How To Build Vigorous Womanhood
( Originally Published 1918 )
BEFORE the great world war took so many of the male members of society away from their various occupations to the struggle of the battlefield, most people still had in their heads the time-worn idea that woman is the weaker sex and should not think of laying claim to the possession of vigor or muscular strength. But now, how this has all changed! We find women doing practically everything that man ever did, and we hear nothing said about the work not being as efficiently done as formerly, either. We have women farmers, iron-workers, blacksmiths, street-car conductors, chauffeurs and ammunition workers, and in the great conflict itself, we have seen in the Russian "Battalion of Death," women soldiers as capable of holding their own and as brave as man ever dared to be.
What does all this mean? Have we been wrong all these ages about the weakness of women? Are the supposedly fabulous tales of the strength and vigor of ancient women, then, really true? It seems so, and the facts indicate that modern woman is awakening, and will soon be emancipated from her thralldom of weakness and disability.
Among the lower animals, the female of the species is practically never inferior to, and in some cases excels, the male in strength. In the human species, also,' there are many women, who, even in these civilized times, are much stronger than many men, and more capable men-tally as well as physically. It should be forgotten, therefore, that women were ever considered inferior.
It is, however, true that woman has a great deal to overcome, and a great many old traditions and customs to discard, before she will be ready collectively to take her place alongside the male as a being of equal vigor. She has the effects of generations of indoor living to overcome. Her muscles are weak and flabby because of inactivity. It will take generations of women and years upon years of proper living and care of the body to bring forth a race of women such as will satisfy the dreams of the eugenist.
But suppose you are weak and perhaps ill—is strength and health possible? Of course they are, and we are going to tell you how to secure them.
In the first place you may find it necessary to change somewhat your ideas of living. You must forget that you are a woman, for the time being, and simply remember that you belong to the human race and are subject to all of the laws of Nature applying to humanity. Strength is dependent upon good health, and you must first secure that. All of your efforts must be in that direction. If you have any habits which are injuring you, give, them up. Stop all drug-taking and the use of tea, coffee, alcoholic drinks and patent medicines. You must give yourself every chance. Remember that everything entering your system finally gets into the blood and that the blood carries this, whether food or poison, to the cells. If food, the cells are properly nourished and health results—if poison, the cells are poisoned and ill health is produced.
Would-be athletes and others desiring to become strong often make the mistake of trying to develop their voluntary muscles through exercise alone, forgetting the other factors necessary for health. Big muscles may be produced in this way, but the vital organs are perhaps neglected and are incapable of producing the blood necessary for keeping up the nutrition of the new-formed tissue, or removing waste substances.
Special attention should be given to elimination through all four of the great emunctories of the body, viz., the lungs, kidneys, bowels and skin. Without perfect elimination there can be no health, and hence no physical vigor. Much of the listlessness, tired feeling, and headache experienced by women from no apparent cause is due to faulty elimination.
THE LUNGS. The more fresh air inhaled, the more carbon-dioxide do the lungs delete from the system. Therefore live out of doors as much as possible. The next best thing is to work and sleep where there is good ventilation. If you are compelled to work all day in badly ventilated rooms, make it a practice to sleep out of doors, or with your head near the window. Modern apartment houses often have sleeping porches, but they are seldom used for the purpose for which intended, being often occupied as dens or smoking rooms. Walk to your work if you can. Take an earlier start and walk the two or three miles, if that be the distance. You will then not only receive the benefit of the fresh air, but get some of the best exercise possible. Breathe deeply at all times. A good plan is to count the number of steps taken during each inhalation and exhalation. This will develop the habit of deep breathing and after a while it will be done unconsciously.
THE KIDNEYS.—To promote good kidney action, pure water must be taken freely. Two or three quarts of water per day is not too much. An abundance of water never harms the kidneys. It is not the fluid passing through the kidneys which overworks and harms them, but the sub-stances held in solution in the urine. Therefore the more concentrated the urine the greater the work and irritation of the kidney structure. Those who eat meat, especially, should drink large quantities of water. If quantities of milk, or fruit juices, are taken, of course less water is needed.
THE BOWELS.—Constipation is the bane of most women's existence, and it is usually due to the inactivity of their lives and lack of care in eating. Another potent cause is the taking of laxatives and cathartics. Some develop the condition through neglect of regular habits. Nothing should be used to regulate the bowels except proper diet, sufficient water, and, in emergencies, the enema. If one will take care to use regularly such foods as whole-wheat bread, prunes, stewed peaches, coarsely ground cereals and salads composed of tomatoes, cabbage, celery, onions, lettuce, nuts, and berries there will be little trouble. Active exercise will also assist in overcoming the condition. The bowels should move at least once each day, though twice daily is better.
