18 April 2010

From "sideshow freak" to "person of Walmart"

"This is Chauncy Morlan, and around 100 years ago his obesity was so shocking that people would pay money to see him as he toured the country as a circus “fat man”. I find the unremarkableness of his size to be a telling sign of how we’ve pushed the limits of obesity in the past 100 years."

Text and photo from Modeled Behavior.

Addendum:  This post has garnered a lot of attention this week, for whatever reason.  I'd like to clarify for the newcomers to this blog that the purpose of this particular post was NOT to make fun of or otherwise disparage obesity - the point is to note how the cultural response to obesity has changed in just a couple generations.

 And yes, I do know that some biographies refer to Mr. Morlan as weighing 600+ pounds.  You need to understand that those data come from circus and sideshow promotional pamphlets; if you believe such things, you must be a Sarah Palin supporter.  It is also possible that he did weigh 600# at some point in his career, but in the photo above he's nowhere near that (prob 420 max), and that photo is a promotional piece supporting his career in the sideshow.


  1. I remember looking at those circus sideshow photos in utter amazement as a child in the sixties, and just imagining what it must've been like... Now I can actually meet them in person on any given block in the USA!

  2. I've seen bigger people on the bus. He looks like he could even stand under his own weight!

    Now to be fair, it must have been much harder to gain that much weight in the era before fast food.

  3. It's all a matter of promotion and the horrible ignorance of the audience.

  4. According to this site, he was over 600 pounds, so he'd still be unusually heavy today. But thanks to TV shows like "Big Medicine," most Americans are used to seeing people that heavy, even if not in person.

  5. "horrible ignorance"

    lol. ignorance of what?

  6. In the 1978 Superman movie, Ned Beatty was the butt of 'fat' now. They seem unwarranted by today's standards.

    In the 1953 movie 'From Here to Eternity' Ernest Borgnine was cast as the role of 'Fatso'. He would be below the average American BMI for his age today.

  7. Am 56, getting fat because I cannot find work. The mexicans seem to be keeping in shape on construction projects and factory jobs. Bless this mess.

  8. This guy was probably not six hundred pounds. They would have exaggerated his weight in order to bring in the rubes.

  9. Obesity is threatening America's ability to field an Army of fit young people. If our Empire is to endure, we must put all the fast food joints out of business, otherwise we will have to recruit mercenaries from societies that are more fit. It is a matter of national security for the Government to take action against obesity!

  10. Anon, what a ridiculously stupid comment -

    "Am 56, getting fat because I cannot find work"

    If you're getting fat it's because you're eating more than exercising. And now you want to pass the blame on to other people - to wetbacks apparently -

    "The mexicans seem to be keeping in shape on construction projects and factory jobs"

    your comment is typical of people who cannot control their impulses and want to blame other people for their selfinduced problems.

    How pitiful.

  11. The only freaks are the poster of this blog and the ignorant commentators. I happen to be a sociologist researching fat stigma and the obesity crisis is exaggerated by pharma. In fact, almost ALL the scare studies come from pharma marketing. And "overeating" is far from the only cause of weight gain. Yo-yo dieting, stress, overwork, and environmental estrogens all play a role. Not to mention as a people we are living longer than ever. Sad how people can be so manipulated. What we really have is a critical thinking crisis in this country; when it comes to obesity sheeple believe the propaganda hook, line and sinker.

    "I have never had a problem with my weight that wasn't caused by other people!"

  12. Rachel, you really don't know what you are talking about. As a group, fat people eat less than thin ones. I would encourage any fat person reading this not to pay attention to people like Rachel. In real life, those who make those kind of comments don't have a lot going for them. They are usually average to below average attractiveness and cling to weight as the only thing they have to lord over people. I know you are not educated, because if you were, you would not mindlessly spout the calories in vs. out garbage that has been proven too simplistic. Work on your self-esteem Rachel and try to find something redeeming about yourself so you don't have to put down others!

    1. People who are fat do not necessarily eat less. Rachel was simply trying to point out that blaming people of Mexican descent for one's own obesity is absurd.
      While losing weight is difficult, and maybe more complicated than just eating less, we can all do what we can to improve our health without blaming people who are just trying to earn a living.

  13. rachel is 100% correct and "calories in garbage out" has not been proven too simplistic it is plain and simple thermodynamics. "As a group fat people eat less" ROTFLMAO what a total crock O' sh#$ I've been at the "all you can eat" restaurants and have seen more than one fat person ignore the plate altogether and pile their tray high with all that would fit. It won't be long before they install troughs at these restaurants.
    And about the "work on your self-esteem and find something redeeming about yourself so you don't have to put down others", all I can say is, pot,,,, meet kettle.

