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Fat History: Bodies and Beauty in the Modern West 2nd Edition
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Stearns reports that before the 1890s, plumpness was preferred, and signals began to change only as fashions, fat-control devices, and increased public comment on fat began to emerge in the decade prior to 1900.
After that, the trend grew and intensified over an entire century. Stearns sees this growing obsession as a "compensation" for our indulgence in other pleasures about which we are ambivalent--consumerism, sex, women's freedom. As long as we demonstrate strict discipline about our body size as a kind of puritanical guilt-laden compensation, we can allow ourselves these other indulgent, consumerist pleasures.
Stearns likens the vehemence of fat hatred to Calvinism: only the elect (thin) are "saved," glorified through "salvation" stories of heroic weight loss, and rewarded with welcome entry to the cultural pleasures now available. Those who fail or refuse to measure up to the strict standards of slenderness are punished by being relegated to "fat hell" where open season--in the form of attacks and endless analyses of moral failings, character flaws, and psychological weaknesses--is allowed, imprisoning the recalcitrants in the consequences of their supposedly deplorable lack of self-discipline. Clothes, love, and the good life are not to be theirs.
By way of contrast, the French, who have equally strict standards of slenderness, are committed not to compensation for other pleasures but to high aesthetic standards of beauty.Read more ›