Spring has finally sprung in New England and tomorrow looks to be a great day for the Boston Marathon. Luckily, I’ll be able to take some time to enjoy Patriots’ Day because I’ve spent the last few weeks glued to my desk chair, pounding out the second draft of my thesis, which examines the marketing of weight loss programs to men.
Here’s a little taste…
Over the past decade, much has changed on the twenty-first century landscape of dieting, as the “low carb craze” of Atkins and South Beach made way for today’s Paleo Diet, evangelizing the diet of Stone Age hunter-gatherers and encouraging dieters to “eat like a caveman.” Perhaps no change is more notable, however, than the new target audience of weight loss programs—men.
Considered a masculine food in cultures the world over (Jensen and Holm 1999), the high intake of meat in low-carbohydrate diets made the Atkins and South Beach diets more popular among men than conventional low-fat diets. While men joined these diets in new numbers (Weinbraub 2004), Men’s Health Magazine was one of the first to develop a diet specifically for men in 2004, aptly named The Abs Diet.
Since then, the three giants of the diet industry—Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, and Jenny Craig—have also set their sights on men. While the client makeup of these weight loss programs has historically been as high as 90 percent female (Advertising Age 2011), all three programs have in the last ten years begun targeting male clients directly. In 2005, the Nutrisystem for Men program began. Weight Watchers launched their men-only website in 2007, followed by a full-scale, $10 million campaign in April 2011. In February 2010, Jenny Craig launched their “Jenny Works for Men” campaign.
My thesis, advised by Warren Belasco, examines constructions of masculinity in an age of obesity by exploring the marketing of these weight loss programs directly to men in the twenty-first century. In this process, I identify the specific tactics employed by Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, and Jenny Craig to de-feminize dieting and attract male clients.
While there may be trends toward inclusive masculinity in society generationally, the marketing of the three largest diet programs in the United States appears to reinforce the characteristics and values of hegemonic masculinity. Examples that are discussed in detail include the use of guy-to-guy language, alignment with sports, and the promotion of foods and ways of eating conventionally considered masculine.
After analyzing the key themes that appear in these marketing campaigns, I discuss how these themes inform the understanding of what defines a “real man” in today’s world and how notions of dieting, healthy eating, and health promotion are included or excluded in emerging definitions and understandings of masculinity. These issues are particularly timely as men continue to face significant health inequities, experiencing higher rates of disease and shorter lifetimes than women (Leone and Rovito 2013). Understanding the connections between men’s health, masculinity, and dieting can further inform campaigns, programs, and policies that address men’s health needs. In this way, a “real man” can be reframed as a healthy man.