Calories & Corsets: A History of Dieting Over 2,000 Years
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This is an enlightening and entertaining social history of how we have tried (and failed) to battle the bulge over two millennia. Today we are urged from all sides to slim down and shape up, to shed a few pounds or lose life-threatening stones. The media's relentless obsession with size may be perceived as a twenty-first-century phenomenon, but as award-winning historian Louise Foxcroft shows, we have been struggling with what to eat, when and how much, ever since the Greeks and the Romans first pinched an inch. Meticulously researched, surprising and sometimes shocking, "Calories and Corsets" tells the epic story of our complicated relationship with food, the fashions and fads of body shape, and how cultural beliefs and social norms have changed over time. Combining research from medical journals, letters, articles and the dieting bestsellers we continue to devour (including one by an octogenarian Italian in the sixteenth century), Foxcroft reveals the extreme and often absurd lengths people will go to in order to achieve the perfect body, from eating carbolic soap to deliberately swallowing tapeworm. This unique and witty history exposes the myths and anxieties that drive today's multi-billion pound dieting industry - and offers a welcome perspective on how we can be healthy and happy in our bodies.
English patients who flocked to Germany to be pummelled ‘certainly would not tolerate such treatment in their own country’. Extraordinary and wild theories on diets, on what exactly fat was and what could be done about an excess of it, were becoming increasingly, perhaps madly, popular in this period, and sometimes there was no mincing of words or fear of offending delicate sensibilities. Many diet books and pamphlets were one-off, fanatical, self-confessional works and ranged from the
clothing is loose. Of the two evils choose the less. Obesity can never be made becoming; if it can not be overcome, it must be accepted as one accepts other physical deformities.’ A self-proclaimed ‘beauty expert’, Henry Fink, who wrote Romantic Love in 1887, insisted that ‘There is one horror which no lady can bear to contemplate, viz. Fat’, and ‘many women consider the corset necessary as a figure-improver, especially if they suffer from excessive fatness’. But they were wrong, said Fink. That
process of nature by means against which nature itself will inevitably revolt’. Fishbein, caught in the panic about women’s changing roles, readily conflated culture with nature and tried to back it up with science. Another American doctor, Harlow Brooks, was anxious to point out that the true ‘Price of a Boyish Figure’ was a grave risk of irreparable injuries. He scoffed at standardisation – ‘we can never be standardized until we are able, as Oliver Wendell Holmes so quaintly said, to “select
salads and juices. The result was that women everywhere took to serious dieting and vigorous exercise regimens to achieve the figure of an adolescent boy. Public demand for films seemed insatiable – by the 1920s the Hollywood movie industry was already worth over $2 billion – and the parallel demand for physically ‘perfect’ actors was (and still is) an impossibly challenging requirement. Indeed, the movie world so influenced the perceptions of both body shape and character that, in 1924, a Dr
constipation boys 152, 174–5 Bradshaw, Watson 72–3 bread, lifetime consumption 156 breads, reducing 133 breakfast 16, 98, 100 breastfeeding, and weight gain 6 bribery, for weight loss 201 Bright, Edward 66–7 Brillat-Savarin, Jean-Anthelme 54–61 Brinton, Daniel G. 90 Brooks, Harlow 123 Brummell, Beau 74 Burwell, George 92 Byron, George Gordon Byron (Lord Byron) 52–4, 74 calisthenics 121 calories average intake and consumption 155 Bantings’s diet 78 calorie-counting 130–31, 158–9