Where in the World is little Holly Healthy!?

Politicians have joined movie stars and rock icons in the ranks of aspiring children’s book authors.  Years before Karen Pence published  A Day in the Life of the Vice President (the book that inspired Marlon Bundo) Catherine Pugh, the mayor of Baltimore and fitness fanatic, created the “Healthy Holly” series to inspire children to improve the physical and mental well-being of themselves, their friends and families. Persuading couch potatoes of any age that eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly will make them better, more beautiful people is a hard sell.

One indirect approach to changing eating habits is to write a cookbook for kids, full of easy recipes for dishes that taste good and are good for you.  So nutritious and delicious that everyone will compliment the cook by asking for seconds.  Weave a conversion narrative around the recipes and you get…

Jules Bass. Cooking with Herb the Vegetarian Dragon: A Cookbook for Kids. Illustrated by Debbie Harter. (New York: Barefoot Books, 1999). Cotsen in process.

Herb is relentlessly upbeat about changing eating styles, but he gets it  when aspiring vegetarians fall off the wagon once in a while on their journey.   And if a ragon in chef’s whites can push a wheelbarrow brimming with fresh produce around the Kingdom of Nogard, anyone can!  But it’s his recipes that work magic on people who never thought they could give up m–t.

Herb’s no-meat patties with their dynamite secret ingredient puts the King of Nogard off his favorite wild boar burgers forever.  For his service to the arteries of the kingdom, Herb is knighted. 

Herb’s spicy chili full of textured vegetable protein, kidney beans, and grated cheese makes a believer of his buddy Meathook.  When Meathook has his friends over for dinner, no one can get enough of Herb’s veggie pasta.   Maybe Meathook will pass along Herb’s name to Drogon, Rhaego, and Viserion for the wrap party of Game of Thrones, season eight….

Not all anthropomorphized animals pressed into service as role models are perfect like Herb.  There’s Tiffany Dino, who gorges on pizza, chocolate chip cookies, and peanut butter sandwiches and loves every bite, even though the chair is groaning from the strain.  When her shirts ride up over her belly button, she decides it is time to turn over a new leaf.  Maybe Tiffany can get her act together.  Tiffany Dino belongs to the fallible but loveable category of animal stand-ins for children.  She eats healthy and works out for a week, but when she weighs herself, not one ounce less than six hundred pounds.  She decides to accept her big green self just as she is after making a new, very large friend who likes Tiffany  because there is so much to hug.

So how does Holly Healthy compare with Herb and Tiffany as role models? For a review, see the one Carlos Lozada ran in the Washington Post. At the time of writing this post, it was not possible to obtain a copy of any of the four titles: “Healthy Holly: Fruits Come in Colors Like the Rainbow;” “Healthy Holly” Exercising is Fun!;” “Healthy Holly: Not all Vegetables are Green;” and “Healthy Holly: Walking with My Family.”  There is some confusion as to their whereabouts–if indeed they were ever written, published, and distributed.   Perhaps putting out this call to the readers of the Cotsen Curatorial Blog may produce the results which will solve the mystery of the picture-book writing major of Baltimore.  Any or all of the titles would be welcome additions to  Cotsen’s collection of children’s books by politicians or their wives…

Stays and other Secrets of perfect Posture

People in eighteenth-century portraits hold their bodies as if they were dancers.  Even a squirmy toddler tenuously balanced on his mother’s knee has beautiful posture. Were those gracefully lifted torsos just an improvement of the painter, trying to please clients? Or should the subjects’ stays, the quilted corsets stiffened with whalebone that laced tight up the back, take some of the credit?

Stays weren’t just for for grown women.  Babies were put in unconstructed ones made of coarse fabric very young.  Providing support for their weak little spines may have been less important than accustoming them to wearing a garment that would become increasingly confining as they grew.  Little girls soon graduated to smaller versions of the form-molding garments and  were expected to wear them practically all the time because being laced up was supposed to convey a sense of modesty.  At least that was the advice of male authors of well-known guides to female behavior.  Because the stays held up the rib cage, the wearer’s ability to change the position of the torso was quite difficult.  In this illustration of a girl reading, she is so engrossed in a book that she forgets to maintain a good seated posture.  But she isn’t slumping.  Her torso is tilted over her lap and her shoulders are rounded, but her back looks straight, because the abdominal muscles cannot sag or collapse.  Wearing stays was only one aspect of a demanding “curriculum”  to manage the body.  This aspect of eighteenth-century education, which combined best medical practice, contemporary notions of beauty, and social aspiration to participate in fashionable society, finds expression in a book famous in the history of medicine, Nicolas Andry de Bois-Regard’s Orthopedia or the Art of Correcting and Preventing Deformities in Children  (1741).  d’Andry, who was the dean of the faculty of medicine in Paris, argued that a normal healthy body can develops deformities when its natural symmetry is compromised by civilized life.  (The previous illustration and all that follow are from Cotsen’s copy of the first edition of the English translation of 1744).

He pointed out things that sparked the process of bodily deterioration in infancy.   An ignorant nurse might lift a toddler up by the leading strings attached to the shoulders of its bodice, which allowed its heavy head to sag, strain the neck, and pull the shoulders out of alignment.  Children’s bodies could incur permanent damage when carelessly handled by adults playing infant amusements with them.  One of the most dangerous was one  called “going to visit grandfather”  in which the adult would  lift the child by its neck and swung it around, putting the spine at risk of dislocation.Furniture could be responsible for deforming children’s bodies.  The school boy below is writing on a surface that is too low, so he hunches over his work.  The other boy to his right is eating at a table that is too high, so he scrunches up his shoulders.When d’Andry talks about deformations of girls’ bodies, it is more difficult to determine i the relative importance of legitimate medical concerns, contemporary standards of beauty, and fashion, which strives to display the female body’s perfections.  The chest is the most beautiful part of the body, according to d’Andry, so he placed considerable emphasis on the proper training  of the thorax, or middle back, the arms, and clavicles.  One reason for this was to keep the chest open and promote healthy lung breathing.  He recommends various manipulations and exercises, including walking with a little box balanced on the top of the head.When the desired results could not be obtained through exercise, d’Andry did not hesitate to recommend that parents require their daughters to wear the contraption below in addition to stays.Was d’Andry aware that his program of physical discipline dovetailed with the dictates of fashion, where the bodice was the focal point of a dress because of the way it set off a girl’s head, shoulders and breast?  Possibly not, because the idea of posture in the Western world has never made clear and distinct demarcations between health and beauty with respect to the body.