Fat, Other Stuff We Read, Sweet Machine

Retro fat: Open thread

BoingBoing pointed me to this amazing blog, The Hope Chest, that features scans of very old newspaper articles. I highly recommend that you check it out, both for the stories and the purple prose that used to be the stuff of our newspapers. FJ and I ran across this post about a very fat woman and can’t make heads or tails of it. What one earth is going on in this article from the 1857 Chicago Tribune?

Antebellum FA?
Antebellum FA?

What do you think?

76 thoughts on “Retro fat: Open thread”

  1. It does sort of sound like an ad for a freak show or circus sideshow. The writing makes me smile, but it makes my brain hurt, too! :)

  2. “Hoops can’t shine alongside of her” makes me very happy, even though I expect it wasn’t meant to. I think it’s going to become my new compliment of choice. “Sweet Machine? Yeah, she’s amazing… Hoops can’s shine alongside of her!”

  3. That Sweet Machine? She’s one hoopy frood! Hoops can’t shine alongside of her!

    Thank you, Douglas Adams…and this anonymous ad for what would appear to be a circus fat lady.

  4. Well hoops and bustles were used to give the illusion of big buttocks, however the trend was for big boobs and butts with tiny “wasp” waists due to corsets. While it was probably the height of fashion not to need a big wire false butt, I don’t think it’s much of a compliment. “Good for you, you conform to ridiculous patriarchal beauty standard du jour!” Blargh.

  5. ‘Shine’ was 19th C. slang for a prank, like we might say ‘monkeyshines’ — I wonder if that’s how it’s being used here, though it would still be … clear as mud.

  6. I do indeed think this was for a sideshow of some sort, but it’s sort of odd to read it without the context of Obeesity Panic. These days, MeMeMe and a band of clucking healthists would be protesting the woman’s existence and seeing this as a possible future for themselves (eating! teh! world!) — whereas I doubt very much that even the food secure in those days would have seen being quite that big a likely outcome for most.

  7. “Hoops can’t shine” make me think of metal barrel hoops — perhaps they were insinuating that she is so large she makes a giant shadow — blocking the sunlight.

  8. Well, if nothing else this makes it completely clear that there was no such thing as fat people in the past and fat is entirely due to our decadent modern lifestyle.

    I really like “this is a great country, and there are some very great people in it, and she is one of the biggest kind.” The tone is certainly one of wonderment but not, as far as I can tell, derision of any kind.

  9. Arwen, I was just thinking that while it’s really hard to tell what’s actually complimentary and what’s poking fun in this article, even the *worst* interpretation is better than anything we’d get today! At least there’s no discussion of the invasive and life-threatening weight-loss surgery she should of course be contemplating to solve the health problems we, as complete strangers, totally know she has.

  10. I think they are referring to the hoops in skirt hoops too. I think, they are saying that the 518 pound woman is pure spectacle. And that not even the fashions of the very wealthy can overshadow her. Now what its latent meaning is? That’s a whole other issue.

  11. “There are some very great people in this world and she is one of the biggest kind” sounds kinda freaking awesome; though I’m getting the feeling the intention was less positive than it ends up sounding to me. Makes me want to put “I’m the biggest kind of great people” on a T-shirt ;)

  12. The article is saying that there’s an extremely large young woman is living in Jefferson City, and if you’re wondering what 518 pounds might look on a 5’1″ girl, come on down and see for yourselves.

    It might also be saying that no corset can contain her, but that’s certainly open for interpretation!

    This sort of thing is in a lot of older newspapers (they didn’t have Youtube back then). A tthe time, I think it was a combination of a kind of “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” thing (‘Hey, Edna! Listen to this!”) and an odd kind of tourism.

    In our newspaper, there was a very tall man who lived in the next town over in, I think, the 1870s—people were invited to come see his 8-feet of majesty (or something like that). “It’s not only corn that grows tall here!” The blurb also said that he had to build special furniture to accomodate him—and step stools for his wife.

    There was also a mention that some town was the home of ‘living triplets’ and that so many people were going there to get a look at the babies that the hotels were full.

    At least circus performers signed up to be exhibits. . . .

