Tag Archives: bodies: diet/exercise industry

New Documentary: The Illusionists

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Writer and director Elena Rossini has released the first four minutes of The Illusionists.  I’m really excited to see the rest.  The documentary is a critique of a high standard of beauty but, unlike some that focus exclusively on the impacts of Western women, Rossini’s film looks as though it will do a great job of illustrating how Western capitalist impulses are increasingly bringing men, children, and the entire world into their destructive fold.

The first few minutes address globalization and Western white supremacy, specifically.  As one interviewee says, the message that many members of non-Western societies receive is that you “join Western culture… by taking a Western body.”  The body becomes a gendered, raced, national project — something that separates modern individuals from traditional ones — and corporations are all too ready to exploit these ideas.

Watch for yourself (subtitles available here):

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Is Sugar a Diet Aid? The Answer Depends on the Decade

Last week NPR reported that scientists now trace some of the rise of American obesity to the fear of fat.  Beginning in the 1970s, nutritionists began warning Americans to consume less fat.  This initiated the “low fat” and “fat free” crazes that still linger.

Yet, it now seems that people who followed the advice of nutritionists at the time — to eat less cheese, milk, and meat and more pasta, potatoes, and rice — were likely to get fatter, not skinnier.  The closer a person stuck to the dietary guidelines, the more weight they would gain and, the more weight they gained, the more others would pressure them to stick to the dietary guidelines.  The phrase “cruel irony” only begins to capture it.

The ad below, from 1959, is a peek into another era.  Just a few years before the fear of fat began, the sugar industry was plausibly suggesting that eating more sugar was the best way to stay slim.  This was industry association propaganda, but no doubt the potato and pasta industries contributed to the story in the ’70s just as the meat and dairy industries are in on it today.

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The revision of our nutritional guidelines reminds us to be skeptical of the conventional wisdom.  Moreover, it should inspire us all to check our tendency to judge others.  We don’t have perfect knowledge that allows us perfect control over our bodies.  Scientists are doing the best they can — and hopefully not taking too much funding from for-profit food industries — and individuals are restricted by whatever knowledge and resources they have.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Gender and the Body Language of Power

We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in.  Enjoy!

Philosopher Sandra Lee Bartky once observed that being feminine often means using one’s body to portray powerlessness.  Consider: A feminine person keeps her body small and contained; she makes sure that it doesn’t take up to much space or impose itself.  She walks and sits in tightly packaged ways.  She doesn’t cover the breadth of the sidewalk or expand herself beyond the chair she occupies.

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Comic by A. Stiffler at Chaos Life.

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Likewise, burping and farting, raising one’s voice in an argument, and even laughing loudly are considered distinctly unfeminine.  A feminine person doesn’t use her body to forcefully interact with the world, she lets others do for her when possible.  ”Massiveness, power, or abundance in a woman’s body is met with distaste,” Bartky wrote.

Stunningly, when you think about it, these features of feminine body comportment are, in fact, not uniquely feminine, but associated with deference more generally.  Bartky again:

In groups of men, those with higher status typically assume looser and more relaxed postures; the boss lounges comfortably behind the desk while the applicant sits tense and rigid on the edge of his seat.  Higher-status individuals may touch their subordinates more than they themselves get touched; they initiate more eye contact and are smiled at by their inferiors more than they are observed to smile in return.  What is announced in the comportment of superiors is confidence and ease…

Acting feminine, then, overlaps with performances of submissiveness.  Both men and women use their bodies in more feminine ways when their interacting with a superior, whether it be their boss, their commander, a police officer, or their professor.

New evidence suggests that this is not pure theory.  Psychologist Andy Yap and his colleagues tested whether “expansive body postures” like the ones associated with masculinity increase people’s sense of powerfulness and entitlement.  They did.  In laboratory experiments, people who were prompted to take up more space were more likely to steal, cheat, and violate traffic laws in a simulation.  A sense of powerfulness, reported by the subjects, mediated the effect (a robust finding that others have documented as well).

In a real world test of the theory, they found that large automobiles with greater internal space were more likely than small ones to be illegally parked in New York City.

Research, then, has shown that expansive body postures that take up room instill a psychological sense of power and entitlement.  The fact that this behavior is gendered may go some way towards explaining the persistence of gender inequality and, more pointedly, some men’s belief that they have earned their unearned privileges.

Cross-posted at Jezebel and Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Weird New World of Girl Cheese

In May we featured a block of cheese that inspired quite the response.  Riffing off the name “Monterey Jack,” a company was selling “Monterey Jill”: the same old cheese, but reduced fat.  It was an excellent example of the way dieting is feminized.

