Can an overweight woman still be pretty

Weight and beauty - Slim equals beautiful is slowly coming to an end

Reading time: 11 minutes

The smile sits. The camera flashes. Nadine Powder's eyes light up. She bends her leg and tilts her upper body forward. “Too much cleavage?” She asks, briefly fiddling with the bright red fabric of her tight wrap-around dress. The photographer shakes her head and snaps.

After the shoot, Nadine Pulver slips back into her everyday clothes. In the cloakroom of the clothing store, which today is pretzeling and taking photos of its customers, the 44-year-old throws a scrutinizing look in the mirror.

Your smile now seems relaxed. «I feel good in front of the camera. I like to see myself, ”she says. "But that hasn't been the case for long."

Throughout with overweight

Because Nadine Pulver is not only an engaging person, with a curious face and a soft voice. She also has a stature that takes up space.

Nadine Pulver has been overweight since her youth. She struggled with an eating disorder for 20 years. She ate too much compulsively, underwent radical diets, lost a total of 150 pounds and gained 165 pounds again.

Today, as a holistic nutritionist, she supports others in finding a way out of their eating disorder.

Nadine Powder


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Nadine Pulver is a freelance holistic nutritionist. She also works for the SBB. In workshops, coaching and via her blog, she supports and advises people with binge eating, which she used to be affected by.

Women come to their workshops to understand the reasons behind their binge eating. But also to make peace with your body. "I know your suffering," says Nadine Pulver's website.

"Your body mass determines whether you are adorable or not." She had internalized this credo for a long time: "My life was on the sidelines and was only shaped by one thought: I have to lose weight, then it begins."

Nadine Pulver put her self-doubts aside. The pounds have stayed. Today she wears size 54/56 and feels healthy. Here - in the Ulla Popken branch in Zurich, a fashion store for plus sizes - you can find what suits you.

“Buying clothes is not my favorite hobby,” she says and puts the red dress in a bag. But it has become easier today.

The normal case, but not the ideal

One H&M branch follows the next on Zurich's Bahnhofstrasse, a few hundred meters from Ulla Popken. Today not only clothes in size 36 hang on the rails, but also jeans in size 44 and sweaters in oversize. Thirty years ago, plump young women could hardly find anything in clothing stores.

The fashion market has changed since then - and adapted to the mass of customers who wear clothes outside the average mass.

What does overweight mean?

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The Federal Statistical Office uses the body mass index (BMI) for calculations: body weight divided by the square of body height. If the value is over 25, someone is considered overweight, over 30 as obese. The BMI is established internationally and is used as a guide value by health insurance companies, for example, but it is controversial.

«Like a siren»

Being plump, plump, or fat: statistically that's pretty normal. Anyone who weighs too much nevertheless quickly feels socially as an outsider.

“You tend to assume that people see you as fat in the first place. Because our body is our interface to the world, ”says the German journalist Bertram Eisenhauer, who wrote a book about everyday life when people are overweight.

"Being fat is more than an aesthetic or health problem," says Eisenhauer. For him, being fat is primarily a social problem: not being able to keep up because you get out of breath faster. Not being full at dinner in the restaurant. Hard to find a partner.

In contrast to alcohol addiction or depression, for example, being overweight is visible to everyone, explains Eisenhauer: "You wear fat on your head like a sirloin."

For many, a massive body signals that this person has no control over their life. Maybe she is not very bright, in any case weak-willed. Such clichés are gradually internalized: "Being fat primarily damages the soul."

Nadine Pulver also sometimes catches herself looking at herself from the outside. If, for example, someone does not take the vacant seat next to her on the train, she sometimes thinks: Is he standing now because he has no place next to me? To show yourself on the Internet, to share your thoughts under your real name: she didn't dare to do that before.

Graces with overweight

That a voluptuous body is something that one conceals or hides has not always been the case. If you go back a few hundred years in history, corpulence is still considered something to be desired.

A widespread theory says: the scarcer the food, the more attractive is body fat - it indicates a certain status and prosperity.

