Popular culture produced, circulated, and challenged ideals of the female body in the 19th century as much as in the 21st century. Serials, novels published in installments, and short stories in fashionable literary magazines were as popular and religiously followed as Netflix original series today. As romance was one of the most important genres, what made women attractive was defined in these stories and nationally distributed as normative beauty and gender ideals. The fascination with female body weight at the end of the 19th century is a case in point: it reflected a broader shift in what constituted ideal femininity and how it was to be embodied.  In 1863 a small pamphlet, A Letter on Corpulence, triggered the first dieting craze in the United…

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Humans love to measure things, for example temperature, time, distance and calorie intake. Increasingly, we have discovered new ways to apply these measurements to our own bodies. New technologies have allowed us to collect this data more precisely than before and also, perhaps more importantly, to have these measurements available at all times. “Worrying” about our body has become second nature to us so much that we may not even realize how much of our time revolves around tracking ourselves. Every January, magazines, websites, and social media outdo each other in giving weight-loss advice and fueling a guilty conscience. So we are forced to consider working on our “beach body” for the summer. Starting a diet, working out, getting in…

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In the October 2018 issue of UK’s Cosmopolitan, “one of the busiest working models today,” Tess Holliday, was featured on the cover (Farrah Storr). The image of Holliday caused quite a stir, because this “Cosmo girl,” an iconic figure who has since the 1960s defined ideals of female beauty and attractiveness, is a white, fat woman who is shown blowing a kiss at her readers while wearing a green bathing suit. The image displays her full body, accompanied by the headline: “A Supermodel Roars: Tess Holliday Wants Her Haters to Kiss Her Ass.” Inside the magazine, writer Farrah Storr teases the article by listing that Holliday “weighs 300lbs.,” “grew up in a trailer in Mississippi,” has “suffered abuse,” and “cried just minutes” before the…

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This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. The British Psychological Society is calling for changes for how we talk about fatness, suggesting we should no longer use the phrase “obese people”, but instead, “people with obesity” or “people living with obesity”. These changes are being proposed to recognise that fatness is not about personal choice and that fat shaming and fat stigma are harmful. But this suggested language change is based on the idea obesity is a disease to be cured and fat people are not a natural part of the world. This serves to reinforce stigma, rather than prevent it. How does stigma and shame affect fat people? Fat stigma…

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Consider the photograph here of the half-length statue of Shakespeare on his funerary memorial in Trinity Church, Stratford, with the image of Shakespeare in popular culture, and especially Shakespeare as a young artist and lover in the 1998 blockbuster Shakespeare in Love.  Consider how unrecognizable the Shakespeare in the monument is, as Shakespeare, because Shakespeare is assumed to be youthful and thin. Nineteenth-century responses to the monument help us trace the development of a particularly toxic modern understanding of the fat and thin body, in which the fat body is seen as slow, slow-witted, and eventually prematurely aged, and the thin body is seen as vibrant, quick-witted, and young. As Shakespeare cannot be imagined as “fat,”, so too a fat…

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