“Thick” bodies in the early modern period: the meaning of body images through the ages

In today’s society, a slim body is often considered the ideal of beauty. But this was not always the case in history. On the contrary, in the early modern era, “fat” people were the only ones bodies quite desirable and were considered a sign of prosperity and success. But how did this change in body perception come about?

This article is about the meaning of body images in early modern times. We will look at the question of what factors influenced the perception of the body and how this changed over time. In addition, we consider the impact of these developments on society and the role of body images in various fields such as art, fashion, and advertising.

We also take a critical look at today’s perception of the body and question what impact this has on our lives. What can we learn from the past and how can we develop a healthy and positive attitude towards our own bodies?

We invite you to join us on an exciting journey through the history of body images and join us in our search for answers.

Background information

In the early modern period, the bodies of people from different social classes and cultures were valued differently. While it was considered a sign of prosperity and wealth among nobles and wealthy citizens if they were a bit chubby and could afford a voluptuous figure, among peasants and poor people it was often the result of a poor diet and hard work.

The ideas of beauty and body images have changed greatly throughout history. In the Renaissance and Baroque periods, there were even ideals of beauty that favored a curvy figure and replaced the petite bodies of the Renaissance Madonnas and Angels. Voluptuous bodies were also frequently depicted in art, such as in the famous paintings by Rubens.

However, there were also negative evaluations of fat bodies. Especially in the medical world, they have often been judged as unhealthy and unattractive. In the 18. and 19. In the nineteenth century, the first dietary guides and fitness programs emerged that aimed to establish thin and slender bodies as the ideal.

  • social classes and cultures valued bodies differently
  • Ideals of beauty have changed throughout history
  • fatter bodies were viewed both positively and negatively
  • development of diet guides and fitness programs in the 18th century. and 19. In the nineteenth century, to establish thin bodies as the ideal

Being fat as a symbol of wealth during the Renaissance

In early modern times, being fat was often a symbol of wealth and prosperity. This is due to a variety of factors, including the availability of food and the physical demands of different occupations.

Especially during the Renaissance, being fat was a sign of power and wealth. This is evident in the art of the time, in which plump women and men were depicted in paintings. These bodies were often considered ideal and highly valued in society.

Another reason for the high value placed on being fat was the belief that voluptuous bodies were healthy. Many people thought that a fat body signaled good health and a long life. As a result, it was not uncommon for people to try to gain weight to reach this ideal.

  • The Renaissance was a time when the cult of the body flourished.
  • Being fat was seen as a symbol of joie de vivre and prosperity.
  • Efforts to gain weight and become more obese were widespread.
Symbolism of the Fat Body
15. Being fat as evidence of wealth and prosperity.
16. Being fat as a symbol of physical beauty and good health.
17. Continued positive connotation of fatness as a status symbol.

Although these beliefs have changed over the centuries, the importance of the It girl and her physical presence shows that the notion of wealth and body attractiveness are still relevant.

The consequences of obesity on health

Obesity or overweight has always been a problem that affects many people. This was also the case in the early modern period, where “fat” bodies were seen as a sign of wealth and good health. Today, however, we know that obesity can have many health effects.

Cardiovascular disease: People who are overweight have a higher risk of suffering from cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure, heart attack or stroke. This is because being overweight puts a strain on the heart and blood vessels.

Type 2 diabetes: obesity is one of the main factors that can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes. When this happens, the body can no longer adequately process blood glucose, resulting in elevated blood glucose levels.

Joint problems: Obesity puts stress on joints, especially those in the knees and hips. This can lead to joint problems such as arthritis or osteoarthritis.

Breathing problems: People who are overweight also have a higher risk of suffering from breathing problems such as asthma or sleep apnea. This is due to the fact that fatty tissue can block the airways, leading to snoring and breathing problems.

To avoid these health effects, it is important to maintain a healthy weight. A balanced diet and regular exercise can help prevent or reduce obesity.

Changes in the body ideal over time

In the early modern period, a fat body was seen as a sign of wealth and power. The preference for corpulent men and women was often seen in the art and literature of the time. Thick bodies were considered beautiful and attractive.

Over time, however, the body ideal has changed. Thin and slender bodies became popular in the 20. The ideal of beauty in the nineteenth century. This has led to a rise in eating disorders and an increased demand for dieting and physical activity.

Today, the body ideal is still shaped by the media and the fashion industry. However, there is also a growing movement for body positivity and acceptance of different body shapes. This trend promoted the appreciation of bodies of all shapes and sizes.

  • Changes in body ideals throughout history have impacted our understanding of beauty and attractiveness.
  • The early modern period favored fat bodies as a sign of wealth and power.
  • In the 20. In the nineteenth century, the thin and slender body ideal became popular.
  • Today there is a movement for body positivity and acceptance of different body shapes.
Body ideal
Early Modern Thick body
20. Century Thin and slender bodies
Today Different body shapes

Overall, it can be said that the body ideal of a time period is strongly influenced by cultural, social, and political factors. However, it is important to realize that our body is not an indicator of our worth or capabilities and that each body can be beautiful in its own way.


The study of “fat” bodies in the early modern period has shown that these bodies were not only considered an ideal of beauty, but also a symbol of wealth and power. Due to the high-calorie and high-fat diet of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie, overweight bodies were often a status symbol.
Yet obesity has not always had a positive connotation. Especially in medicine it was often considered pathological and bad for health. There have been attempts to combat obesity through dieting and exercise therapies.
Today, attitudes toward corpulence have changed. While some countries still view high body weight as a status symbol, in other parts of the world there are strong movements promoting the fight against obesity and fatty diets.
Overall, the “fat” bodies of the modern era have shown how much societal ideas of beauty and health have changed over time. It remains to be seen how these ideas will evolve in the future.