  14. Fat people eat too much. Obesity is a problem in America because:

    A) Americans believe they will wither and die unless they load up their plate to the maximum three times a day, and...

    B) No one ever wants to accept any responsibility at all for their weaknesses and lack of self-control. Everything is a "disease" that cannot be controlled and nothing is ever anyone's own fault.

    There is no such disease as "jerking arm-to-mouth syndrome". Step away from the plates of wings, bags of chips, sugary sweet drinks and twelve beers every afternoon and find something else to keep your ever-moving mouths busy and you will lose weight. It really IS as simple as counting calories and no amount of dubious "research" can change that fact.

  15. Sure some fat people overeat. So do some slender people. We sneer at the fat ones, but we admire people who can eat whole pizzas and never gain a pound.

    I think there is some other reason that people choose to believe the excess calorie myth (and it is a myth)that has little to do with the truth. We all know that some can eat and eat and never gain, others can exercise off the excess if it does occur, and others cannot lose weight no matter how little they eat or how much they exercise. It is quite plain that this is the truth. The calorie model does not explain this, so why do we persist in trying to make it fit? We need to find out why some never gain, and others gain so easily, with virtually no difference in food intake or exercise level.

  16. This same picture and its corresponding point was featured on by Bill Maher on his show this Friday

  17. It is really really quite simple, calories do actually count - but if they seem not to count for yourself it is because you are missing the other element -


    this is not rocket science but i think it's good money making science, if you are a fat arse , work on controlling your calorie intake and also treat any carbohydrate as a 2x multiplier of your calorie intake. so that is to say if you have simple Carbohydrates like sugars count them as double calories.

    if you don't eat simple carbs then you can spend all the calories on non simple carb food, stick to a normal 2000cal diet (being generous even) you will loose weight.

    if you don't it's because you can't go without your Coke you fat arses.

    It’s called Water it sustains life just perfectly.

    Also exercise.

  18. If calories in vs calories burned is a crock...then how do you explain the biggest loser? The lies told by the obese to justify their situation are as big as they are, they may not eat in front of you, but they have no problem eating when your not around. Candy, soda, and piles of junk.

  19. KEEP THE LANGUAGE HERE CIVIL. I don't mind being called a "freak" (which was apparently a reference to the context of the original post), but any additional comments with ad hominem attacks like "you fat arse" will be vaporized into cyberspace.

  20. Weight is decided by calories in versus calories out. Overweight and obesity are a result of too many calories and insufficient burning of those calories.

    But the pertinent question is WHY individuals eat too many calories and burn too few.

    To say that overweight and obesity are due only to gluttony and lack of control and willpower is cruel and demeaning, and only minimizes the issue.

    Sure, some people are o/o because they knowingly consume too much unhealthy food and liquid, and would rather eat Doritos and watch TV, but there are additional factors involved for other people. And no, I'm not making apologies for the o/o

    Do all individuals have access to healthy food? In some neighborhoods, a well-stocked grocery store may not exist, what stores are available may lean heavily to junk and processed foods (think mini-mart types), and fast food is the main source of food. Some individuals may work multiple, low-paying jobs, leaving little time for cooking and food prep. Eating healthily requires access, time, effort and education about the nutritional content of different foods and normal portion sizes.

    For an interesting read about portion sizes and what and how much people (thin, overweight, obese, etc) will eat, even of unappetizing food, see Brian Wansink's Mindless Eating.

    For others, food is a form of self-medication (carbs have a calming effect) in a stressful life. Lack of quality sleep leads to lower levels of leptin (enogenous appetite-suppressing chemical) and higher levels of ghrelin (endogenous appetite-increasing chemical).

    Some medications such as steroids can cause significant weight gain.

    As far as execise is concerned, not everyone has a safe place to walk/run/exercise, or can afford a gym or at-home exercise equipment. Injury and disabilities can interfere with the ability to exercise. Education about the amount of and the intensity of exercise required for weight loss and weight control is critical.

    Bottom Line: Weight control depends on multiple factors, not just lack of willpower, although personal responsibility does play a significant role (acquiring education, seeking out and cooking healthy food, reducing stress, making time for exercise, etc). Humiliating the o/o is not effective.

  21. Annon - 'As a group, fat people eat less than thin ones'.

    Really? Denial at its best!

    People are fat because they eat too much and the wrong types of food, simple. The American diet has proved this since the 70's. Did you see fat people in WWII???

