Fat Boys: A Slim Book

Sander L. Gilman, Author
Sander L. Gilman, Author University of Nebraska Press $27.95 (310p) ISBN 978-0-8032-2183-3
Reviewed on: 03/01/2004
Release date: 03/01/2004
Today, many people tend to think of fat as a female (or, with a nod to Susie Orbach,""feminist"") issue--or, in broader terms, as an American problem, or a class concern; there have been few considerations of the relationship between men and fat. Univ. of Illinois, Chicago professor Gilman (Making the Body Beautiful: A Cultural History of Aesthetic Surgery) here attempts to""even the scales"" by presenting a comprehensive exploration of the fat male body and its various incarnations, including""soldier"" (Shakespeare's rotund Falstaff),""servant"" (Fat Joe),""detective"" (NYPD Blue's Andy Sipowicz) and""athlete"" (Babe Ruth""The fat male body generates multiple meanings, many of which present a quite different set of images than do those of the fat, female body,"" notes Gilman in the book's introduction; he considers how these fat""types"" influence our culture's perception--and expectations--of obese men. While Falstaff plays""the bragging soldier"" in the Henry IV plays, he appears as a""pathetic and comic old man"" in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Meanwhile, the""fat detective"" has historically been portrayed as a cunning, intuitive character, whose fat""aids his mental processes, as his body size and shape seem to account for his different way of thinking."" From a consideration of fat's equation with greed and carnal sin (in Augustine) to William Sheldon's classification of body types into ectomorphs and endomorphs, this is a substantial, and yes, weighty analysis of the cultural phenomenon affectionately and respectfully referred to here as the"" fat man."" Gilman tethers his observations to medical literature's considerations of obesity over the centuries, from the Greeks to today, as well as cultural signposts gleaned from popular culture, making this a somewhat academic but still enjoyable read.
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