the original fat-shamer


I did it first

Long before anybody thought to produce a Buns of Steel video, or invent a craze like Fitbie, or storm the gym with kettlebells, before Crossfits opened up in vacant garages and hemp-sucking gurus had SoCal hausfraus half-moon posing up and down the coast, I turned the Hofburg Imperial Apartments into my private fitness torture chamber.

who needs an elliptical when you have an abs ladder in your toilette!

who needs an elliptical when you have an abs ladder in your toilette!

My mother-in-law nearly had me sent to the nuthouse for my dogged determination to immediately squeeze back into my pre-pregnancy frocks-all tailored to fit a 16-inch waist. But the difference between me and the so-called “what’s your excuse mom” – chastised for bearing a taut midriff whilst braggily displaying the ages of her three small boys – is that I worked out fanatically as an antidote to the limelight, rather than as some sort of aspiration toward it. I suppose, had there been social media in Vienna in the 1800s, I might have had a little Facebook page cobbled together under an assumed name so I could know what all the fuss was about. But I sincerely doubt I would have festooned it with selfie after selfie.  No, it was more my style to hide behind enormous fans and, after I reached a (ahem) certain age, I forbade my picture to be painted or photographed by anyone. (The paparazzi of the day thought themselves mighty clever bullshopping wrinkles and sags on existing prints.)

Aging is for sissies. Other sissies.

Aging is for sissies. Other sissies.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m all for fat-shaming. The excesses of Court are enough to send me into fits of purge just thinking about the various courses and wine pairings, grizzly meat and lavishly iced sweets. And I’m just talking breakfast!

We were too fat then, and you’re all too fat now. Yes, I’m talking to YOU! Do you really need that extra helping of mashed potatoes? The Big Gulp you consume after your ten-minute treadmill walk? And don’t get me started on Mexican fast food.


Let me ask you. Are you often tired and grumpy? Is there a crater-sized depression in your living room sofa made by your lumpy keister? Are you longing to fit back into those skinny jeans, or, say, your Winterhalter gala gown? Well, I just might have an answer.

Try my “Clean Eating the Sisi Way” diet! It’s as easy as a trip to the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker (okay, not the candlestick maker – the dairy farmer – but that didn’t rhyme).

Choose from the following items, eat them in any order, and alternate 15 mile alpine hikes with a day of riding the biggest stallion you can find, and you’ll be in Sisi Shape in no time!

Meal #1:

  • fresh goat’s milk and honey – 1 cup
  • veal blood – a shot glass or 2
  • rose petal water – as much as you like

Meal #2

  • sheep’s urine – diluted, of course. Full strength is nasty!
  • rabbit toes  – may sub young pig’s feet upon occasion
  • rose petal water – I admit, it helps to have servants to squeeze the petals

Meal #3

  • sorbet – any kind, really, as long as it’s infused with lemon zest
  • rose petal water – just can’t have too much!

ladies gone mild

Ah. Trieste!

Ah. Trieste!

All right all you spring breakers, let’s get civilized, shall we? Before all you ladies (and I use the term broadly) bared your midriffs, shaved your privates, and boarded a plane bound for depravity, there was a much more elegant way to spend a holiday. It was known as the rest cure.

I’ve been much maligned for my tendency to slip away from Court during frigid or rainy weather to partake in the tepid waters off the coast of Corfu, or feel the sweet warm breeze from a Triestian turret. But I ask you. Is it fair to criticize a monarch for her forays into radical self-care? Would you rather see me pale and anemic, coughing up a lung whilst stuffed into one insufferable gown after another?

If it were up to the men, they’d rather we stay chained to the throne, as it were. Or if we do dash off on holiday, freshly Lipo-lifted and salon-bronzed, we must be available for their continual ogling. On display in a drenched t-shirt, or, heavens, with a strip of cloth bisecting our buttocks. This is not vacation, ladies.

I propose that we rethink this girls gone wild thing, and take back our holidays. Instead of parading about like a cow at auction, consider this age-old alternative. Yes, yes, sometimes there’s a bit of electroshock involved. And stiff Nurse Ratchet types administering to your bodily functions, but my particular version has a few more goodies. The “Sisi Rest Cure” has several components:

  1.  warm to hot mineral water in which to bathe free from lecherous eyes
  2.  freshly squeezed juices served chilled thrice daily
  3.  beauty cure ointments available for a variety of ailments
  4.  musicians with soothing instruments
  5.  freshly caught seafood for the evening meals
  6.  rubdowns and oilings. preferably executed by handsome young male attendants

Really, ladies, would you rather shake your booty or awaken your inner goddess?


the hills kept me alive. no music required.

