I’m excited to be part of a book released today by WLU Press called Gender, Health, and Popular Culture: Historical Perspectives.
Proposals for papers are invited for a symposium and an edited collection of essays on critical perspectives on Obesity in Canada. In Canada estimated obesity rates have risen over the course of the twentieth century, though the measurement and criteria for being obese have also changed during this time (Mitchinson 2009). Particular groups in Canada, notably low income people, are more likely to be labelled obese, and yet a glance through newspapers, magazines and television shows suggests that fatness and staying slim are the preoccupations of the middle class (Raine 2004). In 2003 the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that “almost all countries” around the world were experiencing an “obesity epidemic” as a result of increasing industrialization, mechanization and urbanization (WHO 2003). WHO’s report legitimized escalating fears that the world’s population was growing fatter and provided a focus for more general concerns about normal body weight and shape.
In my last post I mentioned I have a soft spot for Queen Latifah movies. I’m not sure I’ve ever said that out loud before, and now it is on the internet forever. Oh well. Over the weekend I’ve been trying to decide what it is about QL that I find so compelling, aside from the obvious, which is that she is one of the only full-figured actresses in Hollywood. I also took a look at one of QL’s latest films Just Wright, where she plays Leslie Wright, a physiotherapist who trains New Jersey Nets player Steve McKnight back to health just in time for playoff season.
“I scanned the booklet which listed foods I could eat the first week. A few of my favourites were missing. Dry white wine. Crisp toasted bialys. Milk chocolate Dove bars. I’d have to make substitutions. The book contained some kind of diabolically complicated food exchange system. I tried to decode it. If two ounces of chicken equalled one protein exchange and I was allowed six protein exchanges a day, how many acrobats could stir a ’59 Buick in May?” (35).
I picked up a copy of The Dieter by Susan Sussman at a used book sale. The plot: Barbara Avers quits smoking after losing a friend to breast cancer. Her weight increases from 105lbs to 190lb during her increasingly desperate attempts at dieting.
What I like about Sussman’s book are her observations about the sometimes absurd things we do to change the size and shape of our bodies – liquid diets, cybex machines and those little machines that jiggle your bum to firm [?] your thighs. This isn’t a simple story of weight gained and then lost. Barbara gains weight, splits from her husband, finds a new lover, gets a better job, and finishes the story at a healthy 150lbs. The book is really hilarious and it captures Barbara’s obsession with counting calories, a process so complex that she (and we?) lose site of the pleasure to be found in good food. By the end of the book Barbara has transformed her outlook on dieting: