Weight Watchers first launched an online program “customized just for guys” in 2007, one of their advertisements proclaimed, “Real men don’t diet.” This counterintuitive declaration evoked the questions that animate my current research. I’m analyzing how the consumer culture constructs notions of “real men” through depictions of food and the body, particularly during moments of intense social change and anxiety. As you might have guessed, commercial weight loss programs, developed for men in the early decades of the new millennium, provide ample evidence. Men have made up a small but consistent 10 percent of the Weight Watchers membership since the company’s founding in 1963. Throughout the decades, program materials, cookbooks, and magazines have each addressed men. For example, the 1973…

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In recent years, body, health, morality and the neoliberal capitalist economy have become caught up with each other in a major way in both the public discourse and public policies concerning fatness. Against the backdrop of the dominant neoliberal rationale, the fat body has been ranked as an “expensive” body, but not just that; the fat body is constructed as a kind of “anti-neoliberal” body that is unproductive, ineffective, and unprofitable. Thus, fatness, health, and the economy are bound together materially, symbolically, and morally. This is particularly visible in the so called obesity epidemic discourse that has dominated public discussion of fatness over the past fifteen years.   In the spring of 2010, an unusual weight loss campaign ran in…

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When flipping through the pages of Sander Gilman’s book Obesity: A Biography, my curiosity was piqued by the reproduction of a chronophotograph and its caption “Eadweard Muybridge, ‘A Gargantuan Woman Walking.’ Collotype (1887)[…]. (Wellcome Collection).“ Identifying the woman as “gargantuan” struck me as awkward. It led me to trace the history and meaning of image and caption, which—as it turns out—tells a lot about how fat bodies have been identified, categorized, and stigmatized in modern history.

The practice of ranking countries according to their inhabitants’ average weight expresses our contemporary obsession with fat and its seemingly global advance. 21st century globesity rankings differ from early modern observations of particularly portly peoples in both form and jargon. Regarding their content the difference seems less pronounced. Current epidemiology sometimes reverses prestatistical attributions, but occasionally it confirms them. Regardless, comparative approaches old and new serve the same cultural function, as I argue, because they both use corpulence abroad to address concerns and ultimately mold self-images at home.   Contemporary popular coverage of countries, which rank high in globesity statistics, largely depends on how their situation can be related to ours. Currently, nine of the ten countries leading most statistics…

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Vincent makes sure his voice carries far enough for me to understand that I need to push through thirty seconds longer, even with all the background noise. In fact, I am hardly aware of my environment. Or was, until I identified a moving object in the corner of my eye. When I strain my head to look left, I see a toddler watching me with a strange expression on his face. I am focused on the burning sensation in my abdominal area and my mind telling me that I should just give up. But Vincent’s reference to time gives me a new surge of willpower and I manage to uphold my body in plank position, supporting my rigid body on…

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