“Rubens figure” has become the catchphrase for sweeping curves. For the Baroque painter Rubens and his contemporaries, it is precisely this figure that is considered an ideal.

The high society of the time fortified food with sugar and fat in order to gain weight. Body fullness is said to be beguiling and impressive, and plump women are also considered to be willing to give birth.

Even the corsets of the 19th century do not change that: They tie off the waist, but leave the ideal of the round belly untouched.

No entry under 200 pounds

“Up until the early 20th century, being fat was a sign of prosperity, steadfastness, stability - and a bulwark against the stress of civilization. One reason why many politicians are fat, ”says the German researcher Nina Mackert, who studies the history of food, the body and diet.

As a curious example, Nina Mackert refers to the so-called “Fat Men's Associations” that emerged in the USA in the 1870s: Successful businessmen, “physical and financial heavyweights”, meet in these groups for dissolute banquets.

They celebrate their girth and proudly compare their weight. To be a member, you have to weigh at least 200 pounds.

Calories make being fat a problem

It is only in the modern age that being fat becomes a problem. There are several reasons for this change at the beginning of the 20th century, explains Nina Mackert.

One of these is the advent of the calorie, which was introduced as a unit of measurement at the end of the 19th century and became a popular term within a few decades.

Nina Mackert

Do research on food and body fat

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Nina Mackert, Research Associate, Link opens in a new window at the Professorship for North American History at the University of Erfurt, deals with the cultural history of food, diet and body fat in her research. She is currently working on a book about calories - as part of the interdisciplinary research project “Nutrition, Health and Social Order: Germany and the USA”, the link will open in a new window. She is also co-founder of the interdisciplinary blog “Food, Fatness and Fitness”, the link will open in a new window.

“Science Slam” with Nina Mackert on the history of calories (Youtube), the link will open in a new window

With the calorie comes the realization that the body works like a machine: it needs and burns energy. The physical posture is no longer simply given by nature, but you can work on it and shape it.

The calorie suggests that weight can be influenced easily and measurably, explains Mackert: "At this moment it becomes a problem to be fat: Because it seems to indicate that people do not behave moderately despite better knowledge." Gluttony has always been demonized in Christianity - but only now is it believed that it shows itself on the body.

Schnapps instead of carbohydrates

Those who fast, on the other hand, show a strong will. Hunger artists are celebrated, body fat is an expression of unmanliness. No wonder that the first diet guides are aimed exclusively at men. They advise too little carbohydrates, lots of rowing and booze.

Being fat, staying fat, suddenly stands for individual failure and becomes something reprehensible. "The moment the body becomes something that can be changed, it can provide information about how someone is," says Nina Mackert.

The shape of the body becomes sustainable «to an identification of the ability of each and every individual to govern himself. To optimize yourself according to the available knowledge of what is healthy and beautiful. Negotiations are taking place as to who is considered an adequate part of society ».

"Fat Ladies" and other "freaks"

According to the body researcher, such shifts in social norms are always accompanied by a back and forth between rejection and fascination. Because: «What is our own can only constitute itself through the other. “How one should be” includes preoccupation with “how one shouldn't be”. "

In the case of body fat, this mixture of fascination and rejection can be seen, for example, in the phenomenon of freak shows. In the interwar period, very overweight people tour the country with circuses and fairs - often because they have no alternative.

"Fat ladies" in particular are part of the standard program of so-called sideshow stages, on which all forms of human otherness are presented. The audience cheers and gazes in amazement at their pounds, at the same time they are mocked as abnormal.

The ideal of beauty: spindly

With the advent of television, the sideshow is disappearing. On the other hand, in the post-war period in the western world, the mass media conveyed the image all the more strongly: Everyone - and above all everyone - is the smith of their own body. Slim bodies promise character abilities and individual happiness.

While female icons were previously curvy, like Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe, the ideal of beauty for women is now getting narrower and narrower. Lesley Hornby, the icon of the fashion world in the mid-1960s, is nicknamed “Twiggy”, “little twig”.

