On Fat and Fattening : Agency, Materiality and Animality in the History of Corpulence
This essay argues that modern perceptions of the agency of fat people have been inflected by older ways of thinking about fat and fattening. This claim rests on two basic points. Firstly, the potentially encumbering materiality of fat has long been cited as preventing movement in ways that frustrate agency. Secondly, fat has implications for agency by virtue of the power relationships implied in the act of fattening, which has been repeatedly framed in the West with reference to animal consumption. Discourses of fat and fattening are thus saturated with allegations of failed agency, whether by citing the confining materiality of fat itself or by associating the fattened person with abject animality. After exploring these claims with reference to select examples from classical antiquity, the essay presents surveys how similar ideas mobilized weight-loss discourses from the nineteenth century through the 1930s, by which time most of our current anti-fat thinking had been firmly entrenched.