November 10, 2010 at 7:59 am
Photo by melliegrunt / by NCND 2.0 CC
I’ve been reading The Pain Chronicles by Melanie Thernstrom, a well-researched and fascinating book about pain viewed through the filters of history, literature, science, religion and the author’s personal experiences. Of particular interest to me was the idea that disease is sometimes seen as metaphor. For example, a common 19th century belief about consumption (a.k.a. tuberculosis) was that it was a “spiritualizing struggle between the body and the soul, in which mortal flesh was slowly consumed in a way that heightened both beauty and creativity.” This view seems sort of silly now that we know tuberculosis is caused by mycobacterium tuberculosis. Similarly, cancer was once seen as a sign of repression, and HIV was originally viewed as punishment for homosexuality, both of which have similarly been proven false after the mechanisms of the disease were discovered.
This is when it occurred to me that obesity is still seen as a disease of metaphor.
Obese people have been assigned many traits by mainstream culture. They’re weak-willed. They’re lazy. They don’t [...]