Ella Milbauer, 586 Pounds of Feminine Charm
sideshow fat ladies

Sideshows routinely featured large figures alongside small ones for contrast.

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Sideshows often employed the technique of visual contrast to emphasize freakery. For instance, a showman might parade a little person next to a giant to exaggerate their relative height aberrations [source: Rosenbaum]. And just as extremely tall and extremely short people were regular fixtures in freak shows, emaciated and obese figures also were popular draws. For that reason, fat women would stand on stage next to average-sized bystanders or "human skeleton" attractions.

Ellla Milbauer, billed as "586 Pounds of Feminine Charm," was a popular sideshow star who toured with the Ringling Circus [source: BoingBoing]. She began working the circus gig in 1956, after the sideshow heyday had passed. Taking over for the circus' former fat lady, Alice from Dallas, Milbauer only toured for five years, likely because sideshows were waning in popularity and many freaks had lost jobs by that point [source: Sunday Magazine]. Yet Milbauer's legacy lives on through a portrait of hers that's featured in Drew Friedman's 2011 book "Sideshow Freaks." Being immortalized in a freak show history is a noteworthy accomplishment for Milbauer, since fat ladies were typically devalued performers, earning less than other entertainers [source: Thomson].