By the 1910s, many women had abandoned the corset because of the health hazards the undergarment posed. Tiny waists were still fashionable, however, leading to a rise in diet and exercise regimes. Women were encouraged to participate in sports, especially gymnastics, as a way to stay fit and slim. During this time, the idea that a woman could be both athletic and feminine was one that challenged traditional gender norms.
In the 19th century, it was believed that women who were too physically active could render themselves infertile, so encouraging women to exercise was itself a sign of progress. Women weren’t completely liberated in that regard by the end of the 1910s, though. Men might have wanted women who stayed fit through physical activity, but it would still be a while before female athletes were accepted in the competitive arena. In 1900, just 2.2 percent of Olympic athletes were women. By 1928, that number had risen to nearly 10 percent. This is a huge difference from the modern era where women make up nearly half of Olympic athletes.