Every Woman’s Flesh Reducer
Obsession with body image isn’t just a modern fad, it seems, and where there is a concern, there is an opportunity for the unscrupulous practitioner of quackery to operate. Today we are awash with diets – it is a multi-billion dollar business – and it is hard to make sense of which one to adopt. Often it comes down to personal recommendation or how much effort the diet involves. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the pounds would fall off with the minimum of effort?
Well, that was the claim of the wonderfully named Every Woman’s Flesh Reducer, manufactured in Chicago. It was, according to the adverts that plugged the product, an “easy, wonderful, external method for men and women”. All you had to do was pour the reducer into your bath and step into the warm water. The results would be astonishing; “your superfluous fat will fade away, easily, surely and without any bad effects. Day by day your figure will become more and more as it should be – graceful, trim and beautiful”.
What was more, that is all you had to do. “No need to starve yourself, dose with harmful, drastic drugs or go through exhausting and ridiculous exercises”. It sold for $1 or for $2 you would get three times the amount together with a money-back guarantee. In the days when advertising standards were somewhat laxer than they are now, there was nothing like a bit of fat shaming to ram home the message, “you cannot be happy while you carry around with you that load of useless, energy-using fat. Rid yourself of the burden”. Where do I sign up?
So what was in the white powder and did it work? The American Medical Association carried out a chemical analysis of the Reducer and published their findings in their 1914 Annual Report. They found that it consisted of Epsom salts, alum, citric acid, camphor and sodium bicarbonate. Their conclusion – “like every other bath salt sold as a cure for obesity, Every Woman’s Flesh Reducer is a fraud”.
An even more egregious example of fat shaming appeared in the adverts for Korein.” I Was a Tub of Fat”, screamed the headline. These words were attributed to a Lillian Ianchuck who, before taking the red gelatine capsules that were Korein, weighed in at 190 lbs. After a course of the capsules she lost 40 lbs. “Now my weight is just right for my height”, she claimed. “I have no more excess fat on me”. Other lard buckets testified to its efficacy. You could even send off for a free trial before committing to purchasing it. The adverts claimed that it consisted of bladderwrack, a seaweed which was popular at the turn of the 20th century as a weight loss supplement.
So what was in it and was it any good? Well, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Association carried out a full analysis in 1915. They discovered that it consisted of 40% sassafras oil and 60% petrolatum. Sassafras oil has subsequently been banned by the American Food and Drug Administration because of its carcinogenic properties and because of its toxicity it may have had some effect on people’s digestive systems. The booklet that accompanied the capsules recommended a restrictive diet that may have helped but on the whole it was probably best left alone.
Alas, weight loss requires some effort on your part, it would seem.