Popular culture produced, circulated, and challenged ideals of the female body in the 19th century as much as in the 21st century. Serials, novels published in installments, and short stories in fashionable literary magazines were as popular and religiously followed as Netflix original series today. As romance was one of the most important genres, what made women attractive was defined in these stories and nationally distributed as normative beauty and gender ideals. The fascination with female body weight at the end of the 19th century is a case in point: it reflected a broader shift in what constituted ideal femininity and how it was to be embodied.  In 1863 a small pamphlet, A Letter on Corpulence, triggered the first dieting craze in the United…

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Food and eating are everywhere: in the blogosphere, in bookstores, on TV and streaming platforms, in social media such as Instagram. Nearly all newspapers, large and small, have cooking sections or extra food editions, and the portion of food-related print magazines has expanded hugely over the last years. The “foodie” has even become a characteristic social figure of our time, much like the “flaneur” of the emerging urban metropoles of modern society at the turn of the 19th century, or the “nerd” as the prototype of the emerging digital revolution during the 2000s. What does the “foodie,” then, stand for? Is it a coincidence that we seem to be somewhat obsessed with food, eating, and cooking? I don’t think so.…

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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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Fat bodies are not en vogue. In current advertisements, films, books, magazines, etc. we hardly find fat children’s bodies at all or depicted in a positive way. In her recentbook Fa(t)shonista, the German fat activist and feminist Magda Albrecht describes her childhood and her weight as a permanent occasion to comment on. The ideology of childhood seems to be one of lightness, friendship, joy, and normative bodies. Fat children or even fat heroines remain almost invisible, they are ”missing bodies” in a discourse in which certain bodies are of higher value than others, as Monica J. Casper and Lisa Jean Moore pointed out. Moreover, when fat children are depicted, they are often shown without heads or from the back. Psychotherapist…

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The heated debate on the European “Nutella divide” that hit the news in 2017 only corroborated long-established East European beliefs: After the fall of the Socialist regimes, people did not get the much longed-for western quality products. Instead, substandard goods were shipped eastwards: Adidas trainers that would not sell, Swiss knives with dull blades, expired foods with new sell-by dates. Finally there was official proof that in the East, Nutella was less creamy (smooth), Coca Cola tasted flatter and fish fingers held less fish. The offended Visegrad states complained that they were abused as European dumping ground. The manufacturers first attributed this to adjusting recipes to regional taste preferences, and also – after some probing – to lower spending power.…

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