We are a culture obsessed with weight, barraged with messages to thin down and images of the fit and trim. But fat did not always mean flawed. The painful bustles and corsets of 19th century gowns were designed to stress ample bosoms and bottoms. Women were supposed to be voluptuous. And those who weren’t – like American suffragette Susan B. Anthony – were criticized for their gauntness. Peter Stearns (George Mason University) is a cultural historian and the author of the book Fat History: Bodies and Beauty in the Modern West. He traces the transformation of the full figure from a sign of health and well being to one of moral and psychological weakness.

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