    I would encourage fat people to listen to Rachel and get the help they need and stop fuelling the 'take out' culture they are currently apart of

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  24. ok i've read everyones ideas/prejudices and speak as a current fat person. I was fat then lost 70 lbs and i was skinny, over a few years its crept back on again. Yes exercise does play a bit of a role, but if you dont have the energy to excercise properly, your not going to do enough to burn the fat. with regards to quantity of food, reducing it is only a skinny persons answer(no experience). The quality and type of food is vital, ie. unprocessed food digests much slower and keeps you full longer, doesn't spike insulin, thus maintains current weight or wightloss.
    what i wil say with regards to prejudices, when fat you know who your friends are, when skinny lots of superficial people tryin to be my friend. I don't want or need peoplelike this in my life.

  25. It doesn't appear many of you have degrees in food science & nutrition.

    Calories aren't a myth, it's the law of conservation of energy. If you expend more energy(burn calories) than you take in, in a set period of time, then your body will start to burn fat, carbs, and if necessary, protein to keep going. Exercise can build muscle mass, which increases metabolism due to more ATP being required. Speaking of metabolism, extreme metabolism is how Michael Phelps could eat 12,000 calories/day. His strenuous workouts spiked his metabolism exponentially.

    The BMI is based on dutch people in the early 1800's, when they ate 1,000 cal/day and were many inches shorter on average. People were chronically underfed back then and yet we base a chart of healthy size upon them. So that's a problem.

    Thin and avg people have a horrible time estimating weight and consider a 250 lb man to be morbidly obese. The man in the picture may not have been 600lbs but he was certainly pushing 5 bills. Check out the extra wide chair.

    Finally, calorie reduction only works until your body either forces you to eat more or you become anorexic. You have a genetic size that is mapped out and that is hard to stay under. The obesity epidemic is blown way out of proportion. The healthiest, longest living, fastest to recover from surgery/illness? Overweight. Least of those categories? Thin.

    Instead of mocking and ridiculing and further ostracizing fat people, why not invite them to go walking or work out with them? Tough love does not help and just turns the big into big hermits.

  26. What's wrong with disparaging obesity?

    It will soon overtake smoking and become the number one cause of preventable death in the United States. This kid gloves approach to fat people clearly has not and will not work.

    How about saying...

    Fat people, this isn't rocket science, eat less, and work out more. Not only are you unhealthy you are unattractive, and no one is to blame but you. The truth hurts but it's still the truth.

    (oh yeah, before everyone gets on their high horse, I lost over eighty pounds, mostly because the people that were close to me didn't bullshit me about being overweight.)

  27. Some of these comments are so ignorant and unwarranted. What education and experience do you have? Let's see how fit YOU are. There is no "one size fits all" approach when it comes to fitness, and there are several factors besides food and exercise that affect weight loss and metabolism more than you think (STRESS, sleep, genetics).

    It's not so much about HOW MUCH, but WHAT we eat. Processed foods are cheap and have a longer shelf life, unfortunately they're loaded with sugars and trans fat. Fruits and veggies spoil quickly, so we don't feel like we're getting our bang for our buck, which is critical in today's economy. We also look for shortcuts and fall for faulty weight loss products.

    Also don't give carbs a bad rep. They're only bad if you don't work them off. That one comment that said to double carbs was COMPLETELY INCORRECT. It's 4cals to 1g carbs, 4cal to 1g protein and 9cals to 1g of fat. Calorie counting is bull anyway, especially because people focus on quantity, not quality. There's no regard to nutrition and they eat whatever they want as long as it's under the numbers. You risk putting your body in starvation mode (slows metabolism, so next time you really eat you blow up). Plus, if you're always hungry, hunger increases irritability, increases stress, increases cortisol, and makes it harder to burn off fat.

    Yes, being overweight looks undesirable, but our physical attraction to fit mates is a biological and evolutionary trait to seek a mate best suited for reproduction. However, the other issue is that excess fat in the midsection is a red flag for health risks to come (diabetes, heart attacks).

    EDUCATION is key, and know that being healthy and fit is a LIFEstyle change. If it was temporary we'd call it MONTHstyle. It should be as routine as brushing your teeth or peeing. As for the circus guy, given processed foods didn't really exist then, my guess is he had a thyroid dysfunction.

    I do cardio+weight train, eat tons of carbs/whole grains (I'm a runner and need the energy), veggies, fruits, not a lot of meat. From personal experience, STRESS negates my fitness the most. Also, BMI is bull (idk why this still comes up) and weight is bull (no one will really know but you, plus fit people often weigh more than they appear).