Her spindly figure is her trademark. Being thin as a youth becomes the epitome of an attractive body. Twiggy becomes one of the first supermodels - even before Naomi Campell, Claudia Schiffer or Kate Moss became superstars in the 1990s. From the Barbie doll to the aerobics video, the motto is: slim is beautiful, fat is unhealthy.

Funny fat, sad pug

Anyone who is fat has failed, has let himself go, has no control over his affects. The more fat, the lazier a person has to be. Your own fault if you can't tighten your belt - this image is still common today.

Pop culture has also helped solidify it. In film comedies and series, for example, there is often the role of the “funny fat man”.

It's not just the jokes that often come at the expense of plump sidekicks in Hollywood. Thin actresses are also sometimes fitted with a fat suit, a padded body suit, into chubby versions of themselves - and with the extra kilos in the role of the funny, but ultimately sad loser.

The Netflix show “Insatiable”, which relies on it, triggered a shit storm this summer: An online petition with 230,000 signatories called for the series to be canceled because it makes fun of fat people.

The fact that we find fat people funny also has to do with the fact that they often put themselves in this role, says author Bertram Eisenhauer. For him, humor is a strategy for cushioning any prejudices: "By being as witty and funny as possible, I can dispel the first impression."


Betram Eisenhauer relies on humor and, in his honest book, on education. Nadine Pulver on visibility: online she tries to encourage other overweight people to make friends with their bodies.

She herself has found role models for this on the Internet. That plump women like the German comedian Nicole Jäger do not hide their curves in shame, but confidently stage them on social media: "That motivated me to show myself."

“Body Positivity” is the name of the movement for more diverse bodies that has emerged in the USA over the past few years and primarily uses Instagram as a platform. Hashtags like #BodyPositive or #EffYourBeautyStandards, in German “we shit on your ideals of beauty”, question what counts as a beautiful body.

New words, new perception?

A trend that advertising has also discovered for itself over the past few decades. In 2004 the cosmetics company Dove set new standards by showing normal women in underwear instead of standardized models. A video from the campaign, Link opens in a new window, later became the most-watched advertising film on Youtube.

Today, H&M is promoting its collection with plus-size model Ashley Graham and does not retouch swimwear images. To be “body positive” is no longer just a declaration of war from a niche in the network - but a commercially successful marketing strategy suitable for the masses.

Even the fashion world, once a stronghold from 90-60-90, is reacting to this. Instead of Claudia Schiffer, Beth Ditto, the overweight singer of the band Gossip, is strolling the red carpet with Karl Lagerfeld.

And the current October issue of the English "Cosmopolitan" featured the overweight model Tess Holliday on the cover., The link will open in a new window

Models who have more on their ribs describe themselves as "curvy" or "plus size". In contrast to "oversize" and "fat", that sounds like something worth striving for, not a swear word. Indeed, today, Kim Kardashian's buttocks would be more attractive than Kate Moss' skinny limbs.

An ambivalent change

So is our perception of weight changing today? The answer is ambivalent. The past few years have spawned curvy celebs and luscious influencers. But also fashion trends such as the “thigh gap” - the “lean gap” between female thighs.

When the American screenwriter Lena Dunham showed herself naked several times in her series “Girls”, she received just as much encouragement (“How brave!”) And rejection (“How narcissistic!”).

Courage is something that is often awarded when bodies that actually look normal are shown in public. The Swiss beauty blogger Morena Diaz could receive the “Prix Courage” in a few days because she is “in a bikini - with dents and pads”. A nomination that resonates with the fact that dents and upholstery are actually something to be ashamed of, to be kept secret.

It is up to us

For Nadine Pulver it was at least a personal turning point that curves and weights became visible in addition to the common beauties.

Nevertheless, she says: "We cannot always only hold society responsible." Ultimately, it is - as banal as it sounds - everyone's personal task to consider their body to be good.

For herself, she decided to stop focusing on her flaws. It's about the good that the body does for you: “My stomach may be fat, but it works for me. My legs are fat, but I couldn't stand in life without them. "

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