The Metamorphoses of Fat: A History of Obesity

Georges Vigarello, trans. from the French by C. Jon Delogu. Columbia Univ., $29.50 (280p) ISBN 978-0-231-15976-0
Folks tend to forget that at one point in human history, big was in. Fat was fashionable. Get a load of the Venus of Willendorf. Even into the Middle Ages—characterized as they were by hunger and deprivation—obesity “incarnate[d] abundance, denote[d] wealth, and symbolize[d] health.” But of course things have changed. Relying primarily on art and literature of the past 600 years, French historien du corps Vigarello (A History of Rape) demonstrates how developments in science and medicine have transformed our understanding of the functioning of the human body, and as a result, social and individual perceptions of obesity. His wide-ranging cultural analysis is compelling, but Vigarello draws many oversized conclusions, as when he lumps all overweight individuals into one “obese person” who “pushes to the extreme a central paradox of contemporary identity: to be led to identify entirely with one’s own body while this body is at once both foreign and oneself.” He essentially ignores the possibility of a psychologically happy obese person, and there’s little talk of the many modern industries that thrive on the stigma of obesity. Cultural historians will find plenty to sink their teeth into, but general readers will find Vigarello’s dense prose too tough to swallow. (May 28)
Reviewed on: 03/25/2013
Release date: 05/01/2013
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Hardcover - 978-1-978159-76-1
Ebook - 248 pages - 978-0-231-53530-4
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-306-31503-6
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