  28. this was in toptweets: http://twitter.com/joerogan/status/12991703106

  29. It's actually the opposite. It's not What, but rather, how much that makes the difference in weight gain/loss. You can gain weight shopping at Whole Foods and you can lose weight eating Twinkies. It doesn't make a difference whether or not some thing is processed. 'Processed', by the way, is anything you do to food before you eat it. Washing vegetables is a process and cooking meat/bread is a process. As long as you are taking in less calories than you expend, you'll lose weight.

    This is a separate issues from fat gain/loss. Unused carbs get stored as fat and cutting calories should at some point also include cutting fat intake.

    Stats on obesity and death are based on correlation studies and not on scientific evidence. Nobody really dies of obesity, but rather heart disease, diabetes and things like that. If someone is also fat, that will get blamed, but there is also strong evidence that genetics plays a bigger role than weight.

    Lastly, public shaming just doesn't work as a weight loss motivator and what results people do report are incidental at best.

  30. Sam, I have to correct you on something. When you stated that thin people recover slower than obese that is an untruth. Anorexic people do not heal well as they do not have the building blocks of protein and the vitamin intake with the food to make a quick healthy recovery, obese people also have a similar problem. Their weight hampers their recovery process d/t inability to successfully complete the therapy needed to properly heal. I'm not talking incisional wounds healing, but the full healing process of muscles, tissues, ligaments,and tendons all correctly correlating with with another for the ultimate end result. I am a nurse and have seen both sides. Anytime someone has had surgery one of the things you teach is increasing proteins and a healthy diet to feed your body to reach a healthy recovery.
    For anyone else who used foul language, name calling, or defensive speech you are speaking in ignorance and no one will take the words you speak without looking at what you say, when you speak ignorance with such language you limit yourself to being just that ignorant,even if what you are saying or attempting to say is correct the average person will disregard what you say because you do not speak intelligently. There is no reason to call names etc in a discussion to educate and show your feelings. You can't blame fast food joints, they are there for in a hurry meals that all of us have been forced to do by over booking our schedules, or lack of time due to unexpected things in life. It is NOT a substitute for daily eating and grocery shopping. They have a purpose in society and can not be blamed for people's want to abuse them. Just like it is not the alcohol's fault in making an alcoholic, it is the choice of the consumer. Anything in moderation is acceptable. Moderation is a word society has forgotten in so many aspects, it's time we all take responsibility for our own actions thoughts and choices and CHOOSE a different path for OURSELVES including to be kinder and more loving individuals. You never know when the grace you gave someone will be needed in your life. My Father used to harp on my weight, I had some health issues and life issues that contributed to it. When I came to terms with that I lost the weight and became a healthier me. When my father got sick it became difficult for him to do what he used to and became very overweight. HE then understood for the first time in life what it was like to be teased due to his weight. It was something I hated to see, yet a lesson hard learned by him. By gracious to one another and loving and that can help more people in the issues that they face in life and give them the strength to make better choices for themselves. Just my $2 worth...

  31. But there is no scale to tell his height. If he is 6'10 or something he would certainly still stand out bigtime.

  32. There was a study done about recovery rates as well as mortality rates for mod under, avg, mod over, and extremely over and the mod over fared the best. I wished I remembered the study better, but it was published in a medical journal.

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  34. If you're fat it's because you don't eat right or exercise enough. The body is sculpted over years of personal decisions. It's really not very hard to lose weight. If you don't believe me, talk to any high school wrestler around. Cut out carbs and sugar from your diet, and exercise once a day. If you are fat and do this, I bet that you lose at least 5 pounds in a week.

  35. Furthermore, you must stop eating out. If you only cook for yourself, not only will you find yourself eating healthier, but you will save yourself hundreds of dollars a month.

  36. Palin crack. Need an enemy with no power, do ya? Interesting subject and you try to be PC but I guess PC doesn't extend to people with whom you disagree.

  37. Anonymous, you must be new here. If you're looking for some even-handed, polite discourse on Sarah Palin's worldview, you are just totally at the wrong blog.

    If you want to know the biases at TWYKIWDBI, you can browse through our politics category (http://tywkiwdbi.blogspot.com/search/label/politics). We blog from a centrist position (http://tywkiwdbi.blogspot.com/2007/12/where-i-fit-in-political-spectrum.html), but we're not stupid enough to tolerate everyone.

  38. I lost 88 lbs eating 1600 calories a day. Then hit a plateau and gained on 1200 calories. Metabolism pays a major part in whether you can lose weight or not. It's not as simple as it sounds.

