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Fat: A Cultural History of Obesity

Fat: A Cultural History of Obesity

Sander L. Gilman

ISBN: 978-0-745-65875-9

May 2013, Polity

248 pages



The modern world is faced with a terrifying new ‘disease’, that of ‘obesity’. As people get fatter, we have come to see excess weight as unhealthy, morally repugnant and socially damaging. Fat it seems has long been a national problem and each age, culture and tradition have all defined a point beyond which excess weight is unacceptable, ugly or corrupting.

This fascinating new book by Sander Gilman looks at the interweaving of fact and fiction about obesity, tracing public concern from the mid-nineteenth century to the modern day. He looks critically at the source of our anxieties, covering issues such as childhood obesity, the production of food, media coverage of the subject and the emergence of obesity in modern China. Written as a cultural history, the book is particularly concerned with the cultural meanings that have been attached to obesity over time and to explore the implications of these meanings for wider society. The history of these debates is the history of fat in culture, from nineteenth-century opera to our global dieting obsession. Fat, A Cultural History of Obesity is a vivid and absorbing cultural guide to one of the most important topics in modern society.

Introduction: Some Weighty Thoughts on Dieting and Epidemics.

1) Epidemic Obesity.

2) Childhood Obesity.

3) The Stigma of Obesity.

4) Obesity as an Ethnic Problem.

5) Regions of Fat.

6) Chinese Obesity.

Conclusion: “Globesity” and Its Odd History.

Supplemental Readings.

"Gilman's work is absorbing and witty. It is addictive to read his critical observations on areas including childhood obesity, the growth of obesity in modern China and media coverage of the topic. And this, er, slim book will certainly appeal to all of us who want to understand a little more about the cultural and historical aspects and attitudes to obesity."

"This book will be useful to students of culture and social identity, concentrating as it does on the historical debates surrounding obesity."
Times Higher Education

"[Fat] offers an engaging and suggestive reading with which all historians of fat, food, and modern dietary regimes will want to engage."
H-Net: Humanities and Social Science Reviews Online

"Sander Gilman makes a nuanced and richly documented argument about the historical, cultural, and scientific contingency of concepts such as 'fat', 'obesity', and 'health'. This book is a powerful demonstration of how moralistic prejudices influence public health discourse, and our ideas of what constitutes diseases and epidemics. It is an invaluable contribution to the contemporary interdisciplinary critique of our moral panic over fat."
Paul Campos, University of Colorado

"In Fat, Sander Gilman artfully skewers the cultural tropes and myths surrounding one of the leading moral panics of our time – America's so-called obesity epidemic. Gilman unearths the hidden agendas and historical precedents that allow for our growing weight to be labelled as a deadly disease. Through his wit and erudition, Fat is an invaluable perspective for anyone wanting a more nuanced perspective about health, culture, and society"”
Eric Oliver, University of Chicago, author of Fat Politics

  • fascinating new book on obesity which charts its cultural history from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day
  • very engaging and on a very topical subject – this book should attract lots of review coverage and a trade audience
  • Sander L. Gilman is very well known in the US and the UK for his previous books in the History of Medicine and psychoanalysis
  • full of details, facts, and cultural observations with examples literature and the media across the world

  • vivid and absorbing cultural guide to one of the most important topics in modern society