Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Weight: The Parlour Game of Old

The Minneapolis Star Tribune had a interesting story the other day. Seems in the days of yore, a big weekend highlight would be to get together with all your friends and, um, see how much you weighed.

How about putting a bathroom scale in your living room and inviting guests to weigh themselves, while the whole gang watches?

That may sound like the height of rudeness in today's weight-obsessed culture. But a little more than a century ago, festive group weigh-ins were all the rage, according to Deborah Levine, a postdoctoral fellow at Washington University in St. Louis.

"People would think it fun to weigh themselves before and after a big holiday dinner to see how much they had gained," said Levine, who is writing a book on the history of obesity in America.

In this age of watching everything you eat and getting a constant reminder of how fat America is I found it amusing that a century ago, scales were dressed to impress, made of polished wood and embellished with semi-precious stones.

But in the early 20th century, scales and attitudes about weight started to change. Medical and life insurance companies set weight "norms," and Americans began to view being over- or underweight as unhealthy. Weight was no longer a fun fact to be shared publicly; it was private information that could be interpreted as a statement about one's health or even moral character.

As the public's perception of weight changed, so did scales, according to Levine. They moved from from posh parlors to kitchens and, finally, bathrooms, hidden from public view.

Can you just imagine this in today's world? Maybe. On the Tri-Talk forum page a recent topic found us comparing our quads and calves measurements. So, while I cannot see us going back to having Friday night weigh-ins ala, "I can't believe I finished off three Big Macs and only gained 3 pounds!", I can see people comparing their fitness quotient.

Still, the times they are a-changin'.

1 comment:

MHarks said...

Thats a pretty hilarious column, and just by looking at my site you can see we're all into fitness. Don't worry about those swim times, I was a swimmer from a small age and its just natural? to me. Just remember to kick, kick, kick, and pull with a lot of proper technique