Plus Size Women Throughout History: Queen Victoria

I know that I like to dance around the chronological history timeline as much as I like to sing into my hairbrush to Tom Jones’ Sex Bomb. (That’s a lot if you didn’t already know). So when I write these pieces my fingers type before my mind had chance to think about the topic. Having spent the last few weeks re-watching the ITV series of Victoria I began to wonder ‘why haven’t I covered her yet?’ Victoria’s life is fascinating, filled with a loving marriage to Albert, many survived assassination attempts and a significant impact on the reputation of the Monarchy. Oh and did I mention she was an Empress? Isn’t that posh?

queen victoria

She was patron of 150 institutions, and even after the death of her sweetheart Albert, she continued to give audiences to officials  – although retreated from the public eye to mourn for a period of time. Victoria is represented through photographs, caricatures and etchings throughout her life. If you’ve seen any statues of her, she’s often depicted as later in life as the plus size woman she was. However, what made me chuckle is that when Victoria was born Baron Stockmar, doctor to her uncle Prince Leopold, described her as ‘Plump as a partridge’. We’ve all been there love.

Into her teens, Victoria demonstrated a 22 inch waist – equivalent now to a size 6. Images of Young Victoria are rarely circulated, often overshadowed by the dominant, fuller figured woman. I suppose this is an interesting observation as Victoria’s strength and reputation grew with age. Of course her body changed with time and as I say she did have nine children which would have impacted her body shape. She wasn’t the Kim Kardashian ‘Snap Back queen’ so many aspire to today. Victoria was a powerful and formidable woman, and certainly did not make decisions that we would agree with in the 21st century. I think the lasting image of this wide woman with a double chin and a stoic expression represents just what a powerhouse she was, and was deliberately chosen to represent her as a strong woman who should not be challenged. The portrayal of her weight may also have been linked to her gender: a nineteenth century woman was the ‘angel of the house’, a delicate woman who brought faith and grace to the home. In order for Victoria to have been taken seriously as the ruler of an Empire, she needed to be devoid of her feminine traits. Arguably, her power within her realm increased as her femininity decreased, which is a really interesting notion to explore. Like her or not, she dominated the public sphere. A place where she shouldn’t even have been allowed to enter, let alone rule. Portraying her in an un-feminine light may have been the only way for some observers to stomach that. Yet she loved, and was loved. She was a mother of nine children. She was able to uphold the stereotypical necessities of femininity while thriving in a masculine world, and regardless of her policies that is not something to be sniffed at.

After the death of Albert she had her largest weight increase and later went on a secret weight loss retreat (honestly it was a secret!) to climb a few hills to shed the pounds. Victoria seemed to be in a constant battle with her weight reading from her journals, and with the advice of health officials she undertook many a remedy. A few days into her super-secret weight loss retreat climb she said she was feeling ‘lighter’ and returned to her duties. Her figure of course, did not change dramatically and she remained the outstanding lady the name Victoria conjures to our minds.  She had a slight reputation of being a glutton and numerous people account her eating quickly and large amounts. Victoria lived in an age where it was not really known to exercise. If you could afford it, you would be waited on and of course as royalty she was.

Victoria’s figure was a great representation to the public that she had wealth and prestige. I’d say if we’re taking this perception from this it’s pretty apt. She ruled a confident leader and had over 60 years in power. Victoria was the longest reigning monarch, that is until our Liz took over this milestone in 2015.

 

A note to our readers: although we use historical figures to comment on the representation of plus size women throughout history we are not commenting on the suitability of their role, merely their position as a plus size woman in history.

Violet Glenton

Violet Glenton

Blogger, Cake-Lover, History Buff and Amazon Woman.
Violet Glenton

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