Elisabeth von Wittelsbach Empress of Austria 183798

E lisabeth Amelia Eugenia, Empress-Consort of Franz Joseph I, otherwise known as "Sisi," was one of the "beauty" celebrities of the nineteenth century. After her marriage to Franz Josef I, Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire on April 24, 1854, she became "the reigning star of her age" (Sinclair 1998: 189). Like Diana, Princess of Wales, to whom she has been frequently compared, she became the symbol of celebrity beauty as the ultimate sign of tragedy (Daimler 1998: 241-52; Sinclair 1998: 200-4). Like Diana, Elisabeth stated often that her royal marriage had brought her in contact with the stifling nature of the court; and she later deeply regretted the marriage. As the mother of the thirty-one-year-old Crown Prince Rudolf of Hapsburg, whose suicide with his beloved Baroness Mary Vesta at Mayerling on January 30, 1889 shook the Empire, Elisabeth became a symbol of the tragic life of the beautiful. Indeed, after her death, she became the subject of a "Sisi-cult."

Sisi held herself up to extreme beauty standards, which included an 18-inch waist. Each day she was measured by her hairdresser Franziska Feifalik, who assured her that the waist, wrist, and ankle measurements of her 105-pound, five-foot and six-inch tall body fulfilled her and her world's ideal. Fasting was one of the penalties if she exceeded the measurements she thought ideal. Her perfect food was milk, to the extent that she actually travelled with her own milk cow, often living on a single glass a day for sustenance. Otherwise, she ate oranges, at the time expensive and difficult to obtain, or a glass of the newest "health" food, beef broth made from a powder.

Living in Imperial Vienna, Sisi had weight-loss instruments created for her personal living quarters in the Hofburg castle. She exercised every day and ordered a gym be made available to her when she traveled. Constantin Christomanos, who was the "Greek Reader" to the Empress, noted in a diary entry that the end result was an extremely thin body: "I just saw her in her gym. She cre ated the impression of a being somewhere between a snake and a bird" (Christomanos 2005: 124).

Indeed, by the late 1890s, her physician Viktor Eisen-menger diagnosed her as having the tell tale breath of the anorexic, a diagnostic category only recently introduced by William Gull.

While her tiny waist and low weight contributed to her role as a nineteenth-century beauty icon, the measures she took to achieve her appearance were both physically demanding and unhealthy. The constant use of purgatives and laxatives as well as her restricted diet cost Sisi her health, leaving her with symptoms of sciatica and painful foot complaints. Sisi was so obsessed with attaining the highest levels of beauty, she refused to allow any photographs of her after she turned thirty, for it was said that she suffered from premature wrinkles. During the nineteenth century, thinness was not the standard of beauty, yet Sisi was nevertheless admired and loved by women and men around Europe for her dashing beauty and thinness. Like Diana, the circumstances of her separation from the Emperor after i860, for "reasons of health," and her murder by the anarchist Luigi Lucheni on September 10, 1898 in Geneva made her the ideal beauty celebrity of her age.

See also Anorexia; Diana; Gull

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