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Are we meant to be fat?

December 13, 2007

Anti-fat trolls aren’t a very innovative bunch. They all repeat the same arguments time and time again. Hoping, I guess, that repitition will only add to the truthiness of their views. One of their favorite memes is the “people have gotten so fat when they didn’t ever used to be!!!” It’s a great one b/c it not only falls in line with what experts have been telling us (and what we’re conditioned to look for) but it is, in fact, true.  Oh sure, it’s not true in the way the msm and the obesity crusaders would like you to believe. According to the CDC, men and women, on average, weigh about 20lbs more than they did in 1960. They’re also an inch taller. Hardly numbers that would seriously limit people’s mobility or turn thin olympians into those headless fat bodies we see on tv. However, there’s a slight hitch in fatphobes using this information as proof of the obesity epidemic; our life expectancy has increased over this time as well.

 Well, then they just have to reach even farther into the past, eventually getting at what I like to call the caveman hypothesis.It goes like this: humans evolved on the savannahs of Africa. We were hunter-gatherers who often walked miles and miles a day. We ate lean game and lots of whatever plants we could pick and no one was obese. Therefore, humans are not meant to be obese.Well, let’s get on the logic train and disect this thought process, shall we? 1) The problem with studying pre-historic people is the whole pre-historic aspect. A lot of what people suspect about our ancestors comes from observing hunter/gatherer societies that exist today and rampant speculation. We can certainly make educated guesses as to their lives, but that’s it. 2) Life expectancy for pre-historic humans was around 34 years of age.  3) We have no idea how many fat people existed in pre-historic society. None at all. Sometimes I think proponents of this argument have simply watched too many movies with buff actors in loincloths. And last, but not least, and really, this gets to the heart of all the “you never see fat people in X situation” arguments: All times and places where you really see almost no fat people have one thing in common….. There’s not enough fucking food to go around.

And really, that’s the problem with the entire question of exactly how fat or thin humans are ‘supposed’ to be. Our species has, for most of its history, survived in less than optimal conditions. Most animals do. There’s starvation and disease and life is often hard and short. But our species has done an amazing thing, we have developed technology which allows us to live without food scarcity (yes, everyone. The problem with world hunger is one of politics and organization, not supply.) And in this country, we have only recently (as in the past century or so) instituted programs to provide food to kids whose family’s cannot afford to keep them well-nourished. The free lunch program was started in 1946. WIC in 1972.What’s my point? Well, for most of history there has existed, at the very least, an underclass of people who’ve dealt with food shortages. Malnutrition was a very real problem causing stunted growth, low weight and low birth weights. So if we’re talking average weights for 1960, we’re including people who grew up poor, but didn’t have access to free school lunch and  infants with poor parents before the days of WIC. In short, a fair number of people who had probably grown up malnourished.  I don’t really find it surprising therefore that average weights have gone up 20lbs in the last 40 years.

Long post short (too late); claiming that humans were healthiest at some mythical point in prehistory or even 40 years ago is not only demonstrably false, it also ignores the fact that we have only recently begun to address hunger and malnourishment in our own country.  We have no idea how a population with plenty of food and modern healthcare is *supposed* to look. We can’t look back at people’s weights 50, 80, or 15,000 years ago for answers and honestly, thank NOTA for that.

  1. amgriffin permalink
    December 14, 2007 9:43 pm

    I’ve spent some very enjoyable times surfing through looking at photos from the last hundred years or so. Probably only one in twenty photos is of a woman but when one runs across them they look much like we do today as far as weight goes. Clothing and corsets do much to obscure the natural figure but it seems to me that the US of old was not the bastion of thin that popular media is making it out to be. Discounting the photos from the civil war when food was short and the great depression era photos, for the same reason, people seem to be, from what this photographic record indicates, no thinner then and no fatter now.

    Obviously, this is only my personal observations. Look around the site and see if you agree.

  2. wriggles permalink
    December 15, 2007 11:58 am

    Even in the endless fatutuity of the obesity canard, I simply cannot see how or why this counts as an argument. You aren’t supposed to be fat. I am. OK, end of argument.

  3. December 15, 2007 11:00 pm


    I really like that site. While there aren’t a lot of pictures of women, the pictures of the men certainly point to there being a lot of size variation even during the 19th century.

    One of the things that always struck me when I was studying constume design and history is that actors and actresses from a century ago had a similar range of measurements to modern people, but lower weights. So I’ve oftened wondered if modern exercise and gym culture have made us a much more muscular people.


    I’ve usually seen this kind of thing in response to the assertion that fat is largely genetic. If it was, goes the argument, then you would have always had similar numbers of fat people throughout history.

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