Saturday, January 14, 2012

An Empress under pressure

 Elisabeth “Sisi,” Empress of Austria

Unattainable body standards are nothing new. In the 1800s, way before Lindsay Lohan and Mary Kate ever graced the public with their teeny frames, there was Elizabeth, the Empress of Austria.

Elisabeth, or Sisi, as she was known, is said to have had an obsession with a 19-inch waist. I can’t help but think of the scene in Gone With the Wind, where Scarlett instructs Mamie to tighten her corset to 18 inches. 

Scarlett had nothing on Sisi, who maintained her 110 lb frame even after 4 pregnancies. She would fast, exercise and tighten her corset until she couldn’t breathe.

That was only the tip of the iceberg. She suffered stress-related symptoms from the anxiety of being constantly in the spotlight as Empress. Royal life didn’t agree with her. She was a free spirit. The freedom she was used to was replaced by rigid rules and expectations. She started to exhibit health problems. She had fits of coughing and anxiety.

Sisi was a shy, quiet girl; not at all, the perfect candidate for royalty, it would seem. She grew up in an eccentric home. Her father loved circuses and eschewed duty. Sisi’s unstructured childhood allowed her to roam about, frequently missing her classes. This freedom didn’t prepare her for the stifling demands of being an Empress.

Her husband, Francis Joseph had originally been intended to marry her dowdy sister Helene. But upon their meeting, he fell in love with Sisi. He declared if he couldn’t have Sisi, he wouldn’t marry at all.

Francis’s mother, Archduchess Sophie, turned out to be the sort of mother-in-law all new brides dread. She was overbearing and obnoxious. When Elisabeth had her first child, a girl, not the male heir everyone wanted, the new mother was made to feel like a huge disappointment in the household. Sophie called her a “silly young mother.” In fact, Sophie snatched the baby from the new mother right after birth, refusing to allow Elisabeth to feed her, and named the newborn, Sophie, after herself.

If this wasn’t enough to drive anyone mad, one day Elisabeth found a pamphlet on her desk with the following underlined.

...The natural destiny of a Queen is to give an heir to the throne. If the Queen is so fortunate as to provide the State with a Crown-Prince this should be the end of her ambition - she should by no means meddle with the government of an Empire, the care of which is not a task for women... If the Queen bears no sons, she is merely a foreigner in the State, and a very dangerous foreigner, too. For as she can never hope to be looked on kindly here, and must always expect to be sent back whence she came, so will she always seek to win the King by other than natural means; she will struggle for position and power by intrigue and the sowing of discord, to the mischief of the King, the nation, and the Empire…

Three guesses who this was from. Talk about toxic!

Sophie opposed Elisabeth’s slimming tactics. But only because she thought the Empress should always look pregnant.

Elisabeth found solace in, and fell in love with the country of Hungary. She would find respite from her anxieties by taking frequent trips there. Interestingly enough, all of the physical effects of her stress disappeared when she was there. She was relaxed and didn’t have to worry about her toxic family.

c. 2011


  1. Very interesting! Too bad, though, that toxic family members have been in existence for that long...

    1. i had never heard of her before, but once i did, i had to post about her. unfortunately, i think toxic family members are around to stay. ;)....b