The Metamorphoses of Fat: A History of Obesity

The Metamorphoses of Fat: A History of Obesity

by George Vigarello
     
 

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One of the world’s top historians of the body, Georges Vigarello maps the evolution of Western ideas about fat and fat people from the Middle Ages to today, 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

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Overview

One of the world’s top historians of the body, Georges Vigarello maps the evolution of Western ideas about fat and fat people from the Middle Ages to today, 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 cemented the social implications of personal behavior and tied fat more closely to notions of personality, politics, taste, and class.

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Editorial Reviews

Nature

Vigarello offers up a grande bouffe of food for thought, tracing the impact of evolving mores and medicines on society's perception of an often stigmatized condition.

Times Literary Supplement

Vigarello masterfully traces...the stigmatization of the fat person over time.

Choice

Overall, a useful resource on the sociology and history of obesity...

Modern Language Review

... At once compelling and ground-breaking... This work represents all that is best in new histories of the body.

Social History of Medicine

A brilliant piece of work… This is a short, readable and engaging book, published with perfect timing… a great opening point to the many opaque aspects of the consequences of body size for the fate of individuals and societies for future historians to explore.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231535304
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
05/07/2013
Series:
European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
296
File size:
8 MB

What People are saying about this

Sander L. Gilman

The Metamorphoses of Fat presents a historical spectrum of fat in all of its medical, social, cultural, and aesthetic contexts. Focusing on Western Europe (and its North American colonies), Georges Vigarello's study moves from the world of medieval and early modern corpulence to our contemporary obesity epidemic, illustrating how shifts in the definition of fat form its cultural representation and how these cultural representations impact the lived experiences of fat people. A remarkably readable and engaging book for all readers!

Jean-Jacques Courtine

Gluttony--whether perceived or real--has become the ultimate deadly sin in our secularized Western world. The Metamorphoses of Fat tackles with depth and breadth the history of obesity from the Middle Ages to the present from a wide interdisciplinary and cultural perspective.

Amy Farrell

Meticulously researched and beautifully written--poetic even--Georges Vigarello's The Metamorphoses of Fat provides a much needed European history of the meaning of fatness. Vigarello moves us through the shifting meanings of fat, not from good to evil but from ambiguously problematic in the medieval era to outrageously degrading in the contemporary moment. This is an extremely important work, central to scholarship within Western intellectual history, cultural studies of the body, and the new field of fat studies.

Susan Greenhalgh

Throughout the Western world, fatness is deemed such a social sin that it is perfectly legitimate to stigmatize and discriminate against the very heavy. In this lively history from a master historian of the body, we learn that this disgust for fatness has been with us since medieval times. Georges Vigarello's history of obesity is at heart a history of condemnation, how its shape has shifted in response to larger social, cultural, economic, and scientific transformations. A powerful and disturbing read that highlights the role of modern science in defining the very heavy as unfit for membership in the community of valued citizens.

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Meet the Author

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 and the cultural history of sports to The History of Rape: Sexual Violence in France from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century and The History of the Body: From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment.

C. Jon Delogu is professeur des universités in the Department of English at the Université Jean Moulin, Lyon 3 in France. He has also taught at Boston University, Connecticut College, Dartmouth College, Hampshire College, and the University of Southern Maine.

Columbia University Press

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