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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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From Chemistry to Energy

From Chemistry to Energy

(p.125) 14. From Chemistry to Energy
The Metamorphoses of Fat

Georges Vigarello

, C. Jon Delogu
Columbia University Press

This chapter discusses the more objective perceptions of fatness in the early nineteenth century. Numbers and measurements accentuated a more precise reckoning of fatness while categories were established. Differences in size carried social consequences often defined through tolerances or rejections. Heavy profiles, male of course, may have a positive value that confirmed ascendancy, but may also be “deflated” with irony. Alongside this social dimension, the scientific work on pathologies, material identifications, and chemical changes resulted in a body of knowledge about fat that was increasingly distant from the spontaneous popular notions of earlier times. These new ideas led to very different ways of thinking about the causes and prevention of fatness. A turning point was clearly established once the mechanism of organic combustion began to be understood. Once the body was considered like a fire-powered engine, the source of fat was reconceived as “unburned” fuel. This redefinition entirely upended ideas about obesity as well as about its treatment, including slimming programs whose logic seems irrefutable.

Keywords:   fat, fat people, obesity, nineteenth century, organic combustion, slimming programs

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