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To be fat hasn’t always occasioned the level of hysteria that this condition receives today and indeed was once considered an admirable trait. Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture explores this arc, from veneration to shame, examining the historic roots of our contemporary anxiety about fatness. Tracing the cultural denigration of fatness to the mid 19th century, Amy Farrell argues that the stigma associated with a fat body preceded any health concerns about a large body size. Firmly in place by...
To be fat hasn’t always occasioned the level of hysteria that this condition receives today and indeed was once considered an admirable trait. Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture explores this arc, from veneration to shame, examining the historic roots of our contemporary anxiety about fatness. Tracing the cultural denigration of fatness to the mid 19th century, Amy Farrell argues that the stigma associated with a fat body preceded any health concerns about a large body size. Firmly in place by the time the diet industry began to flourish in the 1920s, the development of fat stigma was related not only to cultural anxieties that emerged during the modern period related to consumer excess, but, even more profoundly, to prevailing ideas about race, civilization and evolution. For 19th and early 20th century thinkers, fatness was a key marker of inferiority, of an uncivilized, barbaric, and primitive body. This idea--that fatness is a sign of a primitive person--endures today, fueling both our $60 billion “war on fat” and our cultural distress over the “obesity epidemic.”
Farrell draws on a wide array of sources, including political cartoons, popular literature, postcards, advertisements, and physicians’ manuals, to explore the link between our historic denigration of fatness and our contemporary concern over obesity. Her work sheds particular light on feminisms’ fraught relationship to fatness. From the white suffragists of the early 20th century to contemporary public figures like Oprah Winfrey, Monica Lewinsky, and even the Obama family, Farrell explores the ways that those who seek to shed stigmatized identities--whether of gender, race, ethnicity or class--often take part in weight reduction schemes and fat mockery in order to validate themselves as “civilized.” In sharp contrast to these narratives of fat shame are the ideas of contemporary fat activists, whose articulation of a new vision of the body Farrell explores in depth. This book is significant for anyone concerned about the contemporary “war on fat” and the ways that notions of the “civilized body” continue to legitimate discrimination and cultural oppression.
Posted April 18, 2012
Would I recommend this book? No
As a historical perspective on where the American culture's negative ideas about fat originated, the start of the book was interesting.
However, before hitting the middle of the book, the author has introduced all the ideas she's going to put forth. I barely made it through the chapter on feminism. It was a broken record. As though I didn't believe her and repeating, repeating, repeating was going to convince me that her conjectures were correct.
I didn't feel as though the book focused on today. As I mentioned above, for a historical perspective, the book was interesting. For a way to deal with and work through the pressing issues of today fueling negative feelings and attitudes towards fat, I felt it was lacking.
I was hoping for a book that explored America's views of fat as unhealthy. A book that could explore the idea that you can be healthy (have good cholesterol levels, blood pressure, be active, etc.) without being a size 2-- a topic allude to in the brief story of a jazzercise attendee, but not given its due attention.
I also felt the author ignored the topic of "attractiveness." She argues the feminists of the 1920s felt fat women were "unfit for citizenship" because only thin women appeared in their propaganda. Meanwhile, I believe the real issue is the same as only thin women appearing on the cover of magazines today-- Beauty sells and thin is considered beautiful. Why? How can we change that? How untrue is that entire notion? These are the things I would've liked answered. These are the arguements I had hoped to walk away more knowledgeable and better able to speak to after reading this book.
In short, (even if the topics were a bullseye for me) I wouldn't recommend it simply due to the constructions of the arguements, the focus on feminism and the repeition of the same ideas and examples.
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