In the early twentieth century, Americans began to stigmatize fatness and engage in purposeful exercise in search of thinness, health, and beauty. Historians, however, have excluded black women from this story. This article considers the relationship between notions of beauty, fatness, black womanhood, and the physical culture movement—a white-led fitness campaign that took place between 1900 and the 1930s. It argues that middle-class black women used physical culture to promote their ideals of beauty and the slender black female body at a time when thinness held new civic and political meaning. From the turn of the twentieth century, middle-class blacks began to reject fatness and encourage black women to slim down, beautify, and enhance their bodies through purposeful exercise. By examining this discussion of black anti-fat bias, this article seeks to challenge assumptions about black women's ideas of beauty, fat acceptance, and their relationship to weight.


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pp. 14-37
Launched on MUSE
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