  13. So that’s it! I was about to post, that it read to me like an entry in some sort of … about-the-countryside gossip column, in which a lot was left out because it was assumed the readers would know.

  14. I’m reading it as a sort of creepy, long winded, “hey look at the fat fat fatty!”, just written in more subtle language. The last sentence reads as sarcasm to me.

  15. spoonfork38, my interpretation is the same as yours. I think people are being invited to see a local curiousity… an unofficial sideshow.

    I remember reading, from about the same era, a little Nativist newspaper rant… Nativism was an anti-immigrant movement, and they were especially anti-Irish and anti-Papist (Roman Catholic), arguing that Roman Catholics are loyal to the Pope so they can’t also be loyal to America. Anyway, this little blurb was talking about the fact that “The Pope in Rome weighs 300” … not “300 POUNDS”, as we would say, but just “weighs 300”, which stuck in my mind for some reason… and it was arguing that his great girth was a sign of moral degeneracy.

    This little piece is less explicitly negative, but I don’t think it has an FA tone… I think it’s more like “Wow, would you look at THAT!”

    And the ‘hoops don’t shine’…even a woman in hoopskirts would be nothing, in terms of size or wideness, compared to THIS young woman.

    btw, I wish I knew how to do italics, so I wouldn’t have to keep using caps.

    I remember, in the Little House books, which were roughly the same era, or maybe a decade or so later, that Ma used to tell the girls that, when she was married, Pa could span her waist with his two hands. Which is, actually, very creepy.

    And Laura, because she disliked wearing her corsets, was, in contrast, “stout as a little French horse”. And she did wish that she was more willowy, but then, on the other hand, it didn’t seem to take up much of her attention. She certainly never tried to be thinner. She just noted that she wasn’t.

    But, on the other hand, she WAS, judging by the pictures. Thin, I mean. Just not thin and willowy enough for anyone to wrap his two hands around her waist. Which made her ‘stout’.

    I’m getting a headache…

  16. Aha! I think Suzanne was onto it — that possibly ‘hoops can’t shine’ etc. is intended to mean, her circumference is greater than that of a hoop skirt.

  17. While I’m fairly sure this article is not as appreciate and fat-accepting as it appears to us–I’m a scholar of 19th-century periodicals–it is true that it’s much less panicked and appalled than anything you’d read about today.

    The “hoops” they are talking about are, I think, hooped skirts or crinolines. See http://www.victoriana.com/Victorian-Fashion/crinoline.htm for some pictures. Hooped skirts were widely mocked as a kind of fashion excess of the day–like too-short miniskirts, I supposes, or even today’s young men wearing too-large pants without a belt. Some of these caricatures of hoop skirts were light and some people thought they were (like the corset) the source of all evil and vanity in the world.

    So, this piece is saying, I think, that the (perceived to be) ridiculous width of hooped skirts can’t compete with this woman’s actual, natural, wideness–they pale in comparison to her, they can’t “shine.”

    The “great” pun isn’t so innocuous either–as we all know “great” means “large” or “huge” as well. This is another tongue-in-cheek way of pointing out how big this woman is. Something like saying “those who have massive heart attacks are most often just that–massive” in a news story today, I’d imagine.

    What is missing, it’s true, is the hand-wringing “we’re in the midst of an epidemic” or, indeed, any indication that the woman’s size is related to her health at all.

  18. I didn’t take it at all to be a OOGA BOOGA fat kind of thing. I really thought, it was, look at this curiousity, just as if it was an 8 foot tall man or a set of quadruplets or a woman with no legs.

    Now, as for using those that are different as an object to be gawked at, I am horrified.

  19. I agree w/ mara and Eucritta–I read it as “hoops have got nothing on this woman,” as the hoop skirts often measured over 6-8 ft at the time.

  20. I read that this morning and had the same “wtf?” reaction. Is the article really inviting people to come out and gawk at the fat woman?

    This WAS the days before TV, though, so there was no “WORLD’S FATTEST______” on TLC to capture their attention.

  21. Mara, my comment crossed with yours-sorry! We’re on the same page. Oh, and read “appreciative” for “appreciates” and “suppose” for “supposes”…dang R.S.I.-numbed fingers….

