When flipping through the pages of Sander Gilman’s book Obesity: A Biography, my curiosity was piqued by the reproduction of a chronophotograph and its caption “Eadweard Muybridge, ‘A Gargantuan Woman Walking.’ Collotype (1887)[…]. (Wellcome Collection).“ Identifying the woman as “gargantuan” struck me as awkward. It led me to trace the history and meaning of image and caption, which—as it turns out—tells a lot about how fat bodies have been identified, categorized, and stigmatized in modern history.

The practice of ranking countries according to their inhabitants’ average weight expresses our contemporary obsession with fat and its seemingly global advance. 21st century globesity rankings differ from early modern observations of particularly portly peoples in both form and jargon. Regarding their content the difference seems less pronounced. Current epidemiology sometimes reverses prestatistical attributions, but occasionally it confirms them. Regardless, comparative approaches old and new serve the same cultural function, as I argue, because they both use corpulence abroad to address concerns and ultimately mold self-images at home.   Contemporary popular coverage of countries, which rank high in globesity statistics, largely depends on how their situation can be related to ours. Currently, nine of the ten countries leading most statistics…

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It is a contradiction to work for social justice and perpetuate fatphobia at the same time. This should be obvious, and yet many people with strong commitments to social justice often use rhetoric that entrenches the oppression of fat people. A popular, but pernicious, set of fatphobic assertions takes the form of what some scholars refer to as the “foodscape argument.” On its surface, the foodscape argument (which is also known as the “obesogenic environment” thesis, or the “environmental” theory of fatness) seems progressive. The theory postulates that western industrial societies are experiencing an “epidemic” of “obesity,” which is driven in large part by economic inequality. According to the foodscape argument, low-income people lack access to nutritious foods and are…

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The United States is in the midst of a contemporary civil rights movement that heightens the cry for understanding “Black Lives Matter.” Daily, debates surge around whose lives matter most, all the while missing the point that black lives, lifeways, and existences are important enough to be labeled Black. Black Lives Matter is a phrase that emerged in the aftermath of the recent series of racial unrests occurring in the United States. Specifically, the slogan of #BlackLivesMatter came to define the incidents in Orlando, Florida and Ferguson, Missouri where unarmed African American teenagers, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, respectively, were shot and killed by white representatives of law enforcement. This movement is dedicated to exposing the myriad African American—men, women,…

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In the ever so popular sideshows of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Fat Lady was a fascinating spectacle staged for the amusement, horror and repulsion of the visitors. She was one of the freaks who was feared, yet also marveled at for her assets, her fat body. Today, there are only few sideshows left (in Coney Island for instance), but the tradition of displaying so called freaks for amusement has not vanished, it has merely switched its medium to television, or more precisely to Reality TV, a genre that is overtly popular and profitable for broadcasting stations. The fascination with “real” people and their lives does not seem to cease as more and more programs that negotiate and…

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