09 July 2012

Medieval stigmatization of obesity

My post about mobility scooters may have given some viewers the wrong impression that I was mocking obesity.  That's not quite right - I was mocking the behavior (fast food consumption), not the body habitus.

Yesterday I found an article at Feminine Beauty which delineates the stigmatization of obesity in medieval times.  I had not thought about this before, and would have assumed that obesity in a time of plague and malnutrition would have been viewed as a sign of health and "Rubenesque" beauty.  But, at least in Christian Europe, there was a crossover with the perceived sin of gluttony:
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul excoriated, "the enemies of the cross of Christ whose end is destruction, whose god is in their belly". This message that served as a basis for the classic definition of gluttony which has achieved signal importance in Christian thought. Tertullian in the third century, ascribed Adam's eating of the apple to gluttony, which he accorded as important a role, in the Fall, as the currently more familiar sin of pride. Both Augustine in the fifth century and Gregory I in the seventh century, incorporated gluttony into their developing definition of the Seven Deadly Sins.  Reflecting the rarity of obesity, gluttony was not associated with it during this period, but the stage was set for such linkage when enough food became available.
More at the (pdf) link, via Medievalists.net.


  1. Just to be clear, the quote from Phillipians is not equating obesity with gluttony. It's the attitude towards the food. You don't have to have a lot of something to make it your God, but you have a certain attitude towards it.

    Romans of the time had gluttony issues, but you would not find many of them obese. They ate until they were literally full, then puked it out so they could eat some more... because they liked the act of eating and drinking. That right there is gluttony.

    The other commentary just goes to show how so-called "Christianity" constantly moved further away from what Christ taught and have no clue what the Bible is talking about. And seriously? Adam was disobedient and rebellious. Prideful and gluttonous, where did that come from?

  2. I think that's a pretty cheap out. I doubt you would have posted a photo of "normal" sized people eating fast food.

    I'm normally a big fan, but this is kind of crappy.

  3. I remember looking at Hans Memling's Last Judgement and thinking that both the pure of heart and the sinners had shapely, naturally slim bodies. Not to mention Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights. The heavy-set, rotund or downright obese bodies were definitely not the norm.

    Of course, there are many historical records of obesity in every culture. I found Chapter 5 of this book quite informative:

    "Obesity: It Might Not Be All Your Fault, But It Is Your Problem" Dorothy S Mukherjee Chapter 5 - Obesity through the ages


  4. I'm with anonymous up there--it's a cheap excuse for a cheap joke, I don't buy it, I'm usually a big fan but that was. . . unworthy of your usual excellence.


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