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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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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The understanding that women are more likely to be fat than men and need fewer calories is common sense and counts as a truism in today’s nutritional discourse. Yet it has a relatively young history, one that shows how nutritional science contributes to shaping gender difference and ultimately putting women in their place. In the late 19th and early 20th century, nutritional research legitimized an unequal access to food for men and women and created fatness as a problem of passive women unable to keep up with modern times.   Dietary Studies and Women’s Food Needs In the late 19th century US, nutritional science emerged in a society shaped by the belief that scientific expertise—especially on bodies—was key to individual…

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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.