Sara Read: Postdoctoral Fellow (2012-13)

Sara Read competed her doctorate at Loughborough University:

My present research is intended to address, in a multi-disciplinary way, the lack of research that has hitherto been carried out into what it meant to be an overweight woman in the Renaissance and Restoration periods. The project will extend approximately from the character of Ursula in Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair (1614) to the death of the famously overweight Queen Anne (1665-1714). One of its key aims is to interrogate the assumption that it was acceptable or even desirable for women to be fat in the period. I will consult a broad range of materials including plays, poetry, medical writings, court records and life-writing from archival sources, and works in galleries such as the National Portrait Gallery.

Despite what is popularly believed, early-modern society shared modern concerns about the health implications of being overweight. There is also evidence that those deemed as 'fat' suffered marginalisation or ridicule, both in literary representations and in wider cultural contexts. The history of obesity has attracted some attention recently, both in scholarly accounts and works for the general reader. However, this work often overlooks the very real, and continuing, gendered element to the associations made with obesity, shown in differing attitudes to overweight men and women. This research will therefore add a necessary dimension to the growing field of the historiography of women's bodies, and will provide an historical context for the topic of women's bodily ideals which is of constant interest in today's media.