Paperback review: Calories and Corsets: A History of Dieting over 2,000 years, By Louise Foxcroft


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The Independent Culture

There aren't too many surprises in Foxcroft's otherwise entertaining and accessible history, as she begins with the Greeks (our word "diet" comes from the Greek "diaita"), through Christian philosophers who linked gluttony with lust, to 19th-century George Cheyne who connected over-eating with nervous disorders.

What is crucial about her study, though, is the ever-present effect on women's bodies – the 19th-century French gourmet, Brillat-Savarin, argued that "women's 'primitive form and beauty' easily became buried beneath flesh". It wasn't long before "weight-watching" women were specifically targeted, especially by tobacco companies in the 1920s. It all shows how little has really changed in what we know about our bodies and how we perceive them.