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The Early Faces (& Shapes) of Exotic Dancing: 22 Photos of 1890s Burlesque Dancers

By Meredith Carroll |

1890s exotic dancer

Yeah, baby

It’s common knowledge that the pin-thin models gracing runways and magazine covers today are unique to this period in time as representations of ideal beauty.

One glance at Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, and even Cindy Crawford, who was a size 6 at the peak of her modeling career, and you know that once upon a time, women didn’t need to exist on a diet of air and pipe dreams in order to be considered sexy.

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, women were considered attractive if they had meat on their bones. It meant they could bear children and came from a background of means. Organ-oppressing, waist-pinching corsets aided in offsetting thicker body parts. And showing a little leg was the equivalent of come-hither, bedroom eyes.

Take a glance at what it took in the 1890s to put on a sexy display, and consider whether any of these ladies would make it as mainstream models or dancers in the present day, 120+ years later:

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Erotic dancers looked very different in 1890 than they do in 2012

Whoa, Nelly!

Who said fetishes were exclusive to modern day?

All images courtesy of

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About Meredith Carroll


Meredith Carroll

Meredith C. Carroll is an award-winning columnist and writer based in Aspen, Colorado. She can be found regularly on the Op-Ed page of The Denver Post. From 2005-2012 her other column, "Meredith Pro Tem" ran in several newspapers, as well as occasionally on The Huffington Post since 2009. Read more about her (or don’t, whatever) at her website. Read bio and latest posts → Read Meredith's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “The Early Faces (& Shapes) of Exotic Dancing: 22 Photos of 1890s Burlesque Dancers

  1. Amanda says:

    This is just a guess, but it seems as if most people who control the fashion industry today are either women or gay men. There don’t seem to be lot of straight men who decide who is featured in the pages of Vogue or who gets to model in a runway show. Most straight men I know would probably be more attracted to a body type more like Kate Winslet’s or Jennifer Lawrence’s than a stick skinny model with no hips or chest.

  2. Manjari says:

    Now THIS warrants a slideshow. I agree, Amanda.

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