Historicizing Fat in Anglo-American Culture

Edited by Elena Levy-Navarro


Literary Criticism/General; Social Science/Popular Culture
254 pp. 6x9

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The author recommends the following links:

The Fat Liberation Archives


The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance

International Size Acceptance Association

Information on San Francisco’s Law against Weight and Height Discrimination

Mayer Collection of Fat Liberation


“By locating fat in specific historical sources and contexts, this anthology complicates popular understandings of the historical meaning of fat and serves to denaturalise the current climate of fat phobia and anxiety over ‘the obesity epidemic’ by denaturalising the supposedly stable category of fat. Importantly, the essays in this volume make explicit connections between historical and contemporary discourses and ways of embodying fatness, making it a vital and relevant collection that contributes to the growing body of scholarship on fatness in new and important ways.” —Somatechnics

Historicizing Fat in Anglo-American Culture is an ambitious and successful attempt to place fat bodies, and their perception and treatment, in a historical context and cultural focus. The varied and fascinating assemblage of essays ably illustrates that our understanding and treatment of fat is intimately bound up with hallmarks of modernity: industrialization, consumer culture, mass culture, and imperialism.” —Robert Bucholz, professor of history, Loyola University Chicago

“Many of the early books criticizing ‘obesity studies’ have come from the health and mental health professions, focusing on flaws in the research on dieting, nutrition, medicine, and psychology. Thus this book, with its focus on history and literature, has much to offer. Historicizing Fat in Anglo-American Culture is an excellent contribution to scholarship in Fat Studies, and it promises to become a classic in its field.” —Esther Rothblum, professor of women’s studies, San Diego State University

Historicizing Fat in Anglo-American Culture, edited by Elena Levy-Navarro, is the first collection of essays to offer a historical consideration of fat bodies in Anglophone culture. The interdisciplinary essays cover periods from the medieval to the contemporary, mapping out a new terrain for historical consideration. These essays question many of the commonplace assumptions that circulate around the category of fat: that fat exists as a natural and transhistorical category; that a premodern period existed which universally celebrated fat and knew no fatphobia; and that the thin, youthful body, as the presumptively beautiful and healthy one, should be the norm by which to judge other bodies.

The essays begin with a consideration of the interrelationship between the rise of weight-watching and the rise of the novel. The essays that follow consider such wide-ranging figures as the fat child’s body as a contested site in post-Blair U.K. and in Lord of the Flies; H. G. Wells; Wilkie Collins’s subversively performative Fosco; Ben Jonson; the voluptuous Lillian Russell; Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis; the opera diva; and the fat feminist activists of recent San Francisco. In developing their histories in a self-conscious way that addresses the pervasive fatphobia of the present-day Anglophone culture, Historicizing Fat suggests ways in which scholarship and criticism in the humanities can address, resist, and counteract the assumptions of late modern culture.

Elena Levy-Navarro is associate professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.