5 Fat History Books You've Probably Never Heard of Before

Photo by  Susan Yin  on  Unsplash

Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash

We humbly present you with a few books for a course in Fat History 101. These books, researched and written by credentialed historians, anthropologists, and other experts, illuminate the social history of fat bodies. Was fatness always demonized and marginalized? Did a fat body always signal to others qualities such as laziness, bad hygiene, or poor health? Spoiler alert: No!

These authors discuss when, how, and why the marginalization and widespread negative view of fatness emerged. Understanding that today’s belabored popular view of fatness was not always widely held gives us tools to combat fat discrimination now. Dive into these reads to find out how negative views of the fat body were generated and accepted by modern society and consider how you might use that information to reclaim power.


Bodies Out of Bounds: Fatness and Transgression by Jana Evans Braziel

The essays are widely interdisciplinary; they explore their subject with insight, originality, and humor. The contributors examine the intersections of fat with ethnicity, race, queerness, class, and minority cultures, as well as with historical variations in the signification of fat. They also consider ways in which "objective" medical and psychological discourses about fat people and food hide larger agendas. By illustrating how fat is a malleable construct that can be used to serve dominant economic and cultural interests, Bodies Out of Bounds stakes new claims for those whose body size does not adhere to society's confining standards.

2001 | View on Amazon.com


Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession With Weight - and What We Can Do About It by Harriet Brown

As a science journalist, Harriet Brown has explored this collective longing and fixation from an objective perspective; as a mother, wife, and woman with "weight issues," she has struggled to understand it on a personal level. Now, in Body of Truth, Brown systematically unpacks what's been offered as "truth" about weight and health.

2015 | View on Amazon.com

The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls by Joan Jacobs Brumberg

In The Body Project, historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg answers this question, drawing on diary excerpts and media images from 1830 to the present. Tracing girls' attitudes toward topics ranging from breast size and menstruation to hair, clothing, and cosmetics, she exposes the shift from the Victorian concern with character to our modern focus on outward appearance—in particular, the desire to be model-thin and sexy. Compassionate, insightful, and gracefully written, The Body Project explores the gains and losses adolescent girls have inherited since they shed the corset and the ideal of virginity for a new world of sexual freedom and consumerism—a world in which the body is their primary project.

1997 | View on Amazon.com


Fat: The Anthropology of an Obsession by Don Kulick and Anne Meneley

From the anthropology of "fat-talk" among teenage girls in Sweden to the veneration of Spam in Hawaii; from fear of the fat-sucking pishtaco vampire in the Andes to the underground allure of fat porn stars like Supersize Betsy-this anthology provides fresh perspectives on a subject more complex than love handles, and less easily understood than a number on a scale. Fat proves that fat can be beautiful, evil, pornographic, delicious, shameful, ugly, or magical. It all depends on who-and where-you are.

2005 | View on Amazon.com


Never Satisfied: A Cultural History of Diets, Fantasies and Fat by Hillel Schwartz

Looks at the history of America's obsession with weight loss, discusses diets, foundation garments, and influential nutritionists, and suggests psychological reasons for our obsession with weight.

1986 | View on Amazon.com


About the Author

Meaghan O'Riordan is the Accessioning Archivist for the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives & Rare Book Library at Emory University. She holds bachelor's degrees in creative writing and religious studies, as well as a Masters in Library Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is currently pursuing a Masters in Theological Studies from Candler School of Theology at Emory and is writing her thesis on how the body positive movement functions as religion. Meaghan writes for AllGo because she believes it will have a big impact on people’s lived experience.

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