In Defense of Waif-ism 


Warning – This self indulgent essay maybe be offensive to some readers.

History has a tendency of going in circles, particularly in the area of what is considered aesthetically attractive. The feminine body has been a much pondered and expounded upon subject in this area. What form and shape is most to be admired, and what is considered “ugly”. There are base ideas about female beauty having to do with symmetry of features and biological functionality such as breasts and hips – features that catch the roving eye and speak of fecundity. The matters I wish to discuss here are those of aesthetic taste as opposed to what inspires general lust.


Often you will hear a reoccurring cry from ladies of this day and age, and it is about “accepting our bodies” and “the unrealistic expectations of media-based beauty images”.

This is usually paired with a report of statistics on the rising rate of obesity and/or women and eating disorders such as anorexia.

I believe in a “no fault” approach as far as body size is concerned – unless you actually have a proven medical condition, your own actions dictate how you look physically. This goes for both those who are over-weight and those who starve themselves to death. Do not blame society or conditioning for your self-image issues – If you can control what your put on your body (clothing) you can control what goes into your mouth (food). You have decided to be this way with each calorie you consume or do not consume. 


The Cult of the Waif has its roots in measurable historical eras. These include the virginal looking maidens of the Middle-Ages, the consumption-chic ladies of the Romantic Movement, and the frail appearing, fair models in Vogue Magazine.

The Waif represents several archetypes and mythos; the youthful body on the brink of adulthood, the “Fugit Hora” of beauty and how it wilts suddenly, and the moment before the fruited flower blooms, alas decaying as it bursts forth. The fact that health, and thus virility, was more tenuous in previous ages lent a nostalgia to both a youthful image and sudden death. The thin maiden, once so rosy cheeked and full of promised fleshly delights laying pallid and untouchable on her consumptive death-bed. Basically, the promise of the ethereal and unattainable is more enticing than the material prize, which is a long, healthy, if mediocre lifespan. Consumption claimed the life many nymph-like girls and brought forth a renewed ideal of an aloof, more fragile love that could not be consummated. This was perfect ground for the seeds of romantic idealization; and a permanent aesthetic principle was formed which is with us to this day.


Interestingly, although thinness was once associated with poverty, it has flourished most in aristocratic and upper bourgeoisie society. The stillness of a sheltered lifestyle is conducive to lethargy and cultivating a loss of appetite through ennui. This can become a game of endurance, a test of ones will-power in a small world which requires little effort for survival. Outside of mainstream culture Waif-ism has always had a niche in the Arts, particularly in Ballet and other performance based disciplines. The competitive, almost all-female atmosphere of dancing on stage sets the foundation for easy self sacrifice.


A modern day Waif must eschew some of the old ways of her historic sisters, as drinking whey or vinegar does not bring paleness, nor does complete starvation bring beauty.

If she would walk the line and admire the thin lines of this peculiar, now getting rare, figure of admiration, she must be agile. Those who fail generally wind up under medical supervision, bed ridden and force-fed. So she must stand on the fence of balance, aware of that which can lead her to fall into the grave on one side or the somewhat crowded population of the Ruben-esque on the other.