  22. Ma used to tell the girls that, when she was married, Pa could span her waist with his two hands.

    Laura’s retort to this was perfect–when Ma worried about how Laura’s not wearing her corsets was “ruining her figure” and mentioned that spanning her waist thing, it was obvious she meant that men would think that Laura was fat. Laura’s response was that Pa could no longer span Ma’s waist, and he still seemed to like her anyway.

    Ma told her not to be saucy.

  23. O.C. – my reaction was the same. This is “OMG LOOKIT THE FATTIE!” language. The remark about hoops seems like a derogatory “this chick is so fat she’s enormous without a hoop skirt!” observation, selling this poor lady as a sideshow attraction for her town.

    Still, hey fat people existed before 1950! Who knew?

    btw, have any of y’all gone to C.J. Banks (cjbanks.com)? I just stumbled across one of their stores and nearly died of joy. Generous sized clothes over 14 (up to 3x or 24/26 only, as far as I could tell, but a 1x fit me where most other places I’m in a 2x), but most importantly, I stocked up on plain t-shirts. No appliques or kittens or rhinestones in sight! Hallelujah! If I hadn’t exceeded my monthly budget for July already I’d have bought more.

    *clings to SP* I hate it when my favorite blogs go dead without warning.

  24. In our newspaper, there was a very tall man who lived in the next town over in, I think, the 1870s—people were invited to come see his 8-feet of majesty (or something like that). “It’s not only corn that grows tall here!” The blurb also said that he had to build special furniture to accomodate him—and step stools for his wife.

    Yep, I’ve seen a lot of that stuff. “Unusual person living in Town X! This unusual person is unusual! ”

    On one hand, it’s a “sideshow” thing. On the other hand, note the lack of shaming or blaming in the piece: they’re not saying “THIS WOMAN IS FAT BECAUSE SHE STUFFS HER FACE WITH PIE.”

    Like the “Come see the tall guy!” bit, it’s treating fellow citizens like freaks, but at least not treating them like criminals or moral imbeciles.

  25. well, during this era the fashionable female figure was an extreme hourglass. a thin waist, defined by a corset (although, at this point in victorian corsetry it was more turning the waist into a circle in cross-section from the more-typical oval-ish, and only just starting to push things down). wide BUT sloping shoulders enhanced with a broad collar and/or shawl (as a lady didn’t need to have muscles; there were even braces for women with broad shoulders to pull them down). and wide, springy hips made with an ever-expanding hoopskirt held up with whalebone and steel (although, to be fair, this was a lot cooler and sanitary than the layers and layers of petticoats used before). the wide shoulder cover and the hoopskirt were used to make the waist look smaller– a wider skirt made the waist look smaller by comparison. But most women did not make their own hoopskirts (usually; only made their own corsets if they were poor) and things were sold by (corseted) waist measurement… although it varied through time and manufacture, standard waist sizes were about 20″-32/34″, below that was “slight”, above was “stout” and above about 42″ was “extra-stout.”

    The copy reads like other “please come to our town and look at this human oddity, and bring your money!” this was not uncommon, and the description had to, well, enhance and play up the physicality. So, a person with dwarfism might be described as a “midget, miniature human with perfect adult proportions,” a giantess might have a copy of, “reached the height in stocking feet of 6 feet 10 inches at age 13, but is perfectly proportioned at age 21, with no thin-ness belying her height; her boots measure eighteen inches long and an american quarter-dollar coin can fit through her ring”

    Copy like this says, “come see OUR fat person, she’s bigger than other fat people, and shorter, too, so she’s even fatter, and not hourglass, either, as no off-the-rack hoopskirt can be found that fit her waist and hips, and also she’s a really nice person that won’t mind you coming to gawk at her (and probably has some kind of monetary set-up to take advantage of it)”

  26. Right, I mean, I hope nobody’s expecting an enlightened attitude towards non-standard bodies in an 1857 paper. But it’s not about how gross she is, how much she eats, how she can’t even hold her own weight up, etc. She’s played for spectacle but not for grotesquerie. Compare to, say, “Half-Ton Mom” or those kinds of shows.

    (Er, I’m guessing. Compare, definitely, to articles about fatties in modern tabloids, including my beloved late Weekly World News.)

