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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On Sunday, April 30th 2017, Oprah Winfrey, probably America’s best known talk show host,  sat down for that day’s episode of her weekly talk series SuperSoul Sunday.  She met Geneen Roth, author of several self-help books on eating, dieting and women’s spiritual life. Geneen and Oprah talked about a topic seemingly accompanying both middle-aged women for almost their whole lifetime, their long lasting “struggles” with food, dieting and their body—leading to life-changing insights Roth digested in her best-selling book “Women, Food and God.” I will, first, explore that show as a gateway to think about how food and body are dealt with in popular media. The show stands as a powerful example for how food and eating have become an…

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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 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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