“Sideshow, county fair, central Ohio”
An aging woman with defined curls scratches her head in a strange sort of speculation; her eyes seem to be gawking at the rather unusual posters that lavishly and shamelessly display themselves before a casually milling crowd. One of the gargantuan posters displays a morbidly obese woman with a man looming over her, exclaiming: “Just one more bolt of cloth will make it” in bold letters inside of a caption bubble. Another poster hung over the spokesman (or owner) of the sideshow reads: “PERSONALITY FAT GIRL,” and she lies in what appears to be in a mockingly seductive position, luring in visitors by keenly sparking their curiosity in response to her figure in such a subtle manner. She wears obscenely revealing clothing in her pictures, and it seems the three adults in the foreground may be discussing it or something related to the display. Many faces are turned towards the lavished, attractive signs, perhaps in awe or in shock—“just how revolting could that be?!”—or even in unrelenting curiosity, taking a quick glance at the price for admission: ten cents for adults, five cents for children. The children stare at the posters, seemingly mesmerized, with only one of the boys looking away from them. All in all, the photograph depicts a crowd in a fair drawn to the outside of a sideshow, the main attraction assumed to be a morbidly obese woman with a vivid and unique personality that entrances entire audiences. Possibly she may tell jokes or attempt absurd stunts to amuse patrons, and/or answer questions presented to her with wacky or witty responses.
One of the most important things to note on this picture here is the large amount of attention received by the sideshow as a whole: as obese humans tend to occupy a lot of space and attract numerous stares, this photograph serves as the epitome of a big, fat, shady business garnering both skeptical and interested looks from a collective crowd of people. The spokesman is obviously aware of this, and does not mind it—he continues to lure eyes with his voice and the likely exaggerated posters. The posters are blown to such a proportion that they emphasize the woman’s fatness, making the sideshow more likely to flock in visitors like pigeons attracted to bread crumbs.
The man in the largest poster—presumably a tailor of some sorts—seems to represent amused mocking of the woman’s size, also indicating that she requires custom-sewn clothing to fit her incredibly large frame. The image is portrayed in a cartoon-like style, especially with the speech bubble surrounding the words “JUST ONE MORE BOLT OF CLOTH WILL MAKE IT,” enhancing the satirical feel of the poster and even the entire atmosphere of the photo itself. The phrase “WILL MAKE IT” in particular bears a larger text size than the rest of the dialogue, subtly insinuating more largeness and fullness of character. The man’s face is amused and the woman’s, though covered by the string of lights (intentional?) seems complacent; even vain, or pleasured. The woman’s facial expressions and body language in both posters exude beaming confidence and arrogance despite her size, which may serve to spark more extreme reactions in onlookers as well as to paint a picture of a confident freak, of a woman so high in self-esteem despite her outrageous proportions. This may augment mixed emotions evoked in those who glimpse at the images; after all, would not the sheer idea of such a proud freak scare or even anger others, especially in the time period in which the photo was taken? Would not this concentrated irritation or fascination, therefore, subconsciously compel otherwise uninterested fairgoers to scope out the show and gawk at such an atrocity, or such a wonder? It all revolves back to the concept of otherwise normal and healthy persons pitying and feeling unhappy themselves, wondering how such a heavyweight can feel so content with herself despite her size.
The vital thing to conclude with is the inflatedness of the whole sideshow’s existence, from the hugeness of the woman to the ego displayed both on the posters as well as the spokesman for the show himself, and therefore to the reputation that the surmised centerpiece of the freak show seems to have gained over time. Everything about the woman is described as larger than the norm. The hugeness goes hand in hand with the satire and exaggerated tone of the business. Perplexed and awed stares serve as the complement to the inflatedness—they notice the inflatedness all too well, and behold it with their eyes.