Black America, Body Beautiful: How the African American Image is Changing Fashion, Fitness, and Other Industries
Author: Eric J Bailey
Despite all the medical and media attention focused on the rate of overweight and obesity in the African American population, African American images and body types are greatly influencing changes in the fashion, fitness, advertising, television and movie industries. This is because "overweight," like beauty, can be in the eye of the beholder. Most research studies investigating attitudes about body image and body type among African Americans have shown they are more satisfied with their bodies than are their white counterparts. Most black women, for example, are of course concerned with how they look but do not judge themselves in terms of their weight and do not believe they are valued mostly on the basis of their bodies. Black teen girls most often say being thick and curvaceous with large hips and ample thighs is seen as the most desirable body shape. Thus, there appears to be a wider range of acceptable body shapes and weights, and a more flexible standard of attractiveness, among black Americans as compared to whites. And that fact is not being lost on leaders of industries that might profit from understanding this wider range of beauty, as well as playing to it. Voluptuous supermodel Tyra Banks is just one African American who's broken the mold in that industry. The effects have been seen right down to department and local clothes stores, where lines of larger and plus size fashions are expanding, becoming more colorful and more ornate. In the fitness industry, health gurus Madonna Grimes and Billy Blanks have been revolutionizing how people get fit and how fitness needs to be redeveloped for the African American population. Advertising has taken a similar turn, not the least ofwhich has been Dove and Nike's major promotional campaigns in 2005 with plus-sized actresses. In movies and on television shows, the African American "beautiful body" image has also followed suit. In this book, Anthropologist Eric Bailey introduces and explains the self-acceptance and body image satisfaction of African Americans, and traces how that has spurred changes in industry.
Book about: Leap of Faith or Fate of Liberty
Fat History: Bodies and Beauty in the Modern West
Author: Peter N Stearns
A Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in History
"Stearns looks to explain why America is the fattest, and France the thinnest, nation in the West. In his view, 'dieting was ideally suited to an American need for an implicit but vigorous moral counterweight to consumer indulgence.' At the turn of the century, obesity was suddenly regarded as unhealthy and unpatriotic. Good American citizens should be fit, and a generation of fad diet experts sprung up to guide."
--Elaine Showalter,Times Literary Supplement
"Offers new, reliable information and insights."
"Explores the interaction of weight-control cultures with gender, class, and ethnicity issues. A meaty study of historical facts and fears about fat."
The modern struggle against fat cuts deeply and pervasively into American culture, as evidenced by the compulsion to stay thin, or at least to profess a desire to become thin. Dieting, weight consciousness and widespread hostility to obesity form one of the fundamental themes of modern life in countries around the world. Yet, for example, while the French are renowned for their delight in all things gustatory, they are significantly trimmer and less diet-obsessed than Americans.
Fat History explores the meaning of fat and anti-fat in modern Western society, focusing on the uniquely moral component of dieting in America. Tracing how standards of beauty and physical morality have been radically transformed over the past century in the United States and France, Peter N. Stearns illustrates how the contemporary obsession with fat arose in tandem with the dramatic growth in consumer culture, women'sincreasing equality, and changes in women's sexual and maternal roles. Contrary to popular belief, fashion and nutrition have played only a secondary role in spurring the American aversion to fat, while the French distaste for obesity can be traced to different origins altogether.
Filled with narrative anecdotes and rooted in Stearns' trademark use of engaging original sources--from Ebony and Gourmet to The Journal of the American Medical Association and popularized accounts of French doctors--Fat History explores fat's transformation from a symbol of health and well-being to a sign of moral, psychological, and physical disorder.
Offers new, reliable information and insights.
Journal of American History
Provides an innovative explanation of the modern preoccupation with dieting that fundamentally revises our understanding of the timing, intensity, and significance of the modern American culture of weight loss.
