Manolo for the Big Girl Fashion, Lifestyle, and Humor for the Plus Sized Woman.

August 15, 2010

No Fat People in the Past? Not So Much

Filed under: Art,Historical Fats — Twistie @ 1:18 pm

People talk a lot about how there weren’t any fat people once upon a time. That’s why our bodies are wrong and bad and must be changed. Just go on Jennie Craig! Try Weight Watchers! After all, that’s not even a diet. It’s a Lifestyle Change. There weren’t fat people back in the wifty-wafty past that I just made up!

The thing is, that’s it’s not exactly accurate. There have always been thin people, moderate-sized people, fat people, and supersized people. We have always been around.

Want some proof? Take a look right here:

via See these four lovely ladies circa 1905? Notice the one in the rear on the left? Not precisely Kate Moss, is she? And yet, she exists.

Even the corset couldn’t stop women from being fat:

It just rearranged the fat. Sort of like Spanx with whale bone.

There have even been famous fat women in the past.

Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of Abraham Lincoln,
Queen Victoria, who ruled an empire while entirely failing to be thin. I think she’d have been very surprised to discover she was a figment of someone’s imagination.

The fact is we have always existed. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.


  1. [snaps]

    Comment by GoP — August 15, 2010 @ 2:13 pm

  2. Wow have none of ‘those people’ heard of Lillian Russell, or looked at pinups pics from the late 1800’s. Those were not fragile girls!

    I have a friend who does reinactments and studies original source garments from the 1860s and forward. Her comment was that many people have a false perception that women were thin because the dresses we see that were carefully preserved and passed down were wedding dresses and other items from their trousseau. Those items were typically made when a woman was at her youngest and thinnest.

    Comment by Thea — August 16, 2010 @ 11:16 am

  3. It seems like every time a picture appears online with a group of people from even the not-so-distant past, some idiot will jump in with “Look how there’s no fat people!” Or if there are fat people, the same idiot will point out how odd and untypical they are. One of the things that makes me hate the interwebs some days.

    In any event, I used to work at a music magazine where the mailroom dude made lovely personalized ID plates for the offices, and I asked him to use this picture for mine.

    Comment by Mifty — August 16, 2010 @ 11:44 am

  4. Yep – I’ve got photographic proof from BOTH sides of my fam of ‘ladies of size’ – my mom’s grandmother, who married and buried three coal miner husbands, ran a pig farm, had a mess of kids. And on and on. And my father’s mom and his father’s mom, who were no sylphs either. And the photographs of his grandmother in ‘the old country’ were of people who probably had potatoes and cabbage every day of the week, got fish once a week and chicken once a week. No red meat – they couldn’t afford it. And they lived in a house with a dirt floor and no indoor plumbing (the thought of dealing with that in a Russian winter puts a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘holding it’). So, don’t tell me that ‘people were skinnier in the old days’ – in my fam, we KNOW that the ones that survived were the ones who could survive and extract the most out of every calorie they got.

    Comment by Toby Wollin — August 16, 2010 @ 12:22 pm

  5. Actually, in the past, heavier women were adored. Women who could afford to eat and develop a curvier figure were clearly rich and therefore highly prized. Check out paintings in the Louvre. The female form most often painted was that of a curvier figure. Even today, some cultures revere women of size to the extent that they send they’re newly pubescent girls to “fat camps” where they are force fed in order to fatten them up.
    What is considered beautiful is clearly something that has changed many times over the course of human history. I have no doubt it will change many more times in our collective future.

    Comment by Lisa — August 16, 2010 @ 1:04 pm

  6. I love vintage clothes, which do tend to be quite small, but years ago I found a 20s black velvet/peach silk evening dress that comfortably fit me at size 16/18. So heavier women were flappers.

    Comment by Christine — August 17, 2010 @ 9:28 am

  7. ‘Corpulence’ has always been with us. Just walk through any art museum and check out the chunky chicks that were the sex objects of their day. During the mid-19th century, a woman with plump arms and shoulders was considered beautiful. If your collarbone was visible, you were obviously undernourished. The most consistent desireable shape was that of a female who was plump. No bony protrusions, no obvious muscles, and certainly no ropey veins exposed through the skin (a la Madonna)!

    Until the 20th century, women needed CURVES to be considered lovely. And then that scrawny Frenchie Chanel and her ilk went and spoiled everything for us with her shapeless stick clothing and her nasty tan lines!
    Granted, being so large you cannot move easily is an issue. But being comfortable in your own body without feeling a need to apologize for your very existence shouldn’t be something imposed upon women who do not fit the artificial, unrealistic physical ‘ideal’ created by marketers to force us to lose weight – in our wallets.

    After all, if we were all happy enough with ourselves to just live our lives, who would buy all the diet paraphanelia – the books, the videos, the equipment, the gym memberships, the medical treatments, the spa treatments, the over-the-counter supplements, the special ‘diet’ foods, the special underwear, the tummy-tuck jeans? The anti-fat industry is a multi-billion dollar a year racket. Fashion magazines pimp themselves out to promote the anti-fat industry for one reason – to make money off of women’s (industry imposed) self-loathing.

    Comment by Mrs. Prof. Longley — August 17, 2010 @ 11:38 am

  8. One of my cousins recently posted on Facebook some old pictures that included my grandmother and a couple of aunts in the ’40s. And great heavens, those girls were … sturdy! It didn’t stop any of them from living long and happy lives (they all lived into their 80s, and Grandma might have gone longer except she got hit by a car), and being good and kind and intelligent people who were admired and respected.

    Comment by Jane — August 17, 2010 @ 7:56 pm

  9. In reading vintage fiction, I have oft wondered how anyone with a BMI under 30 could have “dimpled elbows”. And fragile, waifish women were usually consumptive (and probably contagious!) Rubenesque use to be a compliment…

    Comment by Jennie — August 18, 2010 @ 11:03 pm

  10. Victoria wasn’t just a fat woman, she was thought of as incredibly beautiful. Just by virtue of being Queen she had enormous power to be a taste maker in fashions, and ladies of her era looked up to her and copied her style.

    Comment by Godless Heathen — August 19, 2010 @ 1:56 pm

  11. I have three great aunts (born in the 1910s/20s) that were affectionately called the “Valkyries ” because they were all over six feet tall, fat and didn’t take sh*t from anyone. In fact most of the women on my father side were large and powerful. Something I take great pride in!

    Comment by Maya — August 20, 2010 @ 3:40 pm

  12. Whenever I hear people talking about how people have gotten so much bigger, and everyone was tiny in the Victorian age or whatnot, I just tell them that commercially produced corsets were made in size 18-36. A woman wearing a size 36 corset would have at least a 40″ or 42″ natural waist, which is well into modern plus sizes. Silly people don’t know anything about history!

    Comment by Rose — September 4, 2010 @ 10:05 am

  13. So right you are, Rose. And I seriously doubt that the 1927 Sears catalogue would have had a section for ‘stout women’ if there weren’t any stout women to dress. They even had a special section in the hats to flatter the larger lady… because all women of size look best in the same style of hat, you know.

    Comment by Twistie — September 4, 2010 @ 3:24 pm

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