Fat men's clubs were a status symbol in the early 20th century — and you had to meet the minimum weight requirement to be eligible for membership
- Being rotund used to be seen as a status symbol in the US, so much so that men formed high-society clubs based on their weight.
- Fat Men's clubs popped up across the US in the early 1900s, with one New England club clocking in at 10,000 members at its peak.
In the 19th and early 20th century, being plump was popular, so much so that high-society clubs with a 200-pound weight minimum were formed by men proud of their big bellies.
Clubs that celebrated excess popped up across the US, from Nevada, Utah, and Tennessee to Vermont and Massachusetts, according to a report by NPR.
One of the most successful clubs of its kind, the New England Fat Men's Club, had around 10,000 members at its peak, according to a history of the club written in Upper Valley Life Magazine. In order to qualify, men had to weigh at least 200 pounds and pay a $1 membership fee (around $35 today).
The New England Fat Men's Club held biannual meetings at a local tavern in Wells River, Vermont, and had the mantra: "We're fat and we're making the most of it!"
In an article published in the Boston Globe in 1904, twice a year the Vermont neighborhood was "full of bulbous and overhanging abdomens and double chins tonight, for the New England Fat Men's Club is in session at Hale's Tavern."
"The natives, who are mostly bony and angular, have stared with envy at the portly forms and rubicund faces which have arrived on every train," according to the article, citing NPR.
At their biannual club gatherings the men would eat from sunrise to sunset, with athletic competitions of leap-frog contests, broad jumps, and races in between their multiple-course meals, according to an Upper Valley Life Magazine excerpt cited by NPR.
"One nine-course menu included oyster cocktail, cream of chicken soup, boiled snapper, fillet of beef with mushrooms, roast chicken, roast suckling pig, shrimp salad, steamed fruit pudding with brandy sauce, assorted cakes, cheese and ice cream followed by coffee and cigars," author Polly Tafrate wrote for Upper Valley Life Magazine. "The evening was laced with large portions of wit, sarcasm and roaring laughter."
But there was more to the club than indulging in nine-course meals and friendly competition — members also participated in networking events featuring government officials and business leaders, according to the New England Historical Society.
Even former President William Howard Taft, who at one point weighed 340 pounds, attended one of the Fat Men's Club meetings and was offered membership to the club, but declined.
Before the success of New England Fat Men's Club, there was the Fat Men's Association of New York City, which first met in 1869, whose members included city officials, lawyers, contractors, and sergeants and captains with the New York Police Department, HuffPost reported.
Much like the New England club, the group would host excessive meals at its gatherings, and the association's president Philetus Dorion reportedly gained 8 pounds from a clambake held by the club in August 1884.
Clubs with even more creative names began to form, including the Jolly Fat Men's Club, the Heavy Weights, and the Fat Men's Beneficial Association. The American clubs spurred foreign counterparts, including one in France formed in 1897 named "Le Club des Cents Kilos" or "The Hundred Kilos Club," but the group did not reach as high levels of success.
Club weigh-ins were a highly anticipated event, some being as competitive then as they are at a modern-day boxing match, if not more so. At one fat men's club in Weatherford, Texas, men cheated by stuffing weights in their pockets before stepping on a scale before a club baseball game in 1920, according to Texas Monthly. A fat men's club in Ohio based their democratic system on the scale and would weigh each member to determine the club's president based on weight.
Though it's unlikely that a club of its kind would exist in the modern day, Daryl Leeworthy, a historian and research fellow at Swansea University in the UK, told NPR that the fat men's clubs were built on the idea that being fat was "closely associated with wealth and status."
"For most of our ancestors, the poorer they were, the less food they had to eat, and the thinner and shorter they tended to be," Leeworthy said. "And power and wealth and status are attractive characteristics: If a person's body is their temple, then being the size of a cathedral told others that you were someone of significance."
At the onset of the Industrial Revolution in the late 19th century, attitudes toward weight being used as a status symbol began to change as an "increasing number of people had jobs that weren't physically demanding" and people began to worry less about access to food, according to Peter Stearns, a former professor of history at George Mason University.
"In general, in a trend that began around 1910, doctors and insurance actuaries began to push preferability of underweight to overweight, in terms of health and longevity," Stearns wrote in his book "Fat History: Bodies and Beauty in the Modern West."
Despite its roaring popularity over a century ago, the fat man's world began to get a little smaller in the 1920s after health professionals began to understand the negative side effects associated with obesity and began to discourage it. Even the New England Fat Men's Club disbanded in 1924 when only 38 members showed up — and none had met its 200-pound minimum.
- Gen Z faces more pressure at work than previous generations because technology has eliminated work-life boundaries, a psychology professor says
- All 81 movies based on Marvel comics, ranked according to critics
- EY and Deloitte are scrutinizing staff workloads and quietly letting some workers go, report says
- EPFO adds a net 15.62 lakh members in Dec; 8.41 lakh new subscribers join workforce
- Zee Entertainment reaches out to Sony to revive terminated merger
- India's AI market to touch $17-billion by 2027: Nasscom-BCG report
- Worried about 'forever chemicals' in your water? Try electron-beaming it!
- Wetlands in the icy Arctic have begun releasing 9% more planet-warming methane in the past two decades: study