Vintage Photos of Émilie Marie Bouchau and Her 16-Inch Waist
Algerian-born Émilie Marie Bouchau (Polaire), was famous for her tiny, corsetted waist, which was reported to have a circumference no greater than 16 inches.
Decked out in black eye makeup, a nose ring, and corsets that gave her an incredible 15-inch waist, she earned praise for her exotic looks and talent.
But during a concert tour through New York in 1910, Willie Hammerstein [son of Oscar] “very unfairly and inaccurately, billed her as ‘the ugliest woman in the world’ and offered prizes to women who, with the aid of corsets, could beat Polaire’s 15-inch waist,” states The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville.
“In hindsight, it is difficult to comprehend how an actress noted in France for her beauty could be called ugly in the United States, but the description appears to have been based in large part on Polaire’s wearing a ring in her nose, a novelty with which American audiences were unfamiliar.”
On the other hand, perhaps Polaire was in on the joke. A 1910 New York Times article states that she “frankly admits that she’s the ugliest woman in the world” and that her popularity “is said to be based on her willingness to accentuate her ugliness” by highlighting her long neck and “protruding” lips.
Polaire’s run In New York appeared to be a success, and she returned to Manhattan at least once more, in 1913, before her popularity waned by World War I.