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234 × 156 mm
368 pages
60 illustrations
15 Apr 2019

Fat A Cultural History of the Stuff of Life Christopher E. Forth

Fat: such a little word evokes big responses. While ‘fat’ describes the size and shape of bodies, our negative reactions to corpulent bodies also depend on something tangible and tactile; as this book argues, there is more to fat than meets the eye. Fat: A Cultural History of the Stuff of Life offers a historical reflection on how fat has been perceived and imagined in the West since antiquity. Featuring fascinating historical accounts, philosophical, religious and cultural arguments, including discussions of status, gender and race, the book digs deep into the past for the roots of our current notions and prejudices. Three central themes emerge: how we have perceived and imagined obesity over the centuries; how fat as a substance has elicited disgust and how it evokes perceptions of animality; but also how it has been associated with vitality and fertility. By exploring the complex ways in which fat, fatness and fattening have been perceived over time, this book provides rich insights into the stuff our stereotypes are made of.

‘Christopher E. Forth’s FAT is the definitive overview of what bodily excess means and has meant in Western society. In a world of ever expanding waistlines, our collective obsession with weight remains the last arena where bodily difference is defined by Victorian morality: the fat are the undeserving poor of today’s medical world, responsible for their own decline, the object of derision and indeed of a very different sense of their own culpability for their state. Forth’s dramatic account of how we got to this point, written with grace and a touch of irony, points out that no other bodily state, not sexual orientation, not addiction, not mental illness, remains so totally demonized as the world of the XXXXL. A vital and critical addition to the cultural history of the body by a master of the genre.’ — Sander L. Gilman, author of Fat: The Biography

‘This is a distinctive and ambitious analysis, tracing body imagery from the classical period to the present and offering a striking argument about the relevance of past standards to contemporary debates. The book also offers a strong case for the interconnections between historical and scientific assessments.’ — Peter N. Stearns, Professor of History at George Mason University, and author of Fat History

‘Christopher Forth is a myth-buster. This is the book to read if you are wondering why people in the West are so obsessed with fat.’ — Joanna Bourke, Professor of History at Birkbeck, University of London and author of The Story of Pain (2017) and What It Means To be Human (2013)

‘Fat is a thoroughly researched and capable book, academic and rigorous in tone . . . It remains a timely reminder of the cycles of our organic existence in the face of ever greater outer forces.’ — Lucy Inglis

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Christopher E. Forth is the Dean’s Professor of Humanities and Professor of History at the University of Kansas, and the author of several books including Masculinity in the Modern West (2008).