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The Forgotten History Of Fat Men's Clubs

Until rather recently in human history, obesity was a sign of wealth. Who could afford to eat  more than they needed without working it off? Wealthy people. The tail end of that idea overlapped with the fad for joining social clubs and secret societies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and that's when the U.S. had a lot of clubs for fat men. One had to be at least 200 pounds to join, and meetings were announced far ahead of time to make sure members could pass the weigh-in. They they had a jolly time. 

What did one do at a fat men's club gathering? Well, eat, of course – a lot. At its peak, the New England's Fat Men's Club had 10,000 members, according to writer Polly Tafrate's brief history of the club for Upper Valley Life. The men would cram huge breakfasts into their bellies, then stumble outside and work up a sweat in a friendly Olympics-style competition showcasing strength and virility: leap-frog contests, broad jumps and races, Tafrate writes.

Of course, like many men’s clubs at the time, the real advantage of such clubs was professional networking between the wealthy. Read more about the Fat Men's Clubs, including a sample meeting menu, at NPR.

(Image credit: screenshot from British Pathé)


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