  27. yeah, not enlightened, but not blaming either. It’s not, “omg, come watch this fat chick stuff her face and get fatter!” it’s usually more like, “come watch this fat chick be fat!” or even “eat normal and still be fat!” the only “stuff your face” copy was usually for ‘skeleton’ people (usually males, usually with some variation of accelerated metabolism disorder) eat and eat and even see it expand their tummy and then they not gain weight.

    an amusing aside, during the era of the traditional freak show, the “fat lady” and “skeleton man” often ended up in a relationship, LOL, and would do a show where she had dainty foods and he gorged on big meals.

  28. Mara, I recently re-read the Little House books (a statement I could make any year and it would still be true, LOL), and I remember the statement that Laura was as stout as a French pony. I don’t think of it in connection with the argument over the corset, though both episodes did occur. What I do remember is that Pa was very complimentary that Laura was “stout” (a word I always read, in this case, as meaning hale and healthy, not a reflection on her size) as a French horse, and that he said it to reassure Ma that Laura was definitely up to helping him with the farmwork. To Pa, being strong like a horse was a great thing, and he was proud of his girl for being so.

  29. There is also that tone of bragging about it — I know they’re punning on great, but at the same time there’s a sense of “what an amazing, prosperous country we live in where people can get so fat.” Yes, it’s treated as a bit freakish, but there isn’t the condemnation or disgust you’d see today.

  30. I don’t know but it seems pretty hilarious. By the by… I live in Jefferson City, MO. I should see if I can dig anything up on it in the library.

  31. “What I do remember is that Pa was very complimentary that Laura was “stout” (a word I always read, in this case, as meaning hale and healthy, not a reflection on her size) as a French horse, and that he said it to reassure Ma that Laura was definitely up to helping him with the farmwork.”

    Yes, that’s right… when she was helping with the haying! Pa was proud of Laura’s ‘stoutness’ and healthiness and capacity to work hard.. and, as Kathy A said above, Ma, on the other hand, worried about Laura’s figure because she refused to wear her corsets all night long. And what I was thinking about, I think, was the scene where Nellie Oleson (whom Laura hasn’t seen since they were little) re-emerges, and Nellie is all slim and willowy, and, in that context, Laura slightly bemoans the fact that she herself is built ‘like a little French horse’.. which always seemed to me to be quite an appealing image, actually.

    Anyway… I think there is a slight glorification of slimness and gracefulness, but it’s like the dialog takes place within an overall balanced context, and Laura doesn’t obsess over it or feel like she is lacking. She almost defines herself in opposition to that standard, actually, come to think of it.

  32. Two things:

    I don’t think it’s all that unusual for a man to be able to get his hands around a woman’s waist who’s corseted if he has big hands. At 21 I had a 24″ waist and knew a few men who could get their hands all the way around if I was squished.

    Nowadays I’m the same height as the lady in the article and just shy of half her weight. I can’t even begin to imagine a person that size. Wow, that would be so uncomfortable.

  33. I can’t even begin to imagine a person that size. Wow, that would be so uncomfortable.

    Elise, wtf? For one thing, you apparently can’t imagine it, so you can’t know whether it would be uncomfortable. Secondly, bodies work differently—different people at the same weights will have different health and comfort levels. Thirdly, we do not bash bodies here. Period. Knock it off.

  34. I was just going in to ban Elise with no warning, but it seems she’s actually sorta contributed in the past, so I will warn after all: what you just said was so egregiously out of the spirit of this blog that I was ready to ban you outright on the assumption that you were a troll. I don’t know what you’re thinking but start thinking a lot fucking harder or you’re out of here.

  35. So I’m playing with the idea of every Shapeling getting a “Come to [City/Town] and see the Amazing [Whatever Traits You Want Highlighted]”-type thing. With the freakshow-ish aspects subverted, naturally. How neat would that be? Mine would be something like “In Dreary Midwestern City there lives a woman who got through grad school AND had two kids AND can make artisanal bread! Come and see!” I’d put that on my wall.

  36. I’m sorry, I just know I’m uncomfortable at 250 and 5’1″, so I was thinking about what it would feel like to be over 500. I’ll shut up now.

  37. so I was thinking about what it would feel like to be over 500.

