he knows he is an innovator. Fiction is always far in arrear of popular opinion, but there are a few romancers who are coming abreast of the times in portraiture. Alice of Buried Alive is a dumpy darling, and her charm is increased rather than diminished by the fact that she is fat. There is nothing neurasthenic about a well-padded person. The obese are always amiable. Older and wiser than we, the Oriental has incorporated this fact in his daily philosophy. In the Orient , stouts have always been stylish. Knowing that fat women are good to live with, the harem husband long ago persuaded both himself and the ladies that they are equally good to look at. The Westerner, on the contrary, is still at that callow stage of development when he tries to persuade himself that a woman, because she is good to look at, is also good to live with. Fortunate for the Occidental husband are our customs of liberty for ladies, permitting women whose nerves are but thinly clad with flesh to run freely about the streets, venting their irritability on the neighbors. Under Eastern seclusion a thin woman, closely confined, might keep the whole seraglio in a stew. It is for self-protection that Oriental convention cultivates an ideal of sleekness and opulence as the feminine standard.
It is a curious fact that in neither East nor West has the stylishness of stouts been extended to the male sex. The norm for man is to be long and limber. As the hero of romance, a man may be brawny; but except in farce, he may not yet be fat. In America this ideal of masculine slimness is explained by our fondness for thinking of our men as lean wrestlers with frontier conditions, for the fact of a frontier is still a pleasant figment of our fancy. As a matter of brutal truth, both our men and our women have swelled perceptibly during a long period of plenty and of ease. Not all our Hooverizing has notably reduced the tendency of both sexes toward an opulent maturity. The pitiful point is that our men are not yet allowed by fashion to grow fat with dignity. Of course, it has never been so hard for a man to be voluminous as for a woman, because he thinks only of how uncomfortable he feels, and not, concomitantly, of how ungainly he looks. And yet the fat man has had pain enough in being the butt of the papers and of his pals; and from this anguish he cannot be relieved until fashion lifts its ban from his person as it has lifted it from that of the lady. No shop is as yet exhibiting styles for the stout man. He is still forced to squeeze himself into clothes designed for the stripling.
But the emancipation of men will follow that of women. Women are not so selfish that they will permit themselves to expand into efflorescence without seeking to obtain equal liberty for the fat man. No chivalrous woman will be content with her privilege of obesity without wanting men to share it. In due time the fat man, like the fat woman, will be made heroic in fiction and in fashion-plate. The day of the fat lady was long in dawning, but at last her freedom and her fashionableness have arrived. Just as surely will a day come when tailors will announce to men patrons the happy era of stylish stouts.