Out of all readings we have done in this class so far, this one is probably my favorite. After I read that Thomas Edison made Charmion and her famous disrobing act the subject of one of his earliest films, I was surprised. I had heard that Edison created some of the earliest movies made in America, but I would not expect this to include such a scandalous thing as a woman stripping on a trapeze and men going wild over it. I have also been fascinated with how women have been perceived in American society and how this perception has changed over time. Charmion is just one example of the evolution of how we believe women should look and act. As the article discusses, the late 1800s saw the movement of athletic importance across the United States. While this was mainly targeted towards men, women were also encouraged to stay fit; as long as they could do it in a feminine, lady-like manner.
Throughout her career, Charmion used her platform as a performer to encourage women to exercise and keep a good diet. While doing this, she also challenged societal norms. Victorian-era women were supposed to dress modestly, wear corsets, and definitely should not take off any item of clothing in public. Watching the video of Charmion performing her disrobing act does not look that scandalous to the modern audience. Once she removes the everyday items, she is in her trapeze leotard. The problem that Victorian audiences had with the performance was not the showing off of arm and back muscles. There were many women strong women and performers of the day that did show off parts of their bodies as part of the performance. As the article says, it was the stripping aspect that many took offense to. Burlesque-type performances existed in America, but they were exotic acts. This was something that women with lost morals from Paris or Africa did, not the upstanding Victorian woman. Charmion knew this; it’s why she marketed herself as a Parisian to attract audiences. Charmion and her act made people question societal norms and aided in the growing feminist movement at the time.