Nothing is quite so reassuring as proof that the neuroses of humanity remain historically unchanged. Despite the prevailing myth that at some magical point in time, people were both naturally healthy and naturally hot, diet and exercise fads have always existed. This 1958 footage from British Pathé—which leads with “Take heart, girls, you can reduce without starvation diet!”—has a couple of super-weird “human interest” features on how to keep skinny.
There is a sort of pre-Paleo, proto-Atkins diet from a doctor who guesses that we were way healthier before the advent of agriculture gave us delicious, wonderful potatoes and bread (if you can’t tell, I have no patience for such chicanery). There are models doing what looks like the most genteel, ladylike, and totally ineffectual exercise ever. There’s a terrifying suction machine, and my favorite... “the rack,” which stretches out your body to “tone muscles” and is named after a popular pre-Enlightenment torture device.
You laugh, but I’m sure you’ll see at least five ads for a purportedly magical diet food on the Internet today—at least the old fashioned rack doesn’t preclude mashed potatoes. Just beware of the Spanish Inquisition when you’re using it, okay?