    And you thought “wow, if I were over 500 pounds, what I would really want is some ass on the internet pronouncing on how they can’t even imagine someone as grotesquely fat as me! It would be like my birthday and Christmas rolled into one!”

    Shutting up is good, but recognizing why what you said was so incredibly offensive would be better. And please spare us the bullshit about how you were “thinking about what it would feel like,” because that implies that you were demonstrating empathy and you were clearly doing nothing of the sort.

  38. Nope, I was just thinking my back hurts. I’m not grotesque and I don’t think anyone else is.

  39. Okay, since you don’t seem interested in recognizing why what you said was incredibly offensive, please make with the shutting up.

  40. Elise, my back hurts too, and I’m under 200 pounds. It might hurt more if I were heavier, or it might not, I have no idea. In my case it was from two pregnancies doing a number on my core body strength that no amount of exercise can correct. Pregnancy made a lot of things start hurting and keep on hurting. (I’m feeling too delicate to elaborate.) For me. In my body.

    So, you know, when I think what it might be like to have ten or twelve children, I’m inclined to think, “Oh, I can’t imagine! I’d be so depressed! I’d likely spend YEARS of my life dealing with PPD. My back would hurt so much!” And I’m probably right… if my body endured ten pregnancies, that’s probably exactly how it would be.

    But that doesn’t mean actual women with ten children feel anything of the sort. They might, or not, and even if they do it probably means something entirely different to them. I just have no idea.

  41. (To continue with the Little House thing, because I love those books so!)

    To Pa, being strong like a horse was a great thing, and he was proud of his girl for being so

    Laura was a great help to Pa since he had no sons surviving past infancy, and Mary was unable to help outside after she was blinded (and Carrie was frail, so she couldn’t help with outdoor work either). It’s probably no coincidence that they were only able to remain on the farm outside DeSmet for a year or so after Laura and Almanzo got married.

    Not included in the books was a quote from Ma where she said that things would have been vastly different in their lives if Freddy (their son who died before his second birthday) had lived.

    As for Laura’s physique, she was barely five feet tall, but was strong and helped Almanzo out on their farms throughout their lives (another case of no surviving sons, complicated by Almanzo’s weak leg due to diptheria). She even boasted about wearing a gun on her hip when they were living in Florida.

  42. I love the Shapelings. Detailed knowledge of Laura Ingalls Wilder (I always liked the “little French horse” description as well – it sounded like a good thing to be, very capable and strong), fascinating new facts about crinolines, and freakshow notice parodies.

    Speaking of which…

    There is now on this internet a blog where SHAPELINGS discuss matters ranging from the political issues of the day to the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder to coconut crabs, under the guidance of their wise and genial hosts,
    and this enormous amount of intelligence on a small-boned WordPress blog. Hoops cannot shine alongside it. You, who have any curiosity in these matters, should not neglect this opportunity to gratify it.

  43. Hello all, I’d like to apologise for my above comments. My intent was not to offend anyone, but I understand I was thinking in terms of just myself and not the community as a whole. It took me a while to understand that by being negative about my own body I was insulting other people’s as well.

    This post helped me understand: https://kateharding.net/2007/11/29/its-not-all-about-you-or-me/

    Kate says “It is still not okay to slam your body in such a way as to suggest your repulsiveness is a verifiable fact ”

    I’m not as ok with my body as I’d like to be and I still have a thing or two to learn. I screwed up by projecting that.

  44. Louisa May Alcott revised Little Women early on because of piracy/copyright reasons. And Marmee — who is “tall” in most editions we see today was originally “stout”. How I lament that she didn’t stay stout!

    The original edition was reprinted in the 1980’s I think — I can look up my copy if anyone would like bibliographical information. The only other thing I can remember about the original was that the girls “shouted” a lot — they “laughed” instead in the edition that we know today.

    Also, the book was originally published in two parts and Louisa May Alcott got a lot of letters from readers hoping that Jo would marry Laurie. I think that Louisa May Alcott didn’t want Jo to marry at all, but Jo did get married — to a ridiculous figure (according to L.M.A.), but who was one of my favorite characters ever. And I never thought him ridiculous, either.

