I keep telling you blog post after blog post, at Eat the Cake Studio, we love strong women! Women who forged their own paths, regardless of what society told them. We love to feature such women in our experiences, like in our Cabinet of Curiosities. And there’s no better example of this than our dear bearded lady, Clémentine Delait.
Clémentine was born in 1865 in the French countryside. In her autobiography, she mentions she doesn’t remember when she first started getting hairy, but that by the time she was 18, she already sported a “flattering mustache” and needed to shave her chin regularly. This did not keep her from having suitors and she soon married a baker, and with him opened a café in their little village.
At that time, she was still shaving, but that all changed when a fair came to the nearby city and with it, a bearded lady. Clémentine went to check her out, and was sorely disappointed, remarking that “the poor creature only had a few straggly hair on either side of her face.” Her friends jokingly told her she should let her own beard grow to show people how it’s done, and Clémentine, never one to back down from a dare, accepted. Three weeks later, her chin was adorned with a beard growing softer by the day, which her husband enjoyed petting and which people came from miles around to admire.
From that day on, Clémentine would never shave again.
She renamed her café to “The Café of the Bearded Lady”, and soon started selling autographed photos of herself as postcards to her many fans. It didn’t take long for her to get offers from circuses eager to pay her a fortune to take her on tour, but she would not leave her ailing husband behind and was content with the extra money her postcards made her, money which she used to pamper said husband.
She still did a few shows, like playing cards and drinking champagne inside a lions’ cage (she only accepted because her sister told her not to do it, and there’s nothing Clémentine hated more than people telling her what she could or could not do !). After her husband’s death, she would finally agree to a few tours, visiting royalty all around Europe with her adopted daughter.
She also got the authorization to dress up as a man (at the time, it was illegal for a woman to do so), which she ardently desired even though it’s very clear she always strongly identified as a woman. She delighted in confusing people and tricking her friends, always very good-naturedly, possibly enjoying the deception even more since she was so feminine the rest of the time.
But to be honest, to me, the most remarkable thing about Clémentine isn’t her life, as extraordinary as it was. It’s something even more magical and so hard to achieve.
What strikes me the most about her is how at ease she felt with her own appearance, especially at a time when such eccentricity was even less accepted than today (although arguments could be made about the safety people back then felt in being able to label such people as “freaks” and feel secure in their own so-called normalcy).
Clémentine’s autobiography is chock-full of affirmations as to how shapely she was, how lovely she looked, how many hearts she could have ensnared if she hadn’t been devoted to her husband. From the get go and her mention of her “flattering mustache”, Clémentine never once shows any self-consciousness about her abundant facial hair, her tall stature and uncommon strength, or any doubt about her own femininity, mentioning that while she could summarily kick out any rowdy customer from her café, she was also the most talented embroiderer around.
She always describes herself as “comely” and “well built”, and boasts about how no one ever had any doubt about her being a woman… unless she was disguised as a man, of course. She actually delights in recounting the first time she ventured out as a man and how she fooled a cute salesgirl by first coming to her shop as herself, then later as a man, boasting about how, the second time around, the salesgirl “blushed and simpered, probably hoping for more than a handshake.”
Clémentine never saw herself as anything less than a woman, and definitely not as a “freak”, even though she did not mind touring as one in her later years. She saw it not as debasing herself but as proudly showing people how good she looked.
She lived a long and mostly happy life, grateful about her good-fortune and the gifts which nature had endowed her with, and I think it’s a splendid lesson in self-love and confidence.
And if you’d like to discover more about this extraordinary woman, you might just bump into her while visiting our Cabinet of Curiosities… 👀🗝️