Through my research on black women’s exercise and fitness culture from 1900 to the 1930s, I discovered a little-known history of black fat shaming. While I expected to find that black women engaged in exercise for general health, I never imagined that some black women would craft their exercise programs for weight loss and at the same time participate in fat stigmatization. My surprise stemmed from common-sense assumptions about black people’s fat acceptance and flexible standards of beauty. Popular culture, academic studies on body image, and news outlets help to perpetuate these assumptions. R&B and Hip Hop is known for celebrating black women’s voluptuous bodies, including Drake who rapped famously he likes women “so thick that everybody else in the…

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In 1899, in one of the most influential speeches of his career, Theodore Roosevelt called on his fellow citizens to live a “strenuous life.” Roosevelt praised a life of restless movement, always active, always seeking to improve one’s strength and the strength of the nation, always trying to get ahead and to succeed in an endless struggle for survival. In the wake of Darwin and in the age of Social Darwinism, competition, personal responsibility, and constant improvement had become natural laws, considered as governing any interaction between individuals, groups, and nations. Roosevelt preached the gospel of fitness, and its message and tone sound familiar to us, even if we have never heard of his “strenuous life”-speech before. In this blog…

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The American president-elect’s contempt for women he finds unappealing is by now pretty well known. “Fat. Pig. Dog. Slob. Disgusting animal. These are just some of the names that Donald Trump has called women over the years.” But Trump’s fat shaming is not completely gender biased. As the typical image of the computer geek is male, many assumed that the anonymous hypothetical “400-pound hacker,” who Trump said might have released emails from the Democratic National Committee, was also male. Observations that Trump himself is fat – perhaps “too fat to be president” – as well as seemingly ignorant, merely generated predictable charges of hypocrisy and exercises in reverse fat-shaming. The cable television channel Comedy Central even offered an election day…

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In 1972 John Yudkin, a physiologist, nutritionist and founding member of the Department of Nutrition at the Queen Elisabeth College in London, published a book called “Pure, White and Deadly – The new facts about the sugar you eat as a cause of heart disease, diabetes and other killers.” Since the late 1950s, Yudkin’s research had pointed to a connection between coronary thrombosis and sugar consumption, and he had argued against common ideas of fat causing obesity and problems like coronary heart disease. However, Yudkin could not make himself heard against the powerful voice of the sugar industry and of other scientific evidence pointing the finger at another suspect, so that Yudkin’s ideas vanished and “low fat became the new…

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In May this year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) introduced new labels that will have to be printed on most packaged food products by July 2018. In a presentation at the White House, Michelle Obama praised the label as making “a real difference in providing families across the country the information they need to make healthy choices.” Recent posts on this blog have discussed notions of transparency and choice. Today, I want to add some remarks on the history and politics of the gauge on which a lot of today’s food talk is based: on calories. The new food label includes a line on added sugars as well as changes in serving sizes. Its most visible change, however,…

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