8 Fat History Books You’ve Probably Never Heard of Before

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We humbly present you with a few books for a course in Fat History 101. These books, researched and written by credentialed historians, anthropologists, and other experts, illuminate the social history of fat bodies. Was fatness always demonized and marginalized? Did a fat body always signal to others qualities such as laziness, bad hygiene, or poor health? Spoiler alert: No!

These authors discuss when, how, and why the marginalization and widespread negative view of fatness emerged. Understanding that today’s belabored popular view of fatness was not always widely held gives us tools to combat fat discrimination now. Dive into these reads to find out how negative views of the fat body were generated and accepted by modern society and consider how you might use that information to reclaim power.

Bodies Out of Bounds: Fatness and Transgression by Jana Evans Braziel

“Since World War II, when the diet and fitness industries promoted mass obsession with weight and body shape, fat has been a dirty word. In the United States, fat is seen as repulsive, funny, ugly, unclean, obscene, and above all as something to lose. Bodies Out of Bounds challenges these dominant perceptions by examining social representations of the fat body. The contributors to this collection show that what counts as fat and how it is valued are far from universal; the variety of meanings attributed to body size in other times and places demonstrates that perceptions of corpulence are infused with cultural, historical, political, and economic biases. The exceptionally rich and engaging essays collected in this volume question discursive constructions of fatness while analyzing the politics and power of corpulence and addressing the absence of fat people in media representations of the body.

The essays are widely interdisciplinary; they explore their subject with insight, originality, and humor. The contributors examine the intersections of fat with ethnicity, race, queerness, class, and minority cultures, as well as with historical variations in the signification of fat. They also consider ways in which “”objective”” medical and psychological discourses about fat people and food hide larger agendas. By illustrating how fat is a malleable construct that can be used to serve dominant economic and cultural interests, Bodies Out of Bounds stakes new claims for those whose body size does not adhere to society’s confining standards.”

2001 | View on Amazon

Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession With Weight – and What We Can Do About It by Harriet Brown

“Over the past twenty-five years, our quest for thinness has morphed into a relentless obsession with weight and body image. In our culture, “fat” has become a four-letter word. Or, as Lance Armstrong said to the wife of a former teammate, “I called you crazy. I called you a bitch. But I never called you fat.” How did we get to this place where the worst insult you can hurl at someone is “fat”? Where women and girls (and increasingly men and boys) will diet, purge, overeat, undereat, and berate themselves and others, all in the name of being thin?

As a science journalist, Harriet Brown has explored this collective longing and fixation from an objective perspective; as a mother, wife, and woman with “weight issues,” she has struggled to understand it on a personal level. Now, in Body of Truth, Brown systematically unpacks what’s been offered as “truth” about weight and health.”

2015 | View on Amazon

Fat: The Anthropology of an Obsession by Don Kulick and Anne Meneley

“With more than one billion overweight adults in the world today, obesity has become an epidemic. But fat is not as straightforward—or even as universally damned—as one might think. Enlisting thirteen anthropologists and a fat activist, editors and anthropologists Don Kulick and Anne Meneley have produced an unconventional-and unprecedented-examination of fat in various cultural and social contexts. In this anthology, these writers argue that fat is neither a mere physical state nor an inert concept. Instead, it is a construct built by culture and judged in courts of public opinion, courts whose laws vary from society to society.

From the anthropology of “”fat-talk”” among teenage girls in Sweden to the veneration of Spam in Hawaii; from fear of the fat-sucking pishtaco vampire in the Andes to the underground allure of fat porn stars like Supersize Betsy-this anthology provides fresh perspectives on a subject more complex than love handles, and less easily understood than a number on a scale. Fat proves that fat can be beautiful, evil, pornographic, delicious, shameful, ugly, or magical. It all depends on who-and where-you are.”

2005 | View on Amazon

Never Satisfied: A Cultural History of Diets, Fantasies and Fat by Hillel Schwartz

Looks at the history of America’s obsession with weight loss, discusses diets, foundation garments, and influential nutritionists, and suggests psychological reasons for our obsession with weight.

1986 | View on Amazon

The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls by Joan Jacobs Brumberg

“A hundred years ago, women were lacing themselves into corsets and teaching their daughters to do the same. The ideal of the day, however, was inner beauty: a focus on good deeds and a pure heart. Today American women have more social choices and personal freedom than ever before. But fifty-three percent of our girls are dissatisfied with their bodies by the age of thirteen, and many begin a pattern of weight obsession and dieting as early as eight or nine. Why?

In The Body Project, historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg answers this question, drawing on diary excerpts and media images from 1830 to the present. Tracing girls’ attitudes toward topics ranging from breast size and menstruation to hair, clothing, and cosmetics, she exposes the shift from the Victorian concern with character to our modern focus on outward appearance—in particular, the desire to be model-thin and sexy. Compassionate, insightful, and gracefully written, The Body Project explores the gains and losses adolescent girls have inherited since they shed the corset and the ideal of virginity for a new world of sexual freedom and consumerism—a world in which the body is their primary project.”

1997 | View on Amazon

The Body and Shame: Phenomenology, Feminism, and the Socially Shaped Body by Luna Dolezal

“The Body and Shame: Phenomenology, Feminism, and the Socially Shaped Body investigates the concept of body shame and explores its significance when considering philosophical accounts of embodied subjectivity. Body shame only finds its full articulation in the presence (actual or imagined) of others within a rule and norm governed milieu. As such, it bridges our personal, individual and embodied experience with the social, cultural and political world that contains us. Luna Dolezal argues that understanding body shame can shed light on how the social is embodied, that is, how the body—experienced in its phenomenological primacy by the subject—becomes a social and cultural artifact, shaped by external forces and demands.”

2015 | View on Amazon

Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body by Susan Bordo

“Unbearable Weight is brilliant. From an immensely knowledgeable feminist perspective, in engaging, jargonless (!) prose, Bordo analyzes a whole range of issues connected to the body―weight and weight loss, exercise, media images, movies, advertising, anorexia and bulimia, and much more―in a way that makes sense of our current social landscape―finally!”

2003 | View on Amazon

Fat Politics: The Real Story Behind America’s Obesity Epidemic by J. Eric Oliver

“It seems almost daily we read newspaper articles and watch news reports exposing the growing epidemic of obesity in America. Our government tells us we are experiencing a major health crisis, with sixty percent of Americans classified as overweight, and one in four as obese. But how valid are these claims? In Fat Politics, J. Eric Oliver shows how a handful of doctors, government bureaucrats, and health researchers, with financial backing from the drug and weight-loss industries.”

2006 | View on Amazon

Fat History: Bodies and Beauty in the Modern West by Peter N. Stearns

“The modern struggle against fat cuts deeply and pervasively into American culture. Dieting, weight consciousness, and widespread hostility toward obesity form one of the fundamental themes of modern life. Fat History explores the meaning of fat in contemporary Western society and illustrates how progressive changes, such as growth in consumer culture, increasing equality for women, and the refocusing of women’s sexual and maternal roles have influenced today’s obsession with fat. Brought up-to-date with a new preface and filled with narrative anecdotes, Fat History explores fat’s transformation from a symbol of health and well-being to a sign of moral, psychological, and physical disorder.”

1997 | View on Amazon

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