  39. uh, im not a doctor , nor do i have any general intelligence. but that dude has got to weigh more than 420. i was 327lbs about a year and a half ago (ive dropped 100) and i was nowhere near as big as that dude. i mean i was quite beastly, but im gonna have to assume that dude is heavier than 420. but like i said me stupid dumbhead.

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  41. When I dropped high fructose corn syrup from my diet (including reading labels to find whether it was present in my bread, crackers, soups, pasta, cereal, etc.), I lost 20 lbs within a month. No more soft drinks, either. No more juice drinks.

    Liquid calories (that latte in the morning) is also a big issue. Don't forget to fill up on fruit or vegetable fibers -- they keep us feeling full longer.

    An apple and a bit of cooked tuna or chicken on one piece of bread is enough for anybody for breakfast -- unless you're bucking hay for the day, or are an Olympic level athlete. Add a glass of milk and you've got all your food groups.

    Weight reveals our social class, even in America, where we insist we have no social classes. That's why thin is the "in"... when food was hard to get, obesity was beautiful. (Ever see Reuben's voluptuous women?)

  42. This is a classic case of correlation for Barbara. She says she quit HFCS, but what she really did was pay close attention to how much she ate and limited her carbs thru checking labels. the correlation between HFCS and obesity has everything to do with the correlation between HFCS and carb laden, higher calorie foods.

  43. Sam has part of that correct.

    I have my indulgences -- I just make sure they don't have HFCS in them. Like I eat as many Triscuits as I want...but not WheatThins.

    I don't avoid products when the sweetener is Sugar, Molassas or Honey. I do avoid the products when the sweetener is HFCS.

    So the avoidance of what Sam calls "carb laden, higher calorie foods" is a by-product of my avoidance of HFCS, rather than a correlation -- or even a goal.

  44. If you kept the calories and carbs exactly the same, but everything had sugar instead of HFCS, you wouldn't lose any weight. The main determinant is calories. Excess carbs are stored as fat and cutting carbs can be beneficial in certain circumstances, regardless of the source of the carbs.

  45. And yet, that's exactly what happened, Sam. Peculiar, yet there it is.

    The experience gave me the suspicion that I process sugar much differently than I process HFCS.

  46. There is a term for that, which is: True, true, unrelated. Correlations are very hard to ignore, especially for people w/out science training.

  47. A lot of the posters responding to this blog entry sound fat.

  48. It is simple. Corn. Learn about corn. And the role it plays in your everyday life. Everything has corn in it. Even if it does not say it on the label. When I was a kid. My grandfather had cows. And before they went to slaughter. He would fatten them up with corn. King corn.& Food inc. Are excellent documentary films. On the subject. I believe genetically altered mutant corn. Is to blame.

  49. It is possible the man weighs more than he appears if he has muscle under the fat. Circus folk of that time period usually had many duties outside their acts including a lot of manual labor, raising tents and caring for animals. Check out this Sumo wrestler that weighs 500 lbs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akebono_Tar%C5%8D

  50. I float between 22 and 270 from year to year. Based on a reasonable exercise program and diet, my caloric intake to maintain weight is over 3000 Calories. If I have a nice 30/40/30 (protein / carbs / fat) diet, which is considered quite healthy, I struggle to eat all that. 900 Calories of protein is 225g, or almost a kilo (over two pounds) of lean meat a day. 1200 Calories of carbohydrate equates to 120 oz of broccoli! I end up having to drink milk or ... gasp ... eat rice in order to get the calories I need.

    The problem is that people eat the wrong things and that their diets consist of 90% simple carbs and fat. That's a recipe for obesity.

  51. "You are what you eat" is not an old saying because it is wrong. You literally ARE what you eat. Every cell in your body is made of something you ate. If all you eat are marshmallows, your body will be made of marshmallows, and will appear like a marshmallow. Like most of the people I see walking down the street.

  52. That is the silliest comment I have ever read. You will not become a marshmallow by only eating marshmallows.

  53. The extra attention that you have seen this week is from listeners of the "Joe Rogan Experience" podcast. 1:38:00 mark of Podcast #177. Train by day. Joe Rogan Podcast by night. All day!

  54. Sakes, of course he wasn't that fat. Sideshows were the tabloids of their day: Pay your money and step inside to listen to an entertaining lie. Even modern sideshow performers usually aren't as big or as small as they pretend; it's part of the play.

    As for Chauncey Morlan, his weight at the time of his wedding was officially listed as 42 stone (588 pounds). He wasn't noticeably wider than he is in this photograph, and stood 5'10" in height. Keep in mind, though, that he was still pretty active; some of his actual weight would be muscle, building up mass without adding bulges.


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