09 March 2016

Roots of fat activism #4: More people should be FAT

Llewellyn Louderback was a jobbing writer from New York who published an article in the Saturday Evening Post in November 1967, four months after Steve Post's Central Park Fat-In. He may have written the piece earlier, magazine lead-in times can be quite lengthy. I don't know if Louderback went to the Fat-In, I think at that time he may have been more straight-laced than Post, but he was certainly impressed by it. It strikes me that 1967 was when fat activism had a moment of convergence with civil rights, pranksterdom and popular journalism. That late 60s feeling that anything could happen.

In his article, Louderback calls for many of the rights and recognitions that remain preoccupations of fat activists today. He talks about fatphobia, discrimination, thin privilege and draws on his personal experience of being fat and stopping dieting. Like many current activists he cites medical evidence to make his case, and is concerned about the representation of fat people in fashion media. It's amazing how far back these preoccupations go, and interesting that he is a guy writing this when so much of the discourse has been developed by women.

The piece is dated: he refers to his wife but doesn't name her (she was called Ann); he reproduces the now well-debunked myth that Americans are more likely to protest racism than fatphobia; he invokes the Nazis and quotes a somewhat colonial doctor who says that if fat people want to feel alright then they should go to a society "where obesity is worshiped".

Some of what More people should be FAT proposes remains contentious. The idea that fat people are fat because we eat junk food, for example. What fat people eat, the idea of fat people being ignorant about food, the causes of fat, the celebration of junk, and also counter-claims that deny these things are still being hashed out, and vulnerable to appropriation by anti-obesity policymakers.

Louderback makes some curious claims too: that fat hatred is rooted in US puritanism (recent Fat Studies scholars have also argued a case about religiosity and fatphobia), that the American Civil Liberties Union should get on the case (did that ever happen?) and that fat hate represents "the growing power of the group over the individual" (what were his politics at that time, I wonder?).

This article was published 48 years ago though was massively influential, as I explain in my book. It went on to spawn many things but was a relatively short and humble piece of journalism tucked away in a magazine. Louderback was a man who had had enough and couldn't take it any more.

By the way, I've no idea why FAT is capitalised, but I like it.

Louderback, L. (1967) 'More People Should Be FAT', Saturday Evening Post, 4 November, 10-12.


Bill Fabrey said...

I saw the article in a dentist's office and nearly fell off my chair with excitement! I tried to reach him through the Post, to no avail. Next, I called every Louderback in the NY area, found him, and sent him a detailed letter (which I still have) proposing that we start a fat human rights organization (NAAFA). He Iiked the idea, but didn't want to be in charge. That's the short version. The rest is history.

Dr Charlotte Cooper said...


Bill, I hope that you have plans in place to archive your papers at some point. This stuff is very valuable, you do know that don't you?

Emma Fisk said...

Interesting to see the link with Puritanism. My mother was brought up a Dutch calivinist and is extremely anti-fat. Her three siblings also.
She thinks anyone who isn't super-skinny is fat - including herself!

Mich said...

Emma, there is an article that I read about the history of dieting, and indeed Puritanism plays a large part in it. The article is "Regime Change: Gender, Class, and the invention of Dieting in Post-Bellum America", by Katharina Vester, "Journal of Social History 44.1 (2010): 39-70.

There are also a couple in the last few years in the "Journal of Popular Culture" and "Signs" which is a journal about women's issues. JPopCul just wrote about the Biggest Loser as part of the weight loss narrative. Their last article on weight loss culture dealt extensively with Naomi Wolf's "fat is a feminist issue".

It seems a shame though that the bulk of writing about dieting and weight loss is done by historians, and not doctors, who should know better.