  45. Oh, good for you, Elise, seeing the problem and apologizing!

    And if people want to know which “Little Women” they have in their hand, Marmee is first introduced not far into the book. If she is “stout” that is L.M.A.’s original description, but if she is “tall” that is the revision.

  46. “You, who have any curiosity in such matters, should not neglect to gratify it.”

    That line made me think maybe this was code for people to come and get their rocks off.

  47. Hey A Sarah,

    In the sleepy oceanside hamlet of Ladysmith, there lives a woman who possesses the ability to divine the names and nature of sundry types of jellyfish, both in English and Latin. This lady has also attained, thanks to a generous layer of avoirdupois, the ability to swim in the ocean in all types of weather, amazing her friends and causing no small degree of envy in her rivals. She is the Queen of the Seals, the Sea Otter’s playmate, and can be seen most evenings, at sunset, disporting herself amongst the pipefish and sea lettuce.

  48. I love Fredrich Bhaer!! (And having just rewatched the Winona Ryder-as-Jo movie this past week, Gabriel Byrne is smoking hot in the role.)

  49. Wow, all of these responses are so great. Thanks Sweet Machine and fillyjonk for finding this and posting this!

    Initially, I was kind of horrified. I’m surprised to see so many positive (or at least non-negative) comments, but after reading it over a few times, I guess it’s possible (even likely) I’m projecting my own understanding about modern fat-phobia onto it. It’s still dehumanizing to set up a human being as a “curiosity,” yes? It’s just that what made her a curiosity (her size), seems to be roughly as value-laden an identity as any other sideshow performer’s.

    So, I guess that means she was classed with the “freaks,” since this is pretty clearly an ad for a “freak show.” Although it’s interesting that, as several people have mentioned, there doesn’t seem to be any blame or moral panic about obesity here, I’m a whole lot more concerned with the idea that people who look different are dehumanized and gawked at because they look different, and that this trend has continued as a totally acceptable practice today.

    I usually live without a TV at school (I’m broke/busy), but I’m at home this summer until the fall semester starts, so I’ve been watching it occasionally. I’m honestly bothered by TLC and Discovery Health. I don’t know if it’s a new thing, or if I’m just noticing, but I think it’s really interesting and somewhat unsettling that people regularly tune in to what would have been openly called “freak shows” in a different era. I’m not so sure if it’s better that these programs are meant to be somewhat “compassionate” and educational; they tap into the exact same voyeurism that freak shows did.

    So, in short: I guess what I find most interesting about this ad is that we still consider it ok to gawk at very fat people, even though this immediately struck me as something pretty horrifying. Maybe the tone of the conversation has changed, but I’m afraid the urge to stare and judge has never changed.

  50. Of course, it’s entirely possible that this woman weighed significantly less than 500 lb, and she may have been taller than 5′ 1″. You only have to read some of the astonishing claims made in Victorian advertisments for beauty treatments or medicines to realise that they didn’t let accuracy, truth or even credibility stand in the way of good advertising copy.

  51. It’s also possible that someone placed this announcement to shame/harrass the particular woman in question. Imagine that she was a very private person, and that some nasty person thought it would be hilarious to invite crowds to come visit her and gratify their curiosity. The trumpeting florid language doesn’t make it any nicer.

  52. As Suzanne said, I think there’s a barrel subtext to “Hoops can’t shine next to her, at least whalebone and steel ones.”

    Barrels were common storage objects for food, tended to be very heavy and hard to move, and *had hoops holding them together*. I think they are likening her to a barrel.

  53. Can I just say how much I love Shapelings for the Laura Ingalls Wilder convo in this thread?

    Also, when I was poring over the article trying to make sense of it, I recalled a different usage of the word “shine”. My grandmother says “take a shine to”, as in “developed an interest in”. I few years ago, I “took a shine” to knitting. A some point I “took a shine” to this husband-guy I’ve got. ^_^ I can’t figure out if that might mean anything though.

  54. Also, wooden barrel hoops were and continue to be made of iron rather than steel, and I’ve never heard of one made of whalebone … which was, btw, baleen and not bone.

    (takes off material culture dork hat)

  55. I think we’ve got an antebellum chubby chaser here, myself. The author seems genuinely intrigued by the 518-lb. woman – can’t stop thinking about her.