The gold and crackle of fall is at hand, which, for most of my life meant one thing: the mountains. As a girl, when I was not on horseback, I climbed the hills surrounding my summer home, Possenhofen. But once I reached adulthood and found myself being forced into one after another poufy ensemble, I made it a point (much to the dismay of the Archduchess) to scurry about the alps whenever I could command a coach to take me away from Court.

I had my favorite climbs: The Schmittenhohebahnen, The Katrin alpine (shown in the picture above), and other Saltzkammergut vistas.

Of course, my retinue found this habit taxing. After all, my ladies-in-waiting were a phlegmatic lot. Ascending a palace staircase was often the extent of their daily exercise–they were not about to go traipsing along hill and dale. We found an amenable solution. I would have the ladies gathered up and placed in a carriage, so they might gossip and fiddle with their handwork as they bumped along the lanes beside me as I hiked.

In rain and snow, in the heat of summer, off I went. And when the road grew too narrow or rutty for the carriage, I bid it adieu and marched along with whichever escort drew the short straw until the poor companion begged that her gout or boils were getting the better of her and could we please, please turn back.

As for hiking “couture,” I adapted the boots, dark, practical skirts and close-fitting jackets from my extensive collection of hunting habits. In fact, I do believe I could take some credit for an entire fashion trend. Especially the large leather umbrella I hoisted above my head (not only did this protect me from curious onlookers and the horrid sun, but offered the extra benefit of keeping the flab off the arms).

When I required a bit of a break and some refreshment, I would pop into a country inn, choosing always the most remote corner, and there I would have my glass of milk.

Occasionally, the carriages were not available, in which case I went walking without them. But I was not able to convince the Court that I could manage solo. Ah, my poor, loyal Lady Festetics, the little butter ball. After a couple of hours chasing me around the black forest, she begged for a ham, or even a sweet roll. My forced marches were entirely too much for the Countess. Once, when out rather late on an excursion, we were racing against sunset, necessitating a bit of a jog back to the summer castle in Bad Ischl. A policeman became alarmed, seeing such a sight, convinced that an evildoer was in hot pursuit!

Though history finds it odd that an Empress would choose to get sweaty and march about in boots rather than sit like a pampered cat on a velvet cushion, but for me, it was my lifeline to earlier days–when I was free to explore at will, rather than be kept in the proverbial gilded cage to grow dusty and fat.

Sisi’s workout program

Ah, if only MyFitnessPal or SportsTracker existed 150 years ago. My kingdom for an app! It would have enabled my well-documented exercise obsession, allowing a quantitative measure of my efforts to maintain my 18-inch waist.

As it was, I would have put Jillian Michaels to shame. Biggest Loser, indeed! What with my bedroom trapeze, my mountain-climbing regimen, my strict diet of stag blood and milk, I would have made an excellent health and wellness consultant. Can’t you just see it? The Hofburg Boot Camp! Ladies would line up in the ballroom where I would distribute lead cannon balls. Everyone would grab a partner, and we’d have tight-lacing contests, similar to those kickboxing classes that are all the rage these days, where participants pull on elastic bands in rhythm to such ridiculous music as the Ninja Rap.

My version of Zumba would be a sort of speeded up waltz, with the Court composer flowering his musical ledgers with eighth notes and staccato. An assortment of Vienna’s frilliest dandies would join the class, happily flexing their ascot-festooned sinew, having rubbed slug paste on their shaved torsos to give off the perfect gleam underneath the ballroom’s heavy chandeliers.

Alas, they would have thought me mad(der) back in my day for even lightly suggesting that ladies should aspire to perspire. Aside from casual fanning (which amounts to perhaps 30 calories/hour), movement of all types was frowned upon. We were to maintain our lithe status through counting to ten between bites, and eschewing the extra shim of lard on our Sunday mutton. Indeed, they would have carted me off to the asylum had I suggested that a lady work towards developing six pack abs or buns of steel.

Pity. I would have so loved to see the Archduchess in a unitard, grunting away as she executed a series of roundhouse jabs.

sisi’s top 5 fad diets

Another January, another set of resolutions to follow and then abandon. What’s an Empress to do?

