Changes during the early nineteenth century revolutionized responses to fat. A new focus on statistics brought with it the concept of weight norms, and advances in chemistry suggested that sugar intake and fat were closely related. Fat was now considered unburned fuel, whereas before it was thought of in very different terms, related to an early understanding of the body as rooted in liquids and humours. And as technology slowly moved into the domestic sphere, people weighed themselves more. One consequence: “There is an intensified will to thinness in the second half of the nineteenth century”, and it is a consequence that falls differentially on women. Indeed, an enduring response to fatness, a response that stands impervious to change with the century, society, or culture is the double standard “between”, Vigarello explains, “the male case where relatively big sizes are tolerated” and “the female case where thinness is obligatory”. The gendered aspect of fatness, a phenomenon which results in “two adipose cultures”, is a star point in Vigarello’s book; his discussion of the “disparities of alimentation” at work within France’s class structure is another. By 1920, Georges Vigarello tells us, obesity was viewed in much the same terms as it is today: “The fat person is both an aesthetic threat and a health risk”. As he readily admits, what is new is what is emphasized by Lustig and Moss: the runaway nature of it, the global nature of the problem.
more from Barbara J. King at the TLS here.