Medical Contrivances

(Last Updated On June 8, 2022)

I have noticed that a lot of readers are coming forward with their most vivid memories of little girls in books and films. One had an interesting theory that, in some cases, medical texts include images of healthy women and girls in the guise of a clinical presentation. He could not help but wonder if they were using the respectability of medicine to justify these images. I told him that his idea was part of a notion I have been exploring I call contrivances.

A contrivance is an excuse, a way of justifying something that would not normally be acceptable. Pigtails has endeavored to break through this facade and acknowledge that we find images of healthy naked girls (and women) appealing. There are different degrees of artistry involved, but the bald truth is that we find ways to view and appreciate these images. Artists are perhaps the most honest in simply acknowledging this beauty, but they often couch it somewhat in symbolism using the feigned metaphor of innocence. The more honest of naturists also admit to the joys of being surrounded by human beauty.

This particular reader remembers the first nude photo he saw: an 11-year-old girl in the book The Thyroid Gland and Clinical Application of Medicinal Thyroid (1945) by The Armour Laboratories. He no longer has the book, but remembers it vividly. The girl had been treated for cretinism using medicine manufactured by the company. After she was completely cured, a nude photo was taken to show her physical condition. According to the book, the symptoms of cretinism include stubby fingers and toes and to show she was normal, it would have been necessary for the girl to remove her shoes. She could have worn a loose, baggy blouse, perhaps exposing the necessary parts of her body, but she really did not need to remove any clothing other than her shoes. The photo in the book, however, showed this girl wearing shoes and socks but nothing else!

Arnold S. Jackson, MD - From The Throid Gland and Clinical Application of Medicinal Thyroid (1930;1938)

Arnold S. Jackson, MD – From The Thyroid Gland and Clinical Application of Medicinal Thyroid (1930;1938)

Being a young boy interested in photos of nude girls, he looked for other medical books in libraries and book stores, and discovered that this book was not typical. Doctors are expected to know what a healthy person looks like and photos in other medical books showed nudity only when needed and the face was usually censored. Thus, he came to the conclusion that these images were published for the sake of art, disguised as medicine.

Years later, he did find another artistic medical photo of a nude girl about 12 years old. It was in Medical Infrared Photography (Kodak Publication No. N-1, 1973) by Eastman Kodak Company. The photo in question was not infrared and it was an example of photography for which infrared is not suitable.

Börger Nillson - From Medical Infrared Photography (1973)

Börger Nillson – From Medical Infrared Photography (1973)

Though evenly distributed, the contrast would not be suitable for infrared photography.  -Caption, Figure 35, Medical Infrared Photography, Eastman Kodak Company, 1973

Another example of a contrived anatomy book is Dr. C. H. Stratz’ Der Körper des Kindes (The Body of the Child). In this case, the images were clearly artistic as they came from known photographers of children of the time. There will be a dedicated post on Stratz at a later date but you can go here for a sample of his work.

Our contributor also found other online material dealing with this notion of contrivances. It is another medical textbook, The Anatomical Basis of Medical Practice (1971) by Becker, Wilson, and Gehweiler described on the StreetAnatomy site. The age of the subjects are not appropriate for Pigtails in Paint, but you can read the description and some of the quotes are relevant to the point this man was making. People may assume—and this may be a matter of psychological comfort—that physicians are so accustomed to nudity that they no longer appreciate the aesthetics, In this case, the authors admit that physicians enjoy seeing attractive naked females, and that they included artistic nude photos in a serious medical text for that reason.

There is also an account of Amy Lyon (aka Emma Hamilton) at age 15 acting as a model in Dr. Graham’s health lectures in 1780. The sources agree that the so-called health lectures were actually nude shows. Thomas Rowlandson made a drawing circa 1800 titled The Future Lady Hamilton Posing as Hygeia, Goddess of Health when she was in her 20s. So, though the contrivances may change form over the centuries, their roots run deep.

15 thoughts on “Medical Contrivances

  1. Ron, I was just re-reading this old post.
    As for that upcoming dedicated post on Dr. Stratz and “Der Korper des Kindes”,
    is it still scheduled to eventually appear?

    • Just because this was posted a while ago does not mean I have forgotten to follow through. Remember, this is a volunteer effort and I make my living doing something else, so it can take a while to produce the huge backlog of material I have in the archives. That is why I am please to encourage new writers so that at least some of these leads could be handled by others and we can get the material out there. -Ron

  2. In relation to Cretinism if the book only mentions stubby fingers and toes I would not be using it as a reference source, although the original source may be relying on memory of the text in this instance. Having just read about Cretinism on Wikipedia it affects the whole body.

    Wikipedia states – Poor length growth is apparent as early as the first year of life. Adult stature without treatment ranges from 1 to 1.6 metres (3.3 to 5.2 ft), depending on severity, sex, and other genetic factors. In adults, Cretinism results in mental deterioration, swelling of the skin, loss of water and hair.[1] Bone maturation and puberty are severely delayed. Ovulation is impeded, and infertility is common.
    Neurological impairment may be mild, with reduced muscle tone and coordination, or so severe that the person cannot stand or walk. Cognitive impairment may also range from mild to so severe that the person is non-verbal and dependent on others for basic care. Thought and reflexes are slower. Other signs may include thickened skin, enlarged tongue, or a protruding abdomen.

    The description of symptoms indicates the reason for nudity in the photograph. Additionally the cure is lifelong treatment with Thyroxine tablets.