In the realm of books on America's obsession with fat, Stearns's new hypothesis is a refreshing counter to the current denunciations of the patriarchy with a broader sociological and historical approach. The author's measured, scholarly tone can be a bit dry, however. Drawing from magazine articles, advertisements and doctors' recommendations, Stearns (a history professor and dean at Carnegie Mellon University) attempts to explain why, while dieting less than Americans, the French have more success keeping their weight down. He attributes the disparity to the equating of thinness with moral rectitude in the United States, where increasing indulgence in other areas (such as sex and consumerism) has left the population with a guilt complex and a penchant for snacking. By contrast, the French aesthetic approach treats food as a culinary art, to be taken in small amounts and enjoyed for its subtle flavor: "France had no equivalents of rural Americana's pie-eating contests." While his argument is interesting, readers may wonder why Stearns does not adequately address the American perception that French thinness is the consequence of too much caffeine and nicotine. Nor does he compare the occurrence of eating disorders in the two nations, a test with real potential for bolstering his assertion that Americans view "diet more as combat than a matter of simple restraint." Illustrated. (June)
Explores the meaning of fat and antifat in modern Western society, focusing on the uniquely moral component of dieting in America and comparing American and French attitudes toward food and dieting. Traces how Western standards of beauty and physical morality have changed over the past 100 years, illustrating how the contemporary obsession with fat arose in tandem with the growth of consumer culture, women's equality, and changes in women's sexual and maternal roles. Includes b&w photos and illustrations from popular magazines. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Offers new, reliable information and insights.
This leftist academic examination of our collective fascination with dieting depicts it as a manifestation of capitalist consumer culture duking it out with the secular remnants of puritanism.
Stearns, founding editor of the Journal of Social History and a historian at Carnegie Mellon University (Millennium III, Century XXI, 1996, etc.) approaches our concern over personal poundage as a construct that, exceeding the demands of fashion or good health, can be understood only in larger cultural terms. We Americans relish the consumer goods with which we surround ourselves but feel a mite guilty about indulging in them. So we have contrived a way toliterally and figurativelyhave our cake and eat it too: We diet. Focusing intensely on limiting caloric intake lets us feel virtuous and self-controlled even as we ignore our profligacy as consumers. We are not all equally affected; notably, from the 1920s to the 1960s "weight morality bore disproportionately on women precisely because of their growing independence, or seeming independence, from other standards." In France, the other society considered, Stearns does not detect a view of weight loss as a moral crusade or fat as an outward sign of guilt. For Americans, rewards (a better job or social life) will come when they become thin and healthy; for the French, being thin and healthy is the reward. Interesting as the cross-cultural comparison is, one senses that its neat findings slight some untidy questions. For example, why does Stearns focus on the gender of the target of antifat comments but not on that of their source? To what extent are unattainable standards of slenderness invaluable in allowing people to devote a portion of each crowded day to self- absorption? Does that count as an expression of guilt?
Those who agree with Stearns's premise from the first page will readily accept his illustrations as proof. Others may see this as an interesting study that suggests the complexity of a phenomenon more convincingly than it accounts for it.
What People Are Saying
Stearns looks to explain why America is the fattest, and France the thinnest, nation in the West. In his view, 'dieting was ideally suited to an American need for an implicit but vigorous moral counterweight to consumer indulgence.' At the turn of the century, obesity was suddenly regarded as unhealthy and unpatriotic. Good American citizens should be fit, and a generation of fad diet experts sprung up to guide.
Times Literary Supplement
Table of Contents:
|Pt. I||American Fat|
|1||The Turning Point||3|
|2||The Medical Path: Physicians and Faddists||25|
|3||Fat as a Turn-of-the-Century Target: Why?||48|
|Pt. II||Intensification of the Culture, 1920-1990s: Expiation and Its Limits|
|4||The Misogynist Phase: 1920s-1960s||71|
|5||Stepping up the Pace: Old Motives, New Methods||98|
|6||Fat City: American Weight Gains in the Twentieth Century||127|
|Pt. III||The French Regime|
|7||The Evolution of Weight Control in France||153|
|8||The French Regime||187|
|9||Atlantic Crisscross: The Franco-American Contrasts||217|
|10||Conclusion: The Fat's in the Fire||247|