Known as much for my gorgeous hair as my fanatical exercise regime and eating disorder, I think I’m an authority on history’s most bizarre and compelling fad diets. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Sisi’s Very Own Milk, Blood, and Pastry Regime. Balance is key, ladies, if you wish to mitigate a sweet tooth. Upon awakening, take a vial of stag blood along with a full stein of milk (if possible, from your very own cow or goat). Fast until dinner, at which time you may allow yourself another shot of blood and/or milk with which to wash down a pastry or two. Extra points if you execute 10 pull-ups on your trapeze.

2. Pickled Eggs and Pork Fat. Nothing complements the skin like suet, and the vinegar from pickled eggs ensures that you’ll not wish to eat another thing all the live long day.

3. Prost! William the Conqueror’s  alcohol-only diet. Though it was remarkably unsuccessful, leaving the corpulent and very dead monarch in need of a casket big enough for his girth, it certainly was fun while it lasted!

4. The Graham Diet. As we all know, lust of food is related to that other type of lust: the one responsible for epilepsy, spinal diseases, and all manner of madness. The visionary minister Sylvester Graham came up with the original vegan, bland diet in order to assuage his own sexual cravings. His legacy lives on, thanks to Nabisco and those ubiquitous crackers.

5. The Tapeworm Diet. If all else fails, there’s always parasites. Before gastric bypass was invented, this was the only option for some morbidly obese individuals. Unfortunately, tapeworms are ill-behaved and tend to become unwelcome guests. Before long, not only are they helping themselves to your food, they’re bold enough to insist upon stealing the luster from your hair, skin and nails as well. Although they can help you shed the pounds for spa season, longterm, you’ll wish you never invited them.




the battle hymn of the tight-lacer

an example of an ineffective corset, split down the front and made of wool, of all things.

As Empress, my first political duty was to breed, and I performed well. Girl, girl, heir, all before my 21st birthday. I don’t need to tell you girls what that does to a figure, yes?

At 172 cm and 50 kilos my whole adult life (other than the wretched pregnancies), many called my dieting regime excessive. Fine. Call it what you will, but I feel quite wounded when I endure criticism of my lacing practice–which kept my waist no bigger around than a young boy’s thigh. You see, tight-lacing sustained me. Made me feel secure, of one piece. Dainty and solid all at once.

Alas, fashion worked against me and my quest for continued perfection. By the time I hit the ripe old age of 29, corsets began to grow soft.

You call this a corset? Why, it couldn't hold in a fart!

Whalebone stays replaced by cording, split busks laced up the middle with inferior strips of leather, cotton or twine. And I resisted them all: the tearose silk flossed with putty ribbon, peach batiste embellished with frills. Nay, my corsets were made from the hide of a mature stag. And I insisted upon being laced “into” them, from behind, and it took an hour. Yes, an hour.

My corsets were also discarded after a fortnight, once they gave up their “new corset” smell. The smell of strength. Of industry. Once a corset cracked on the eyelet, even a smidge, off it went to the poor. (Though admittedly, the poor had little use for an 18 inch corset, most likely it was used to flog soil from rugs.)

Despite my tight-lacing ways, once secured into my undergarment, I felt safe, and therefore happy. With my waist reduced to its proper dimension, I could do anything. Truly. Bound up stairs, sail through the air on my personal trapeze, even carry all three of my children on my back like a donkey.

So keep your 18-hour control top pantyhose, all you Westerners of the 21st century, as for me, I’ll remain forever virtuous and slender, laced into a corset that could hold back a swollen river in spring.

getting in shape in 1875

who needs a gym membership when you have an abs ladder in your toilette!

Now that we’re nearing the end of the 19th century, I notice more and more that my countrymen suffer from sloth and the constant pursuit of satiety.  A bunch of lazy fatties, they!  I hereby vow, in this new year, to lead by example each and every day.  Herewith I bring you my resolutions.

I resolve to…

Exercise for three hours with my leather and iron trapeze

Eat nothing but a palm-sized slab of venison or rabbit for lunch

Take a spoon of game blood for iron

Eschew all cakes and tarts whatsoever

…unless it’s one of my children’s birthdays

…or the Emperor’s

Ride my horses at least once a week

…or if  my back is acting up, take a four-hour hike

Drink at least eight steins of spring water

Take my cod liver oil without pinching my nose