    • I did not want to go into excruciating detail about symptoms on the post, but in the text itself, it does mention stubby fingers and toes and yet the girl is wearing shoes. Based on the text itself, it would only have been necessary to show certain parts of the body. I suspect in this case, the doctor was trying to match the state of dress of the 3-year-old and did not have the presence of mind to anticipate that his photos would be published. Thank you for this, but remember that the book in question was published in 1945 and would be based on what was known about the disorder at that time. Also, I am not saying this instance confirms the contributor’s hypothesis; I have presented it because of the fact that it was such a vivid memory about how we learn about the anatomy of girls.

    • I think that a contrivance is the most probable reason for the image. It is credible that Dr. Jackson would like a nude photo of the girl when he had the opportunity to take one. It is credible that Armour Lab would want an attention-getting photo for the account of how their medication worked.

      We don’t need the photo to show the girl was healthy; Dr. Jackson treated the girl and we have his testimony that she was of normal health at age 11. The photo would be useful only if we had reason to doubt the judgment of Dr. Jackson. In that case, we must ask, does the photo provide sufficient information to allow another doctor to determine if Dr. Jackson was correct in his diagnosis. I am not a physician, so I do not know. However, given the size and resolution of the image, I am skeptical that a doctor viewing the photo would be able to determine whether he agrees with Dr. Jackson. If the photo does provide enough information to make that determination, it would seem to be a simple enough diagnosis that there would be no reason to doubt Dr. Jackson in the first place.

      The other suspicious thing about the photo is that they allowed the girl to wear shoes, but not underwear. If physicians can tell if she is still afflicted by cretinism from the general view of her body, without viewing all of the details such as the feet, is there a need to expose her vulva? Even if doctors are comfortable with nudity, they should have known that an 11-year old girl in 1938 probably would be much more comfortable if allowed to keep her panties. If they required her to remove her underwear to get a better photo, rather than because of a medical necessity, I would consider that to be a contrivance.

  3. The world of advertising is a good example of the shift in acceptable nudity. Advertisements today have become provocative and reveal more of the adult body than would have ever been acceptable in the mid century. The poor Coppertone girl is the prime example of the shift in opinions. Gone are the days where her untanned bottom is exposed by her feisty dog who is now forced to lightly tug at the bottom so as not to expose anything “offending”. It is disappointing to live in the current society where the uniformed masses associate nudity with sexuality. They are two separate states and just because one is present does not mean the other is involved.

  4. Another old book in this general category is “THE HUMAN BODY” by a Dr. Logan Clendening
    It is a book intended for a general readership, not for doctors.

    The sequence of the pages is “interrupted” for the photo sections.
    There are some on-topic photos in the photo section between
    Pages 244 and 245.

    • I would like to caution those who are planning to rush out and get this book that there are various editions. I made the mistake of getting a pocket edition which was softcover and did not have the photographs. Just be sure to purchase one of the various hardbound editions. -Ron

  5. Ron,

    I have come across another book that could be added to the list, The Diagnosis and Treatment of Endocrine Disorders in Children and Adolescences by Lawson Wilkins, MD. It is an interesting book fillied with similar photographs documenting children as they develop through the years. What I did find peculiar was that every photograph of the child was taken in the nude, but when they reached their late teen to twenties, they were able to cover up with a medical gown. WCL

    • Is it possible that some of the reason for children being unclothed but teens being clothed is an indication of how much our society has changed? After all, it’s really not been that long since it was not uncommon for children under the age of 3 or 5 to spend a great deal of their time in the nude (no diapers similar to Central or South America & Asia), older boys and girls might skinny dip, and girls would not swim with a top (much like Europe still does) until they started developing breasts. Essentially, we’ve flipped our standards to the exact opposite. Previously, prepubescent children had nothing to be embarrassed about but adults were to remain covered once they grew shameful hair, curves,etc. Now it’s protect the children and cover them from even the most innocent exposure until they’re 18 when it’s no longer nearly as taboo to drop your clothes for the camera.

      There are occasionally PBS documentaries that show old pictures or video to this effect and if you look at WWII/Depression era photography of families and children, you will find quite a bit of child nudity.

      • TO Mark W. :

        If you are referring to specific books of photographs from the Depression/World War II era, could you please recommend some titles?

        • Sorry Jerrold. I have seen photos in anthologies about depression era / WWII photo books but can’t provide specific title.. I didn’t make note!

    • I want to thank Ron for the great post, and ask some questions of WCL. First, do you know when the Wilkins book was published? Second, is there any indication of how they determined when a patient was old enough to require a gown? Was there a particular age or a particular stage of development that appeared to make the gown necessary? Could it have been that the patient was given a gown when she or he became modest enough (or comfortable in making requests to adults) to ask for one?

      • Wilkins (1950) was very easy to find online with WCL’s lead and will probably be featured in a sequel post. I like the idea of exploring memories and bringing them to life. It is also very instructive about the kinds of images that stick in our memories and why. -Ron

      • Yes, it was published in 1950 and I was able to purchase it from a seller on Amazon. There is no indication why the subjects were covered up when they reached the brink of womanhood, but one can assume it is the fact they are now adult and must cover their bodies out of fear of being shamed. Some of the patients in the book also have the black strip over their eyes so as not to be recognized. It is a fascinating read and has many photographs throughout the book and would make a worthy follow up post.

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