Friday, August 27, 2010

Lazy, Slothful, and Indolent

This study sounds like good source material for those in the fat studies field. 

'Lazy, slothful and indolent': medical and social perceptions of obesity in Europe to the eighteenth century.

Sawbridge DT, Fitzgerald R. Vesalius. 2009 Dec;15(2):59-70.

University of Edinburgh.


There is a considerable stigma associated with obesity, among healthcare professionals as well as the general population, which often leads to discrimination and weight bias. But why is there a stigma attached to obesity?

The origin of this stigma has been identified in the 18th century but its roots lie much further back in history. There is some debate about how this negative perception of obesity arose and the role of medical professionals in its creation. This paper examines both positive and negative conceptions by following three major aspects of the modern stigma through from Palaeolithic statues to the medical texts of ancient Greece and Rome, finishing with the medical and literary sources of the 18th century 'Enlightenment'.

The modern perception of obesity originated in the social and scientific climate of the Enlightenment through the combination of three key themes;

  • obesity as conspicuous consumption,
  • associations with suspect morals and excess, and
  • as an outward representation of the soul
The evolution of each of these themes can be clearly identfied in pre-Enlightenment sources. By the eighteenth century, these perceptions became amplified by, and disseminated through, the literary and media boom to create a recognisably modern stigma against the obese.

PMID: 20527324

*Think about the typical "obese" characters on TV or in books, movies, and plays.  Most of them pretty much fit into "obesity as conspicuous consumption," "associations with suspect morals and excess," or "outward representation of the soul," don't they?

Which characters can you think of that fit these stereotypes? 

The one that springs immediately to my mind is the Baron in the Sting movie version of "Dune."  I think he fits all three of those.  Fat Hate Bingo!

Anyone else care to play?


Mrs. Gamgee said...

Boss Hogg from the Dukes of Hazard... remember him? He pretty much represents all three, too!

E. B. said...

Haha, well I loved the Dune series. In the book, the Baron is obscene in a myriad of ways. His body is also a contrast to the water and resource deprived gnarly builds of people living on the desert planet. Later in the series, it's briefly mentioned that a Bene Gesserit he slept with gave him a "disease that made him fat" though, which was a bit odd.

I really hate the way we are portrayed though. I want to see heros/heroines of larger size. It's important. As a little girl, I would have loved to see a fat woman to look up too, and I found a few, but it would be wonderful to see it become prevalent.

We should use different forms of media-art, writing, animation, film, to introduce these, repeatedly, until it "takes hold in the mass system". That's what you have to do essentially, is make media a weapon of choice to combat hateful propaganda, etc...
Just a thought lol.

Twistie said...

How about Shakespeare's good old Falstaff? Talk about suspect morals and conspicuous excess!

Porthos of the Three Musketeers is fat and always portrayed in film and television versions as the least accomplished of the group and the comic relief. He was also a clothes horse (Hmmm... conspicuous consumption) in the book and the Richard Lester films.

And of course there's Mrs. Joyboy in Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One. She's fat to the point of immobility. It's the apparent reason she's bed bound. Her only pleasure is eating grotesque quantities of food and watching the TV commercials for food and restaurants. So she's wildly gluttonous and a representative of the American Consumer Culture as an intensely stupid, immoral, and disgusting concept. That makes the outside the mirror for the inside, as well. Trifecta!

On the other hand, I would note that L.M. Montgomery was an excellent antidote for me as a child. In her Anne of Green Gables series, fat and thin just were. They didn't stand in for moral worth or physical energy level or measure of personal will power. In fact, Mrs. Rachel Linde and Rebecca Dew are two of the most active, energetic characters in the series and are both quite fat. Mrs. Lind's greatest overindulgence is in her neighbors' business, but it's a personal quirk that cuts both good and bad rather than something that goes with fat.

None of the fat characters that I can recall were treated as less morally worthy because of their size or shape, any more than the thin ones were. People came in tall, short, thin, fat, blonde, brunette, and all variations thereon. What mattered was how they approached the world and whether they chose to add a little good to it.

What? I love classic literature, including classic children's literature.

Heidi said...

The Dursleys in Harry Potter, most specifically Dudley Dursley.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Harry Potter, there's also Neville Longbottom, who is one of the "good guys" but is bumbling and incompetent (in magic in particular, but from what I can remember he wasn't exactly supposed to be clever, either). Not so much of the conspicuous consumption or suspect morals, but certainly the body-as-representation-of-the-soul thing, where fat as lack of gracefulness/nimbleness/quickness/strength stands for the lack of those attributes (in ability to practice magic in particular).

Speaking of "bumbling", there's also Mr. Bumble in the play "Oliver!" who is a glutton who starves and mistreats orphans. I'd say he hits all three. (I'm not familiar with the Charles Dickens book version, so not sure how similar the book character is.)