The Metamorphoses of Fat: A History of Obesity

Paperback | July 12, 2016

byGeorges VigarelloTranslated byC. Jon Delogu

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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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From the Publisher

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 c...

Georges Vigarello is research director at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris. He has published prolifically on topics ranging from Concepts of Cleanliness: Changing Attitudes in France Since the Middle Ages (1988) to The History of Rape: Sexual Violence in France from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Centu...
Format:PaperbackDimensions:296 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.68 inPublished:July 12, 2016Publisher:Columbia University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0231159773

ISBN - 13:9780231159777

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Table of Contents

IntroductionPart 11. The Prestige of the Big Person2. Liquids, Fat, and Wind3. The Horizon of Fault4. The Fifteenth Century and the Contrasts of SlimmingPart 25. The Shores of Laziness6. The Plural of Fat7. Exploring Images, Defining Terms8. Constraining the FleshPart 39. Inventing Nuance10. Stigmatizing Powerlessness11. Toning UpPart 412. The Weight of Figures13. Typology Fever14. From Chemistry to Energy15. From Energy to DietsPart 516. The Dominance of Aesthetics17. Clinical Obesity and Everyday Obesity18. The Thin Revolution19. Declaring "The Martyr"Part 6ConclusionNotesIndex

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Exceptionally well organized and presented, The Metamorphoses of Fat is a unique and seminal work of outstanding scholarship that is unreservedly recommended.