I recently discovered this prime cache of vintage paunch porn, thanks to two of my fave tweeples who shared this stash of 18th century “power paunches” as compiled by romance and “crimance” novelist Lucinda Brant, whose stories are set in that period.

Daniel Lambert by Benjamin Marshall, (c. 1806)

Daniel Lambert by Benjamin Marshall, (c. 1806)

An impressive collection of obviously wealthy and established Western European and white American gentlemen (with a high percentage of Connecticuters), I couldn’t stop looking at these cropped images that prove the obvious association in the 18th century of wealth and power with weight — poor people simply couldn’t afford to be so heavy since it required a prolific consumption of food and tireless pursuit of leisure.

When I think about men and their paunches, my thoughts inevitably lead to Peter Greenaway’s excellent 1987 film The Belly of an Architect, which tells the story of an architect who obsesses with his stomach as the center of his anxieties about his troubled marriage and growing health problems. Greenaway captures our contemporary obsession with weight, sexuality, and appearance in his story.

Looking at these men and their protruding stomachs, you can’t help but see them through our 21st century Western biases, which continue to idolize thinness. One figure that is noticeably absent from Brant’s collection, possibly because he falls out of the series’ purview (most of his portraits date from the early 19th century), is Daniel Lambert (1770–1809). The most famous obese person before our time, Lambert was so notably fat that he charged people to visit him in his London apartment — and coincidentally that bizarre mode of earning a living made him wealthy. At the time of his death he weighted 739 pounds (335 kg). I think we could agree that he is the owner of the true “power paunch” from which his wealth sprung.

These are just a small selection of Brant’s Pinterest board, and all captions are Brant’s own. And lest we forget that hipsters, according to a 2009 New York Times trend piece, have been reviving the paunch.


h/t @black_von and @petitemaoiste

Avatar photo

Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

One reply on “Bursting With Power: The 18th C Power Paunch”

Comments are closed.