The Metamorphoses of Fat: A History of Obesity (European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism)

The Metamorphoses of Fat: A History of Obesity (European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism)

Language: English

Pages: 296


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Georges Vigarello maps the evolution of Western ideas about fat and fat people from the Middle Ages to the present, paying particular attention to the role of science, fashion, fitness crazes, and public health campaigns in shaping these views. While hefty bodies were once a sign of power, today those who struggle to lose weight are considered poor in character and weak in mind. Vigarello traces the eventual equation of fatness with infirmity and the way we have come to define ourselves and others in terms of body type.

Vigarello begins with the medieval artists and intellectuals who treated heavy bodies as symbols of force and prosperity. He then follows the shift during the Renaissance and early modern period to courtly, medical, and religious codes that increasingly favored moderation and discouraged excess. Scientific advances in the eighteenth century also brought greater knowledge of food and the body’s processes, recasting fatness as the “relaxed” antithesis of health. The body-as-mechanism metaphor intensified in the early nineteenth century, with the chemistry revolution and heightened attention to food-as-fuel, which turned the body into a kind of furnace or engine. During this period, social attitudes toward fat became conflicted, with the bourgeois male belly operating as a sign of prestige but also as a symbol of greed and exploitation, while the overweight female was admired only if she was working class. Vigarello concludes with the fitness and body-conscious movements of the twentieth century and the proliferation of personal confessions about obesity, which tied fat more closely to notions of personality, politics, taste, and class.

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p. 21. 27. C. J. A. Schwilgué, Traité de matière médicale (Paris, 1805), 2:27. 28. P. Bertholon, De l’éléctricité du corps humain (Paris, 1786 [1780]), 2:157. 29. Ibid. 30. Ibid., 2:81–82. 31. Ibid. 32. N. Retz, Fragments sur l’éléctricité humaine (Amsterdam, 1785), p. 22. 33. W. Buchan, Domestic Medicine (London, 1770), 5 vols. The first French edition was published in 1775. Important commentaries supplement the translation by J. D. Duplanil. 34. Ibid., 3:132. 35. Préville, Méthode, p.

M.-N. Bourguet, Déchiffrer la France: La statistique départementale à l’époque napoléonienne (Paris: Éditions des Archives contemporaines, 1989); see also P. Abrams and M. Janowitz, eds., The Origins of British Sociology, 1834–1914 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968). 10. Quetelet, “Le poids de l’homme,” p. 10. 11. See J.-P. Aron, P. Dumont, and E. Le Roy Ladurie, Anthropologie du conscrit français (Paris: Mouton, 1972), p. 61. 12. Ibid. 13. V. Cazenave, Recrutement de l’armée,

knight. An imposing presence counts more than the former heaviness, as one notes when Thomas Artus makes fun of the worried appearance of old barons in the entourage of Henry III, mocking their slimmed down bodies, pinched shoulders, tightly buckled belts, and the healthy look that supposedly replaces the excess of their former fleshy faces.14 The exercises pursued confirm this change as well—no longer just military training but attention to promoting ease of movement, posture, and everything

educated, imprudent person, a man lacking principles and precaution.26 There is also the person described as grosse lourdière or more simply as grosse loudière in the inventory done by Étienne Pasquier in 1560 to describe heaviness as well as vulgarity (grossièreté).27 And there is a decisive accumulation of insults toward Shakespeare’s Falstaff at the end of the sixteenth century where Prince Henry pours out an endless battery of insults on his fat victim: How now, wool-sack! what mutter you?

agitation becomes possible. The notion of size supposes many sizes and diversity supposes degrees of difference, even if they are more sketched than studied. Procedures for measuring emerge modestly but insistently. These slow but steady changes permit formerly latent distinctions to come into view. For example, the profile of a man where a certain roundness is acceptable versus the profile of a woman where such tolerance is absent. There are also social differences where here a certain visible

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