The Fat Socialist Body: Anti-obesity Discourse and Gendered Embodiment in Socialist Czechoslovakia

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 4:30 PM
Salon 3 (Palmer House Hilton)
Michaela Appeltova, University of Chicago
Since the 1950s, individual body weight has been on the rise in Czechoslovakia, just as in the rest of the Western world. Understood in expert discourse as a result of poor national cuisine, excessive beer drinking, and sedentary (“modern”) lifestyles, obesity quickly became a public health concern and a tool of biopolitical control. The fight against obesity was not without its ambiguities, however: many understood a well-rounded body as a sign of good socialist care and individual well-being. Drawing on the historiography of East European socialism, fat studies and disability studies literature, the paper will discuss three main issues: first, against the backdrop of expertization of bodily governance in State Socialist Czechoslovakia from the late 1950s onwards, the paper will explore how obesity discourse was both shaped by and helped shape normative ideas about the proper socialist body and a proper socialist citizen/consumer. Excess was associated not simply with a lack of physical fitness but also with individualistic, “bourgeois” overindulgence. Second, I will examine the stigmatization of fat bodies as well as the association of obesity with mental disorder and low intellect, serving to cultivate rational, self-contained bodies. Finally, focusing on the gendered dimensions of obesity discourse, the paper will demonstrate the emerging discourse of bad mothering as well as the ways in which obesity discourse helped strengthen the conservative heteronormative framework of late socialist Czechoslovakia.
<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation