In 1963, patriarchal social structures in the United States seemed to be getting stirred up by female voices challenging the hegemonic imaginary woman, when Betty Friedan published her seminal book The Feminine Mystique. That same year, Jean Nidetch started a company helping women reduce their body weight: Weight Watchers, now called WW. By losing weight, as Marisa Meltzer argues in her book This is Big: How the Founder of Weight Watchers Changed the World (and Me) (2020), Nidetch “basically earned the American dream” (8) and then sold it as a commodity. Meltzer explains that “Jean had a Cinderella story for the ages. She was a maven and mogul who lost weight, spectacularly found her calling, and helped to create a national pastime and obsession that endures today” (276).…

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  “Can you imagine my mom’s reaction?” [Abby asks]. “Eat Healthy with Norah!’s Norah suspected of having a fat kid!” —Amy Spalding, The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles (91) What exactly is postfeminist healthism? Postfeminism, in a nutshell, describes the all-encompassing notion that Western societies have moved beyond sexist and sexualized discrimination and that gender roles are stable and fair. Therefore, our societies are no longer in need of feminist critique, activism, and (body) politics. Essentially, this leads to the assumption that whether women are successful or not is on them and them alone. Sociologist Rosalind Gill conceives “postfeminism as a sensibility” (148) to emphasize the omnipresence of postfeminism as it influences every part of daily life. Healthism, first coined…

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In the decades around the turn of the twentieth century, hikers, backpackers, and mountain climbers on the United States’ east and west coasts spoke as excitedly about campfire food as they did about the continent’s ‘pristine’ wilderness. In hiking accounts and articles in outdoors magazines, early recreationalists explored what food meant to them. For many, trail fare and campfire cooking were about more than sustenance; they provided a means to transcend contemporary society’s gendered expectations about food and its consumption. The early hiking clubs of the United States were not overtly exclusionary in the ways that their European contemporaries were, but resistance to women’s inclusion was evident. In their early years, Massachusetts’s Appalachian Mountain Club (est. 1876), California’s Sierra Club…

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While the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program in which low-income men constructed trails and lodges in parks, built public roads, and otherwise improved the American environment, lasted just under a decade, it has remained an incredibly popular agency in American consciousness. Organizations push its memory, the National Park Service celebrates its past, and Americans write a surprising number of editorials about how we should revive the program. This is an unusual amount of love for a social welfare program, most of which are loathed and stigmatized in the U.S. Why are so many welfare programs villainized, even when they include a work component, while the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) invokes such pride and nostalgia? There are several reasons…

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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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