Meet Charmion, the Victorian Babe Who Revolutionized the Female Fitness Industry

year ago

Imagine this scene: it’s the 1800s and a young woman dressed in proper Victorian attire is climbing up a trapeze. You paid a few cents for a ticket, found a seat, and the show is about to start. As the woman starts removing some items of her clothing, she begins to flex and display her impressive muscles, captivating the audience. This woman, who performed under the stage name, Charmion, was a real person and one of the earliest female fitness influencers — let’s find out about her story together.

Strongwomen in the Victorian era performed feats of strength and skill as entertainment.

They lifted weights, engaged in wrestling matches with men, and performed acrobatics, challenging the societal norms of their time. These women were considered unusual, as they defied the notion that women were weak. These powerful individuals shattered the traditional mold and raised questions about the prevailing standards of femininity and beauty, which emphasized the importance of delicate and fragile women whose primary role was childbearing.

These strong women smashed societal norms, serving as an inspiration to other women to prioritize exercise, healthy eating habits, and overall wellness. They were viewed as role models and trailblazers, challenging the status quo. Moreover, in an era where men were considered the sole providers for their families, these women earned their own income and forged successful careers by performing in shows around the globe.

Charmion became famous for her daring and provocative persona.

Born in 1875, Laverie Vallee was famous under the stage name Charmion. She came across a newspaper advertisement about a theater looking for a young woman for an acrobatic act. She was accepted and trained for 4 months, during which she learned all the tricks on the trapeze and horizontal bar. She made her debut in an aerial show in New York on Christmas Day of 1897. During the performance, Charmion disrobed from a full outfit down to tights and a leotard.

Charmion would often lift heavy weights, bend iron bars, and wrestle with men. She was among the first women to showcase her muscular physique in public and to promote physical fitness for women. In other words, she could easily be considered one of the first-ever female fitness influencers.

During a time when photography technology was still in its early stages, Charmion caught the attention of renowned inventor Thomas Edison. In the late 1800s, Edison was experimenting with motion picture technology, and he saw Charmion as the ideal subject for a film that was to be produced in 1901.

The Trapeze Disrobing Act was a brief, 3-minute silent film produced by Edison and sold for a few cents at the time. The film showcased Charmion on a trapeze, removing her clothing to the pleasure of a few male spectators who were also part of the show. These men acted like teenagers, reveling in the sight of a woman undressing, which wouldn’t have the same effect on audiences today.

The female fitness icons we know today have walked in the footsteps of the pioneering strongwomen of previous centuries.

Jessica Buettner, professional powerlifter, crowned as the Powerlifting World Champ in 2022

As we speak, the female fitness industry is evolving and diversifying, offering a variety of options and opportunities for women to pursue their fitness goals and express themselves confidently. Similar to the traditional strongwomen, today’s female athletes have built communities where they lift each other up, and show each other that women can accomplish anything.

One of the greatest athletes of our time, superwoman Dr. Stefi Cohen has 25 all-time records in weightlifting under her belt.

Displaying their strength and skill on social media, in weightlifting and bodybuilding competitions, today’s female heroines lead the way and keep challenging the stereotypes that still persist in our society. A notable example of this is Angela Seung Ju Lee, who became the youngest person to ever win a world championship. Despite taking a break to start a family, she made an impressive comeback, inspiring others with her perseverance and determination.


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