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The Metamorphoses of FatA History of Obesity$
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Georges Vigarello

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780231159760

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231159760.001.0001

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Stigmatizing Powerlessness

Stigmatizing Powerlessness

(p.90) 10. Stigmatizing Powerlessness
The Metamorphoses of Fat

Georges Vigarello

, C. Jon Delogu
Columbia University Press

This chapter discusses the increased attention to degrees of bigness and more acute stigmatization of “excesses” during the Enlightenment. Eighteenth-century culture had a different vision of the body that was focused less on liquid humors and more on solid fibers, less on vapors and more on the tone and vibrancy of nerves. It wondered more about the origins of life force and had an unprecedented interest in muscle and nerve tensions and in the causes that might lead to softening or relaxation of fibers. A concern for lines and their interlacing displaced the earlier concern for liquids and sacks. In addition to the traditional focus on the compression of blood vessels by fat, there was now a similar alertness to the possible compression of the nerves. This is evident in Samuel Tissot’s study of nervous maladies from 1770. “Excess fat, despite being soft, will produce a compression strong enough to bother the nerves and produce regular swelling.” And conversely, a softening of fibers is said to favor the buildup of fat in tissues. There is one failing that weakens enormous bodies, namely, loss of “vibrancy,” an absence of “tonic force,” a major deficit of reactivity. Powerlessness, in the end, is the fate of the weighted down anatomy. This explains the focus at this time on what is most feared, namely, loss of reproductive faculties and loss of the faculty of reaction.

Keywords:   fat, fat people, obesity, Enlightenment, eighteenth century, body, life force, nerves, Samuel Tissot, nervous maladies

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