''A MODEST PROPOSAL'' BECAUSE SIZE DOES MATTER

”How many here have thought of converting to being a Cannibal if the setting was right ?  Do you eat healthy as a cannibal ? I mean say there is some fat people …do you go towards them to eat ? Or do you stay towards those who have more muscle and less fat. Since ya know that too much fat is bad for you.” Human beings have been getting remarkably fat since antiquity and every generation and culture seems to have its own folklore about enormous human beings. Today however, they are ubiquitous and it may be time to re-examine Jonathan Swift’s ”A Modest Proposal”

''"We assume that cannibalism is always an aggressive, barbaric and degrading act," objects Beth A. Conklin, an associate professor of anthropology at Vanderbilt University. "But that is a serious over-simplification, one that has kept us from realizing that cannibalism can have positive meanings and motives that are not that far from our own experience."...  ..."When I decided to study the Wari' I was a vegetarian and the last thing I was interested in studying was cannibalism," Conklin recalls. Her attitude changed as she talked to Wari' about their experiences with the deaths of family members...''

''"We assume that cannibalism is always an aggressive, barbaric and degrading act," objects Beth A. Conklin, an associate professor of anthropology at Vanderbilt University. "But that is a serious over-simplification, one that has kept us from realizing that cannibalism can have positive meanings and motives that are not that far from our own experience."... ..."When I decided to study the Wari' I was a vegetarian and the last thing I was interested in studying was cannibalism," Conklin recalls. Her attitude changed as she talked to Wari' about their experiences with the deaths of family members...''

There is no question that stigmatism exists towards big people, obese people, and those falling within the parameters of what is considered to be abnormal in an absurdly and increasingly fragmented and abnormal world. In general, negative attitudes are especially pronounced following visual exposure according to some academic studies. There is a psychology of prejudice resulting in an antipathy towards obese people among many contemporary populations that are rooted in multiple, psychologically independent mechanisms. On the one hand, this is quite discouraging; but also sobering to know that research results can provide clues toward the possible reduction of this form of prejudice. Some of these fears, apparently, are based on irrational fears about infectious diseases and being devoured; that is eaten by obese people.

James Gillray, A Voluptuary under the horrors of Digestion, 1792

A little over three hundred years ago, Jonathan Swift wrote his ”Modest Proposal” which encouraged the eating of children as an act of pleasure and economic grace to the impoverished classes. Being overweight was a symbol of social ease; the girth around the belly being correlated to the size of the bank account. Back then, there were no, or limited psychological consequences of being overweight or obese; though they may have been mocked, symptoms of lowered self-esteem and anxiety seem isolated.  More serious disorders such as depression, and eating disorders such as binge eating, bulimia and anorexia appear non-existent.

James Gillray; John Bull

James Gillray; John Bull

The reasons for today’s attitudes are not  hard to fathom. Modern culture is singular in the way that it worships youthful slim, toned bodies. With rare exceptions, only thin, proportional bodies are considered sexy. Obese or overweight people are looked down upon. It’s easy to feel bad about one’s self, to become depressed or anxious or to to develop obsessions around eating control when one’s culture makes it clear that the way one appears is wholly undesirable.The weight-loss industry itself, seems to require increasingly large numbers of overweight people to feed the mills of their commercial enterprise. As raw material, in a world allegedly unable to feed itself, perhaps the cult of the Aztec and their human sacrifices, as a pretext to fill a protein need among the people,  will one day return to haunt civilized society. One never knows.

”…”The Fat Men’s Ball,” which is to be given at Canaseraga, N.Y., on the 17th, under the auspices of the heavy men of the Erie Rail Road, with conductors …”

”…but the more developed Aztecs brought the processes of ritual torture and human sacrifice to exalted heights. Thousands of captives won in war or exacted in tribute would line up before the 114 steps of the great pyramid waiting for priests to plunge in the obsidian knife and tear out their bleeding hearts – a ceremony no doubt laudably designed to propitiate the sun god, but not easy to reconcile with the revisionist myth of prelapsarian harmony and innocence. Cortes conquered Mexico with such ease because Indian tribes subjugated and persecuted by the Aztecs embraced him as their liberator from unbearable tyranny. As Carlos Fuentes writes, “It was the victory of the other Indians over the Aztec overlord.”

''Massachusetts has a bill to make it illegal to discriminate against people based on height or weight.  If this bill passes to law, I plan to go to Massachusetts immediately – to apply for a job as fat lady in a circus, for which I am fully qualified, except for weight.''

''Massachusetts has a bill to make it illegal to discriminate against people based on height or weight. If this bill passes to law, I plan to go to Massachusetts immediately – to apply for a job as fat lady in a circus, for which I am fully qualified, except for weight.''