  56. Re: the Little House thing:

    It’s not surprising that Pa approved of Laura’s “stoutness,” while Ma was giving her shit about wearing the corset – it’s not uncommon for fathers, then and now, to want to keep their daughters “down on the farm” while many moms, then and now start worrying early on about making their daughters marriagable.

  57. @Elise – thanks for the apology – that takes strength.

    You said, “I’m not as ok with my body as I’d like to be and I still have a thing or two to learn.”

    I think there’s a lot of us out there like that – self acceptance is a hard beastie to manage.

  58. Hi, Katia – I never thought Jo’s husband Professor Bhaer (Bear? LOL) was ridiculous either. He’s also described as ‘stout,’ and I think at the end of either Little Women or Little Men is described as “having grown stouter still,” or something like that.

    Did Louisa May Alcott really not like him as a character? She didn’t give him a lot of face-time in Little Men, but when he does show up he’s always wonderful. I remember reading somewhere that LMA’s 19th c. “fangirls” were very upset when she introduced Bhaer (nothing new under the sun, eh? :D )

    * * * *

    As far as the newspaper clipping goes, IMO it represents a strongly conflicted 19th c. American view about fat people. On one hand there’s some admiration (she’s described as “great,” for instance, not “sick” or “disgusting”) but at the same time she *is* an object of a variety of teasing. I am reading about “fat men’s clubs” (which were all over the country at one time) and sometimes the newspapers report on them in the same tone. It’s horrified fascination, yes, but IMO the tone is a lot more balanced and perhaps even more humane than what we see today.

    Thanks for posting it – I love these snippets of the past.

    Stef from men_in_full

  59. Mara, Lu, Kathy A, all the Wilder fans – Louise Erdrich has a series of YA books set in about the same time period (the first I think is 1847) in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, where the main character is a little Ojibwe/metis girl with an older sister & a little brother.

    In the second and third books, the girls have a white friend (who they can’t talk to, since they only speak Anishanaabe and she only speaks English) who they call the Breakapart Girl because her waist is so tiny – and then they all go swimming and see her corset and are relieved to know why she’s shaped that way.

    They’re really wonderful books & they have a lot of echoes of the Little House books (which I was raised on and are all sitting on a shelf by me right now)

  60. I collect Victorian magazines and one of my favourite things is a weekly section in The Girl’s Own Paper (Which published from the mid 1800’s to the 1930’s) called ” Dress, in season and in reason”.

    Just reading about what was considered a suitable outfit for the summer of 1880 makes me want to swoon from heatstroke! But alongside the fashion plates and advice to wear a corset to bed to “train” the waistline there were articles by “Medicus” warning about the dangers of tight lacing and horror stories about women puncturing their lungs with their own crushed rib cages !

    A bit like today’s size zero debate in fact.where clothes are displayed on tiny models on one page and the editors lament about young women’s poor self image on another.

    Meanwhile all dress patterns were offered in
    ” Medium.viz bust 34″

    The illustrations were of improbably proportioned women and adverts for the Edwardian S Bend corsets which gave the exaggerated bust and bum line are quite alarming. But it was amusing to read of a young lady who wore too large a ” Dress Improver” ( bustle) so that as she walked it ” Wagged behind her like a discontented kitten”. There was also the fast young hussy of the 1920’s who was censured for wearing scanty underwear and, in the same article told that it was terribly bad form to waste material and labour by having embroidered trimmings on the knees of her knickers. This was the time when breasts were bound flat by elastic bust bodices to get the boyish flapper look which was all the rage. And also the time when the balance of articles shifted to incorporate many more diet and exercise routines lest those “naughty curves” should spoil the line of your bias cut gown.

    I guess nothing much changes only now it’s miracle knickers and lycra shape garments which are advertised to try and make us mould our fat into an “acceptable” shape and the freak shows are on TV under the guise of public interest and information rather than in the fairground booths.

  61. I wonder if it could be an advertisement for a 19th century prostitute. Many cities had broadsheets that advertised the local working girls and their specialties and could be quite graphic.

  62. “Shine along” is antiquated slang for move along. “Shine along now, Jimmy”, &c. Seems to indicate that there aren’t any hoops (for hoopskirts) big enough to fit over her, that is move along her sides.

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