Peculiar Beauty: Auto-Beauty-Ography: Great Big Beautiful Doll


An auto-beauty-ography is a how-to book on beauty and style that is personal and revealing; it turns into an autobiography.

It is perhaps my very favorite literary genre and Stella Jolles Reichman’s Great Big Beautiful Doll*: everything for the body and soul of the Larger Woman (1977) is an entertaining example.

Stella’s Manifesto: Inside every emaciated woman lives a healthy woman waiting to be fed.

Stella had a mission. She truly wanted Larger Women (capitalization hers) to enjoy life and feel beautiful. She considered these women her army and strongly felt they should band together to fight for the right to widely available designer clothing.

Stella was Austrian and had been raised a bit differently than American Girls. She spoke fondly of the sanitorium where she had been sent to recover from childhood illnesses:

In Austria there were many such places, which were the exact opposite of Maine Chance or the Golden Door… small mountain sanitoriums where persons of all ages not sufficiently plushy were sent to gain weight. I remember being kept in bed there and fed fattening foods like a stuffed goose and being watched like a hawk. Only after those kilos had been regained were we released. Papa would then come and collect his plumped-up goslings with pride.

Stella’s appetite remained a point of pride. I snooped around a bit to see what had become of her and found a few mentions of her in society pages (always wearing the knitwear designer Adolfo’s creations) and this 1992 entry to the New York Times‘ Metropolitan Diary, in which she congratulates herself on ordering a slice of pizza.

Pizazz in Grooming
In the book, Stella poses for basic Pilates instruction, offers advice on pubic styling in a chapter titled, “Pizazz through Grooming,” and also encourages plus-size gals to sew their own clothes if they don’t like what they find in stores. Another idea is to buy garments at Army and Navy stores and spice them up with colorful fabric linings and pinned-on silk flowers.

Do You Know the Type?
Stella was of a type I call Her Own Grandchild. These are the people who constantly ask, “Don’t I look so cute in this?” They are the ones who send holiday cards featuring themselves posing alone in antlers, or Santa hats. They react to stories and images of themselves the way grandparents react to those starring their precious grand babies. This personality type can be wearying in person but they tend to write terrific auto-beauty-ographies. I could go on, instead I’ll share the centerfold of Great Big Beautiful Doll, in which Stella poses paper-doll style, surrounded by outfits she recommends including Milkmaid (nothing wrong with that), Black Magic, and Tango. Click to enlarge the photo, and please let me know if you’ve seen Stella around lately.

*An unauthorized biography of Anna Nicole Smith by the same title was published in 1996.

This post originally appeared on the website Peculiar Beauty. Republished with permission.

The author of this post can be contacted at [email protected].

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