Rating Scale for Personal Appearance

Navratil, Lillian; Regina Friant; and Rosalie Rathbone. “Rating Scale for Personal Appearance.” The Manual Arts Press, 1936. 1632.002/27. University of Alabama Special Collections. “Carolyn Shepherd Price Home Economics Teaching Materials” collection; “Relationships—Personal” folder.

One culturally interesting item in the Hoole archives is a packet of ten identical “Rating Scales for Personal Appearance.” Each is a two-page handout (printed front and back) to be used not by students to rate themselves, but by home

economics teachers to rate their female students. The first page consists of a two-sided rubric. The second two-sided page includes suggestions for improvement in twelve rubric areas: “neatness in dress, personal neatness, effect of foundation garments, posture, suitability of design to individual, suitability of design to occasion, becomingness of color, suitability of material to design and purpose, suitable accessories (including shoes and hose), pleasing use of cosmetics, becoming hair arrangement, and design in keeping with present styles.” Judgment standards range from “unkempt,” “poorly fitted . . . flabby in appearance” and “artificial” to the ideals of “neat, clean,” “well-made, well-fitted, well-pressed,” “smooth, firm,” “graceful,” “natural,” and “smart in appearance.” The corrective imperatives include: improve the “fit” or “workmanship” of your clothes, clean or brush or press them, keep your tummy in, “hide your hips,” “wear more youthful colors,” “wear undergarments which do not cause peculiar effects,” “wear harmonious trimmings,” avoid accessories that “cheapen,” “avoid body odors” or “evidence of perspiration,” and “keep skin free from superfluous hair.” Teachers are warned to follow the rubric: “no personal standards should be considered.” Thus, judging a girl’s appearance must follow the provided normative scale, untempered by mitigating factors.

To call this item “quaint” would lend it a measure of charm that does not pertain. Instead, this is an ephemeral relic that privileges idealized standards of cleanliness, fashion, polish, and poise that many students in 1936 might have had difficulty meeting—especially those from families struggling to survive the economic downturns of the Great Depression. Girls who were “slovenly,” “uncouth,” “dirty and unkempt,” who wore clothing “extremely out of style,” who had messy hair or exhibited “little consideration . . . to choice and use of cosmetics” faced poor ratings and embarrassing follow-up advice—possibly even ostracism and the bullying that might accompany such a public appraisal of appearance. Enlightening (and infuriating) as this document is, it will not help my research related to circus performers in the 1930s, but it might be helpful to someone researching societal norms of gendered beauty during this era.