Photo Illustration by Elena Scotti/Fusion
Photo Illustration by Elena Scotti/Fusion
modern woman spine

Welcome back to Throwback Thursday, in which we bask in the ridiculous beliefs and advice of cultural stalwarts past. Today, we’re looking at 1936’s The Modern Woman: Beauty, Physical, Culture, Hygiene, a 404-page guide to being a smart, healthy, and most importantly, attractive British woman in the decades between World Wars.


Are you a shy person? Today, shy folks can take refuge in the term "introversion." But back in the 1930s, according to our tome, women's shyness was a problem to be solved—an affliction of sorts, signifying a weak constitution, medically and socially.

In their section entitled “Shy Girls,” authors Lillian Bradstock (whose two other works involved transposing Gilbert and Sullivan operas into prose) and Jane Condon write:

The case of the shy, nervous girl is at once of great interest, and one with which it is most difficult to reason.

The first necessity for the shy girl in her attempt to cure her unfortunate failing is to ensure that the nervous system is not overstrained. Overstrain sets the nerves hanging like tightly stretched elastic, it creates a sensation of tenseness and anxiety and efforts the unhappy victim acute distress.

But don’t worry, Bradstock and Condon have some suggestions for overcoming this grave malady: lots of sleep, spine and head massages, and just a wee bit of alcohol to, as they put it, “stimulate the brain to action.” (I'm a writer. I get it.) And that’s about where the authors’ compassion runs out, because the rest of the section is dedicated to criticizing the shy girl for pretending to be shy to get people to notice that she’s different.

See, the authors ascribe shyness to the formidable inferiority complex (damn you, Freud), which drives humans to exhibit unattractive and attention-seeking behavior—behavior that women should be ashamed of:

There is no room for abnormals in modern life, and the sooner the nervous person realizes that the attention of other people cannot be, and never is, directed solely towards her personal feelings, she will become easier and happier when mixing with her fellow creatures.


What they meant to write was: Don’t be a pill, dammit. But alas, the inferiority complex can manifest in different ways:

Another form of inferiority complex is the girl who draws attention to herself by exotic dress, unsocial manners, a disregard of the feelings of others, or an “I’m always right attitude.”


I’m assuming that in 1936, exotic dress for women meant wearing trousers—I mean, who did these readers think they were, Katherine Hepburn?! But for those cursed with terminal shyness, there's hope. At the end of the section, our all-knowing authors suggest a cure-all for shyness and probably every other "social disorder" affecting women: reason.

Tell yourself there is no need to think people are watching to see what you do. No one is looking; they do not wish to look.


Great, got it, thanks. Now back to contemplating the long, lonely life of solitude that awaits me. Preferably in the comfort of my own bed and in the style of this glamorous lady we found on page 319.

mod woman 3

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