Given Aztec customs and methods, what, one wonders, would have become of the hapless inhabitants of Spain and Portugal if the Atlantic crossing had been reversed and the Aztecs had conquered Iberia? And those who insist that Aztecs and Incas, Mundurucus and Tupinambas, should be judged by their own values, not by ours, owe the same indulgence to the conquistadores”.( Arthur Schlesinger Jr. )

Fernando Botero Angulo. Circus People

Fernando Botero Angulo. Circus People

One doesn’t have to be overweight to get into psychological trouble with eating, either. Eating is pleasurable, and because this is true, all manner of people ,fat and thin alike, end up using eating as a ready source of emotional comfort when they are feeling

ssed out. To be honest, it has never been easy;throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, people with all sorts of physical challenges and differences earned their livings as sideshow entertainers in the traveling fairs and circuses which criss-crossed Europe and the United States. Their numbers included the “fat folk,” men and women far larger than the average of their day.

Emile Selbach

It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabin doors, crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every passenger for an alms. These mothers, instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in strolling to beg sustenance for their helpless infants: who as they grow up either turn into thieves for want of work, or leave their dear native country to fight for the Pretender in Spain, or sell themselves to the Barbadoes.

James Gillray. 1798

James Gillray. 1798

I think it is agreed by all parties that this prodigious number of children in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels of their mothers, and frequently of their fathers, is in the present deplorable state of the kingdom a very great additional grievance; and, therefore, whoever could find out a fair, cheap, and easy method of making these children sound, useful members of the commonwealth, would deserve so well of the public as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the nation. ( Jonathan Swift, A Modest Proposal )

English caricaturists usually depicted the oversized in a more grotesque manner than did the French

”I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.

''Lion tamers, bearded ladies, daring young men on the flying trapeze, and other circus icons have all but disappeared from the mainstream American experience. Today’s youth are spending more time and money in arcades and water parks rather than under the Big Top. The Wisconsin Historical Society – which oversees the Circus World Museum in Baraboo – is taking steps to win back crowds, as it faces its lowest attendance numbers, ever.'' Brian Bull

''Lion tamers, bearded ladies, daring young men on the flying trapeze, and other circus icons have all but disappeared from the mainstream American experience. Today’s youth are spending more time and money in arcades and water parks rather than under the Big Top. The Wisconsin Historical Society – which oversees the Circus World Museum in Baraboo – is taking steps to win back crowds, as it faces its lowest attendance numbers, ever.'' Brian Bull

I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration that of the hundred and twenty thousand children already computed, twenty thousand may be reserved for breed, whereof only one-fourth part to be males; which is more than we allow to sheep, black cattle or swine; and my reason is, that these children are seldom the fruits of marriage, a circumstance not much regarded by our savages, therefore one male will be sufficient to serve four females. That the remaining hundred thousand may, at a year old, be offered in the sale to the persons of quality and fortune through the kingdom; always advising the mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump and fat for a good table. A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends; and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter.” ( Swift )

While it’s true that in the late 18th/early 19th century, a “stout” man was considered handsome and healthy, Lambert’s unusual size did engender some impertinence and rude remarks. A Swedish officer referred to him as “this hideous mass of flesh.” One woman asked him rudely how much his capacious coat had cost, and he answered, “If you think if proper to make me a present of a new coat, you will then know exactly what it costs.” Lambert never married, but according to Bondeson, when he was on exhibit he had many women visitors, who spoke approvingly of him.

”Dionysius of Heracleia was notorious for his appetite, and eventually grew so weighty that he could scarcely budge: he suffered from apnea or narcolepsy besides, prompting his doctors to prick his flesh with needles whenever he fell asleep on his throne. A contemporary poet has him declare that he aspired to end his days “on my back, lying on my many rolls of fat, scarcely uttering a word, taking labored breaths, and eating my fill,” for of all the ways a man might die, an excess of luxury was the only truly happy death. Nevertheless, he lived to what was then the ripe old age of 55, earning a reputation for fairness and generosity that competed with his size as an object of astonishment.

James Gillray.

James Gillray.

A man observed by the celebrated Dutch physician Hermann Boerhaave took his meals at a table that had been cut away in a semicircle to accommodate his circumference: not having slaves to help him, he used a sling worn around his shoulders to carry his belly. A Gentleman’s Magazine of 1789 acquainted readers with a man who hadn’t left his bed under his own power for three years: to change the sheets, he was hoisted up with pulleys. (He was said to be in good health, aside from a rheumatic complaint typical of his 80-plus years.) In 1889, an attempt was made to put a young French woman of Plaisance on exhibit, “but eight men could not move her from her room, and as she could not pass through the door the idea was abandoned.” And for each of these stories, hundreds – if not thousands – more must have been recorded only in local legend, and then forgotten.” ( Dimensionsmagazine.com)

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