Lew Louderback was darn angry. He was a fat guy with a fat wife and fat people were being discriminated against and unfairly judged quite severely so he did something about it. He unleashed a scathing critique on the treatment of fat Americans that appeared in a national magazine. He exposed some pretty awful truths. And they were true. At the time, no one would have ever read anything like Lew’s article. When you read it, you should be stunned that it was published in 1967. It will also strike you that way too much of the bias and vicious cultural trends that Lew describes are pervasive throughout American society 47 years later. With this article, Llewellyn “Lew” Louderback did not know he was writing the first chapter in the history of fat acceptance, speaking out against size discrimination.
Lew Louderback’s “More People Should Be Fat” was probably the first defense of fat people ever to appear in the mainstream media. The article was published in the November 4, 1967 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. In trying to track down the article, I’d only found one poorly-scanned and completely unreadable version online. I found it by digging through the microfilm files of the main branch of the Chicago Public Library and using a giant viewer. I could only print out a hard copy so I printed it at the viewer’s maximum magnification. I have scanned the columns of the article. Click on the document links to see a full-size PDF version. Scroll to the end of this post to see scans of the individual columns.
Except for his 1960s-era references (like the “Fat In” gathering) and some dated medical information, Lew’s arguments could have been written by a Fatosphere blogger of today. It seems surprising at first that a man is voicing such discontent until we realize that in 1967, women were still having to fight simply to be seen as having anything resembling a strong opinion. It would have been unusual for a white man to have felt marginalized by acts of discrimination.
Lew accurately calls out primary points of fat shaming that we’re all too familiar with today. The “nonsense” of assuming fat people eat out of inferiority and insecurity. Feeling pressured to conform to a particular aesthetic ideal. Knowing you’ll be disrespected in the workplace. Acknowledging the psychological toll of constant dieting. Decades before Photoshop would make photographic airbrushing look as crude as fingerpainting, Lew had the audacity to believe that “plump” women should appear in magazines.
I was particularly impressed with two points Lew makes. He accurately identifies the connection between obesity and economic status AND he did it just a few years after Dr. Albert Stunkard first made the correlation in his groundbreaking work with data from the Midtown Manhattan Study in 1964. (Bonus points: Lew quotes Dr. Stunkard!)
I think the most important point Lew makes in his article is when he calls out fat people for perpetuating bias themselves. The primary issue of my writing is to break down the paradigm that if you are fat, it’s assumed there’s something wrong with you. If you’re fat, our culture insists you’re “broken” and you won’t lose weight until you fix yourself. Much of America wants to believe it and unfortunately, many fat people will even insist it’s true. In their desperation to find sympathy for the crime of being fat and to avoid accusations of weak character and self-indulgence, I believe many fat people attempt to explain their fat as the result of some trauma in their lives. To relieve the cognitive dissonance of being told they willfully “made” themselves fat, obese people beg for forgiveness by pointing to some pain that drove them to “turn to food for comfort.” If only they’d believe Lew when he described his and his wife’s own “natural condition” and how their struggle with weight was the true source of their anxiety. He closes his article by urging fat people to let go of their guilt.
Lew’s article attracted the attention of Bill Fabrey whose concern for how his fat wife was treated would lead him to establish the organization that would today be the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. With help from Bill and his wife Ann, Lew would go on to publish Fat Power which drew significantly from Albert Stunkard’s research that found both thin and fat people have similar emotional interactions with food. Fat Power was not promoted by its publisher and faded into obscurity. If you can find a rare bookseller with a new copy, it will likely run you a few hundred bucks.
Ann Louderback has passed but Lew is now in his 80s and apparently not all that fat these days. It does not surprise me as I’ve seen my father’s former girth diminish as the decades are passing. Lew Louderback demonstrated an amazingly prescient perspective on the state and status of fat people in America. It’s too bad that 47 years did not dispel the prejudices and fallacies he saw burgeoning.