The Perfectly Formed Woman: Annette Kellerman
‘After making examinations of ten thousand girls, Annette Kellerman is the closest to physical perfection of any’ declared Dr Dudley Sargent, director of the Harvard University Gymnasium in 1912.
This silent Warwick Bioscope Chronicle newsreel shows Kellerman in her famous one-piece swimming costume performing dives for an audience of men in suits and hats. Kellerman's strength and skill as a diver and performer is apparent in the footage.
Sargent's study was a response to concerns that women were becoming more masculine with their increasing levels of physical exercise. He concluded that while women's proportions had changed in the previous 20 years, it was, in fact, for the better. Sargent concluded that ‘the American woman of today is becoming more like the Greek ideal of the beautiful ... She substitutes harmonious curves and symmetry for exaggeration of the distinctly feminine characteristics.'
Kellerman, who was around 26 years old at the time, was compared to Venus de Milo – 'the most perfectly formed woman of ancient times' – by Sargent. ‘Miss Kellerman embodies all the physical attributes that most of us demand in the Perfect Woman.’
This claim to fame for Kellerman featured in advertisements for her vaudeville show and films for years to come.
Later in life, in her oral history, she said 'It's the most ghastly thing in the world when you're called the "perfect woman". Of course every other woman said, "I don’t see that she’s anything"'.
Learn more about Annette Kellerman's amazing life in the NFSA's online exhibition Australia's Fearless Mermaid.