People — myself included — were pretty stunned to see gendered cheese; who knew this was going to be a thing.  In fact, Liam sent us an example of gendered string cheese with the exact same theme: there’s string cheese animated by a male character and reduced-fat string cheese animated by a female character.  Also, they’re surfing; aaaaaand I have no analysis of that.

Screenshot_1Thanks for reminding the ladies to be worried about their waistlines cheese people!  It’s not as if we don’t get that message absolutely every time we turn around!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Monterey Jack, Meet Monterey Jill

Dieting is for women.

I mean we all know that dieting and women go together like peas and carrots.  We know this — collectively and together, even if we don’t agree that it should be this way – not because it’s inevitable or natural, but because we constantly get reminded that women should be on diets and dieting is a feminine activity.

@msmely tweeted us a fabulous example of this type of reminder.  It’s a reduced fat block of Monterey Jack cheese, re-named “Monterey Jill.”  There’s curvy purple font and a cow in pearls with a flower, in case you missed the message.  And, oh, on the odd chance you thought that this was about health and not weight, there’s a little sign there with a message to keep you on track: “Meet Jack’s lighter companion.”

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So now we’ve gendered cheese and managed to affirm both the gender binary  (heavy vs. light), heterocentrism (Jack’s companion Jill), and the diet imperative for women.  And it’s just cheese people!  Cheese!

That is all.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Jell-O Promises Decadence, Delivers Coercive Dieting

In this Jell-O ad, a perfectly manicured woman’s hand is holding a tiiiiiiiiiiny ice cream cone, suggesting that women are better off eating sugar-free pudding as a dessert. Below, I argue that this ad, far from promoting “decadence,” is actually a form of social control.

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The words “60 Calories of Denial” imply that eating ice cream requires self-denial because a normal portion would be too high in calories.  In contrast, the large bowl of Jell-O pudding is labeled “60 Calories of Decadence.”  The fine print specifies that the pudding is “loved by lips and hips alike.”

To put it plainly, this ad for dessert tells women to be ashamed of wanting dessert.  It says, “You are a woman, so you are stressed about calories (and you should be). But we’re here to save the day. We can give you permission to have a little bit of dessert, but you will do so on our terms.”

So, while the ad suggests that Jell-O is offering women freedom, the converse of self-denial, in fact it is reminding women of the rule that they be calorie-conscious.  In other words, it reinforces the notion that every woman should be unhappy with or fearful of her body, always striving to attain or maintain thinness.

Camilla Bennett is a sophomore at Occidental College in Los Angeles, California where she is a Cognitive Science major with an emphasis in computation. 

Men Go on “Guyets” Because Girls are Stupid

The Ethical Adman’s Tom Meggison sent along a new ad campaign by Molson.  The campaign coins the word “guyet,” a supposedly masculine alternative to “diet.”

If dieting is working out in order to be thin, then guyeting is “working out to justify eating the foods you love… Bacon, nachos, and burgers.”

There’s a very simple thing going on here: things associated with women are NOT-FOR-MEN, so anything that rings feminine must be covered in bacon, dipped in beer batter, and fried masculinized. See, for lots of examples, our Pinterest page on the phenomenon with almost 100 examples.

Importantly, this isn’t just about maintaining a strong distinction between men and women, it’s about maintaining gender inequality.  We disparage and demean femininity, which is why men want to avoid it.  Listen to the tone of voice that the narrator uses when saying the word “diet” at 21 seconds:

Dieting is stupid ’cause girls and everything associated with girls is stupid.  Guyeting is awesome ’cause guys are awesome.

The reverse doesn’t apply. Women who do things men like to do — drink whiskey, play sports, become surgeons, have dogs, etc — somehow rise in our esteem.  Men’s worth, in contrast, is harmed by their association with femininity.  This is a layer of gender inequality above and beyond sexism, the privileging of men over women; it’s androcentrism, the privileging of the masculine over the feminine.  Since women are required to do femininity, it means being required to do trivial, demeaned, and disparaged things.  Meanwhile, men have to come up with stupid excuses for participating in basic healthy activities like going for a jog.

More posts on androcentrism: “woman” as an insultbeing a girl is degradingmaking it manly: how to sell a car, good god don’t let men have long hairdon’t forget to hug like a dudesaving men from their (feminine) selvesmen must eschew femininitynot impressed with Buzz Lightyear commercialdinosaurs can’t be for girls, and sissy men are so uncool.

UPDATE: Comments closed.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

“The Sexy Lie,” a Ted Talk by Dr. Caroline Heldman

The 13-minute video below is a Ted Talk given by SocImages contributor Caroline Heldman.  The aim is to define sexual objectification, refute the myth that it’s empowering, and offer strategies for navigating objectification culture.

Follow Dr. Heldman at her blog or on Facebook or Twitter.  Or read all of her SocImages posts here.