Vintage Photos of Émilie Marie Bouchau and Her 16-Inch Waist
Émilie Marie Bouchau, also known as Polaire, was an Algerian lady known for her tiny, corsetted waist, the circumference of which is no greater than 16 inches (allegedly).
Bedecked in black eye makeup, with a nose ring, and corsets that granted her the incredible 15-inch waist, Bouchau earned compliments for her exotic style and talent.
But in 1910, during a concert tour through New York, Willie Hammerstein “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 contrary, perhaps Polaire was in on the joke. A 1910 New York Times article mentions 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 show In New York turned out to be a success. Then in 1913, she returned to Manhattan one more time, before her popularity waned by World War I.