30 June 2011

A Barnum display becomes commonplace

The top image is a carte de visite from the 1860s of Phebe Dunn,"supposedly one of Barnum's "fat ladies" at his American Museum. She is 17 in this photo, according to the back, and 407 lbs." People of that era paid money to look at her as a human anomaly.

In the lower image, "Fairgoers play a carnival game at the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar, California."

I'll defer commentary.  Res ipse loquitur.

Top photo credit gormer, via Historical Indulgences.  Lower photo Reuters.


  1. Folks eat a hell of a lot better these days. We aren't tied to a local famine cycle.

  2. I'm not sure we eat a lot better if it leads to obesity. All the sugar laden snack foods and drinks are not healthy. The women in either picture are not healthy.

  3. Why no postings of comparison pics of "wild men" and "small people"? I'm sure we could find people willing to post broad statements about them as well.

    How do you know any of these women are obese because they have eaten sugar laden snack food and drinks?
    No chance for medical conditions leading to obesity?
    How do you know they are all unhealthy?

  4. Certainly large portions are common in our society- from the Big Gulp to a single restaurant entree that would serve at least three people.

    Is it that low nutrition, high calorie foods are the most affordable calories for people? Are we consuming/absorbing chemicals in our modern day world that cause people to add pounds?

    I don't believe that a calorie is just a calorie. Where we live are many Native Americans and "the thrifty gene" is a dreadful burden in a modern world filled with processed foods.

  5. Mr Jarvis, you might want to watch this.
    It is the tip of the iceberg, our diet has gone to hell in a handbasket.
    Also, you're missing the point of the article. It's not about men or women. The point is, obesity used to be extremely rare, and now it is everywhere.

  6. @NACLEK9, article, what article?
    All I'm seeing is large women and no commentary beyond the comparison between fairgoers and a sideshow act.

    The modern obesity epidemic is a myth. It's been with us for a good long time. Recognition of obesity and some weight loss methods are thousands of years old.

    Claiming anything the showman P.T. Barnum did sets any standards for how people were beyond gullibility is foolish at best.

  7. @JDJarvis, I can see that these women all have a BMI well above the healthy range. Since none of them are muscle bound athletes I can make an educated guess that they are going to suffer a higher rate of health issues than someone with a BMI in the normal range. Sure medical conditions could lead to all of them being overweight, and without more info we won't know.

    I know it's only anecdotal, however I have observed a fair number of overweight people consuming sugary and calorie laden drinks in large sizes. As well as consuming large quantities of sugary and fatty food at fast food restaurants. Seems to me there may be a correlation between a crappy diet and the increasing obesity epidemic.

    Could you please backup your assertion that there is no obesity epidemic? Just looking at this wikipedia article shows the rate is climbing over the last 50 years. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obesity_in_the_United_States

    Sure, there have always been obese people, but never in recorded history have some many been so fat.

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  10. "No chance for medical conditions leading to obesity?"

    Unless you count having elbows that are hinged to allow them to shove massive amounts of food into their mouths a 'medical condition'... it isn't likely.

    Let's all admit that 99.9% of the fatties in our country are fat because of caloric intake and nothing else. The reality is you don't get to be 100+ lbs overweight by accident, and medical conditions that add that much weight are VERY, VERY rare no matter what the obese try to suggest.

    Eat less - get smaller. It isn't a difficult concept.

  11. I remember looking at those circus sideshow "freak" pictures as a kid in the sixties, and just being astounded at how anyone could have ever possibly reached that size. Now, one sees even larger sizes on just about any given block of any given city on any given day in America. Sure there were overweight people in my youth- but not the rampant plethora of morbidly obese individuals one sees today.

    The current American diet is dangerous, debilitating and in a word... deadly- not just because of the obscene amounts some people ingest, but also because of its largely untested genetic mutations and massive chemical and pharmaceutical contamination.

  12. Seems like the perfect opportunity to make you all aware of an excellent speech about how current dietary guidelines have caused obesity rates to sky-rocket.


  13. @JDJarvis Keep saying what you're saying if you really believe that and the rest of us will keep rolling our eyes.

