Not your Grandma’s GOOP, a 1924 Detox Diary

the road to beauty

Hi everyone, Erin here.
It’s been a long winter here in New York. Finishing off a delivered pizza and yet another frustrating episode of Girls the other night, I decided to curl up with The Road to Beauty*, a 1924 beauty manual I picked up last summer. Thinking I would come across entertaining tips involving arsenic complexion improvers and X-ray facials, I instead found a detox diet plan remarkably similar to the GOOP-approved diets women still use today!

The book is written as a pseudo- novel/instruction manual centered around three 40-something women on vacation together: Rose, described as short, plump, and motherly; Nona, tall and angular with strict habits; and Gloria, the Gwyneth Paltrow of the  group, who looks young and radiant and decides to whip the other two women into shape. The narrative follows them over the course of three weeks as Gloria instructs them in their paths to recovering their “twenty-years ago” selves using exercise, beauty treatments and detox diets – including, as I was so surprised to see, a juice fast!

Of course, the history of diet and exercise in America goes back further than we usually think. As early as 1850, girls were warned that they wouldn’t be ‘fit’ mothers if they did not exercise, though the idea of a “modern woman” who chose to do sports for recreation didn’t really take hold until the advent of the “Gibson Girl” in the early twentieth century.**

As someone who has tried modern detox diets in the past, I thought it might be fun to follow along with the book for a week and beautify as great-grandma would have done, for “research” (I’ll admit-  found this diet plan especially charming because you can eat bread and drink coffee, two things that every modern diet tries to eliminate). Though this book contains two separate diet plans, one for losing and one for gaining weight (I’ll summarize that one for you – eat cream with every meal), I will be adhering to the following basic rules for reduction:

ABSOLUTELY NO: “sweets, pastries, butter, fried foods, rich salad dressings, rich meat and fish sauces, starches (potatoes, rice, macaroni, spaghetti, and noodles), bread except a little whole-wheat or bran bread toasted.”
“Excess of meat- once or twice a week is enough”

ABSOLUTELY DO: “practically all vegetables, carrots, beets, string beans, asparagus, spinach, celery, tomatoes, onions, cauliflower, sprouts, turnips, all vegetable tops, dandelion greens, mustard greens, beet tops, and any others you can get. Dried beans, lima beans, and peas are rather high calorically speaking, but you may eat them occasionally as a meat substitute”
“Fish, except salmon, is good… but it should be boiled, baked, or broiled”
“A slice of pineapple every time [you eat] meat… helps digest it”
“plenty of fruit… cooked and raw”
“8-10 glasses of water daily”

And, finally, the actual diet plan:

Day One

-Upon rising, a glass of hot water with the juice of half a lemon. Ten minutes of exercises.
-Breakfast: Coffee, one slice of toast.
-Lunch: Tomato soup, celery, baked apple and a slice of zwieback.
-Dinner: Two poached eggs on toast with one slice of crisp bacon, orange salad with a little french dressing.

Day Two

-Glass of orange juice on arising, ten minutes exercise.
-Breakfast: Coffee, bran muffin.
-Lunch: Spinach salad, garnished with hard boiled egg and pimento, a slice of crisp toast.
-Dinner: Broiled fish, tomato aspic on lettuce, garnished with chopped egg and nut meats, or cottage cheese. Fruit.

Day Three (Liquid Day)

-Hot water with lemon on arising.
-Breakfast: Coffee and a slice of zwieback
-A glass of milk at eleven, sipped slowly; for lunch a cup of strong, clear soup; another glass of milk or cup of thin cocoa in the afternoon.
-Dinner:  Cup of soup and a glass of milk or fruit juice before retiring.

Day Four

-Glass of orange juice on arising, 10 minutes exercise
-Breakfast: Prunes, with a small portion of dry cereal and milk, coffee
-Lunch: Waldorf salad- apples, celery, and nut meats on lettuce with French dressing, a bran cracker or two.
-Dinner: A lean lamb chop, string beans, lettuce heart with a little French dressing, lemon jelly.

Day Five

-Hot water with lemon on arising, 10 minutes exercise
-Breakfast: Baked apple, coffee
-Lunch: Vegetable soup, a cracker.
-Dinner: Roast chicken, combination salad, slice of pineapple

Day Six

-Hot water with lemon on arising, 10 minutes exercise
-Breakfast: One scrambled egg on a slice of toast
-Lunch: Lettuce salad with mock Russian dressing (chili sauce with a little mayonnaise), a cracker
Dinner: Vegetable dinner, a corn muffin.

Day Seven

-Orange juice on arising, 10 minutes exercise
-Breakfast: Stewed figs, coffee, a slice of toast
-Lunch: Vegetable salad, a slice of zwieback
-Dinner: A small piece of steak, stewed tomatoes, asparagus tips with pimento and French dressing. Prune whip (a small portion)


* Burbridge, Mabelle Antonette. The Road to Beauty. New York: Greenberg, Pub., 1924

**Gordon, Sarah A. “Make It Yourself”: Home Sewing, Gender, and Culture, 1890-1930. New York: Columbia UP, 2009.

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