THE SKIN.-About two pints of perspiration are excreted by the skin daily, holding in solution urea, uric acid and other poisons. The constant wearing of clothes deprives the skin of the benefit of air and sunlight, so that it is usually so anemic and relaxed that it is no longer a normal organ of elimination, but simply a covering for the body. The skin must not only be kept clean, but it must be exercised. There are tiny muscles controlling the sweat-glands which need exercise the same as other muscles. By the constant wearing of thick clothing these muscles are kept relaxed. The frequent exposure of the nude body to air causes a contraction of the muscles of the skin, which tones them up. You should take frequent air and light baths no matter how cold the air. Of course you will have to go slowly at first and expose the body for but a few minutes. The best time for this is just after getting up in the morning, or before going to bed. During the exposure to the air rub the body vigorously with the bare hands, then dress quickly, or get into bed. You may have some "goose-flesh" at first and shiver somewhat, but gradually you will find that the feeling of the cold air is pleas-ant, that you no longer feel cold, and that "colds" are a thing of the past.
Once each week take a full hot tub bath, remaining in the water for at least ten minutes, then drying quickly and covering up well in bed. If you do not go immediately to bed the hot bath must be finished with a cold shower or sponge. The after effects of a hot bath are in-creased if the body is covered warmly, as elimination continues for some time. If soap is used it should be very bland. There is good reason to believe that the excessive use of soap is destructive to the eliminative action of the skin.
Each day, preferably after your exercise, take a cool shower or a cool rub. This may be taken very quickly and effectively by wetting a thick Turkish towel in cold water and rubbing briskly every part of the body, finishing by a thorough rub with a dry towel. The cold sitz bath taken for one or two minutes, either daily or twice a week, is beneficial. During the menstrual periods it may be discontinued. This is very important in special conditions of congestion or inflammaton, as specified in preceding chapters.
Although the corset has been condemned for ages and its ill effects separately pointed out, there are still women who are torturing and de-forming their bodies and depleting their vitality by this device. Before you can become strong you must discard this article of apparel. Indeed, you should study the question of clothing thoroughly, and however stylish you may desire your clothes to be they must in no way interfere with the free action of our limbs, or produce undue pressure at any point.
DIET.—What is the best diet for building vigorous health? This will depend in many cases upon the individual and the requirements of her daily occupation, state of health, etc.
In general, it may be said that a diet consisting of fruits, nuts, vegetables, cereals and milk is the one best suited for maintaining health and building strong tissues. Meat is not necessary to health, but in many instances where it is impossible to secure a suitable diet, one is compelled to use it. At such times plenty of green vegetables should be consumed with it, and large quantities of water taken between meals.
You must take care to eat only to satisfy the needs of the body. Overeating is destructive to digestion and health, and often defeats the purposes of the whole regime. The best of diets, no matter how hygienic and how carefully balanced, will become as poison if too much is eaten. Thorough mastication and insalivation of all food is necessary for perfect digestion. This applies particularly to all starchy foods. The fewer condiments used the better. In many instances, proper combination of foods will obviate the necessity for using artificial flavors.
If one is thirsty at meals, water is permissible and will aid digestion, but fluid must not be used to "wash down" food improperly masticated. Tea and coffee are stimulants and must not be used habitually. The three best drinks are water, milk and fruit juices. Buttermilk is also healthful and a really delicious beverage if used when fresh.
The tendency in diet should be to use foods in as near their natural state as is consistent with palatability and digestibility. The comtinued use of the ordinary cooked diet tends to produce an acid condition, because of the lack of the natural organic salts. If one eats cooked food, there should also be taken a plentiful amount of fruits and raw green vegetables.
EXERCISE.-In the next chapter will be found a system of exercises which is especially suited for building strength and improving the-physical proportions. We might say at this point that the more you get into the habit of playing athletic games and indulging in walking, rowing, canoeing, horseback riding, swimming and other strenuous sports, the greater will be your endurance and the purer your blood. Of course at first you will need to be careful not to overdo,-and you should stop the exercise short of fatigue; but you will find your strength and endurance gradually increasing and the general feeling of well-being will encourage you to continue.
If you are one of those women who are continually looking for symptoms of ill health and are much given to worry about your condition, we would say that you must at one change your attitude of mind. Remember you are as you are because of wrong habits of living, and the only way to remedy matters is to adopt normal habits. Worry will not help you on your way to health. You must get rid of the picture of disease which has become implanted in your mind and replace it with an image of the woman you would like to be. Visit the art museum and study the statues and sculptured beauties there exhibited, and make up your mind that you will be as nearly like them as possible. Then study the laws governing your own body and lay the foundation of health, without which no beauty of form, or of robust womanhood is possible.