  14. I have one of those medical conditions that makes you fat. Hypothyroidism. I have never, and will NEVER, looked like that. Not even close. I have to watch what I eat more than most, even when my hormone replacement pills are at a good dose, but I've never been over 225lbs at 5'7". Short of a SERIOUS medical issue, there is no reason to look like these women. No reason beyond cramming yourself with things that really shouldn't count as food. I've worked at supermarkets. You really are what you eat. American waistlines are growing proof.

  15. I also want to point out the people in the background as further proof. An obese man and no one with a healthy weight in sight. JDJarvis' point falls apart if you look at everyone in the photo.

  16. @LArry, "modern obesity epidemic".
    BMI chart changes altered the relative healthiness of tens of millions of people in 1998. Their bodies and health didn't' change, the charts did.

    @blitherypoop, you are horribly ignorantly wrong despite your personal experience. Someone very near and dear to me has a health issue that led to obesity in a catastrophic manner that did not involve over-eating.

    It's repugnant that one group of people is okay to cajole and ridicule these days. The ugliest thing I see is the grey-matter flopping around in so many peoples heads.

    Where are the other pictures of the Barnum era vs modern side show acts? Where are the "savages", the little people, those who survived serious maladies, and those born with serious deformities?

    Why is it still acceptable point and laugh at the obese and pat ourselves on the back for being better?

  17. some links on the "Obesity Epidemic":










  18. JDJarvis has done some homework. Rebuttals need to include links, not just rhetoric.

  19. One of those sources has a strong libertarian bias and another goes somewhat against the poster's own point. I only checked three of the 'links' (it would be easier if they were clickable, it's not hard to do), but I cherry picked because I know dubious sources when I see them.

    I'll dig some links (clickable ones) up later.

    To JDJarvis directly, I'm wondering if you read my posts. I didn't even begin to suggest that no other medical issues can cause obesity or that it's always do to overeating. Things like polycystic ovary syndrome, prader-willis, or heart failure (and others) can cause weight gain too. These are all serious, the word I stressed. From your tone your loved one's condition sounds serious too. Beyond that, everyone who can be seen clearly in the background is also overweight. Short of this being some kind of support group trip to the carnival, it suggests a fat population.

  20. And as far as the wild men, little people, and deformed people...TLC and talk shows. That's where. How many reality tv shows star little people? I can think of at least four.

  21. JDJarvis,

    A few years back, I compared my class photos from elementary school to those of my nephew (who attended the same school, only 25 years later.)

    In my kindergarten class, there was not a single kid (out of 22) who would have fit the criteria for "obesity." In my nephew's k' class, there were at least 6 kids (out of 21) who fit the bill.

    At 6th grade, there was one kid in my class who was a bit outside the norm, but he was a big kid altogether and not really fat as much as athletic and muscular, but perhaps 10lbs overweight at most. In my nephew's class, there were clearly 9 kids with unhealthy BMI's (5 boys, 4 girls) and on average, the entire class was larger than the kids who comprised my class 25 years earlier.

    Sorry, I know that it is not a random sample, but I can't discount that the same school, in the same neighborhood, drawing from the same population, with only the passage of 25 years would produce such disparate results and it not be evidence of an increase in obesity.

    I would also note that the prevalence and drastic increase of Type II Diabetes is likewise clear evidence of an increase in obesity.

  22. Barnum exaggerated a lot. The sideshow girl can't be more than 300 pounds, tops.

  23. I have no idea what JDJarvis is arguing, his second link says this:

    "There is little argument about the fact that, as a nation, more of us are fatter than ever before; the disagreement lies in the effect that this has on our health."

    So, arguing about how unhealthy it is maybe... but saying there are not more fat people is ridiculous.

  24. I'm 70 Years old. As a child I encountered very few obese fat folks. There were only one or two fat children in my school. Our food and the Wall Street agribusiness which peddle it to us are interested only in profit. High Fructose Corn Syrup along with other fractions of genetically engineered field corn #2 are added to our food to improve "mouth feel" and reduce the feeling of fullness. Thus we eat more. People today are as fat as ticks. TV encourages the consumption of junk food 24/7 and markets directly to children. I'd suggest that Mr. Jarvis take a break and read "The Omnivore's Dilemma". The book is impeccably researched and based upon fact and not opinion. Then read "Fast Food Nation". You may then begin to understand why we are becoming a nation of fatwads along with those countries who import processed food products from us. The American diet is killing us and only the Wall Street moichant piggy is profiting.


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