I almost can’t believe it, but on Monday I submitted the final draft of my MLA in Gastronomy thesis, “The Dudification of Dieting: Marketing Weight Loss Programs to Men in the Twenty-First Century.” Now begins the process of editing ten pages out of it so it’s a publishable length. Hopefully I’ll get to see it in print one day soon!
Until then, here’s a theory-free, light-hearted section I hope you’ll enjoy:
Within the last decade, the three giants of the diet industry (Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, and Jenny Craig) have set their sights on a new target audience—men. In order to de-feminize the act of going on a diet, weight loss programs employ a variety of tactics to frame their programs as masculine. One such tactic is the use of humor, at times of the locker room variety.
For example, in the Weight Watchers advertisement, “Roll Call,” spokesman Charles Barkley stands at a podium, reading in a melodramatic tone a long list of euphemistic and colloquial terms for penis.
As you’ll see if you watch it, after 30 seconds of this, a male announcer’s voice is overlaid, saying, “For every 35 pounds you lose, you may gain an extra inch of—“ [at which point the audio cuts to Barkley saying “wang”]. “Well now there’s a Weight Watchers just for guys. Just think of all you’ll gain.” By relating weight loss to penis length, a pseudo-measure for manliness that abounds in popular culture (see Ostberg 2010), Weight Watchers aligns itself with a potent symbol of masculinity in a light-hearted way.
Weight Watchers again employs humor in the advertisement, “Sir Charles for Weight Loss,” in which Barkley dresses as a woman in an outfit similar to the one worn by Jennifer Hudson in a woman-focused advertisement: a low cut black dress, padded at the chest to create the appearance of breasts.
He wears a long curly brown wig, make up, and silver jewelry. As he awkwardly walks toward the camera in strappy heels, the words “Charles Weighs In” animate across the screen. Barkley says:
I hear some of you guys still think that Weight Watchers is just for women, even though I, Sir Charles, have been telling you that Weight Watchers has helped me lose 42 pounds and counting. And I can still eat man food like steak and pizza. So if this is what I gotta do to get you to listen, take a good look. But my eyes are up here guys.
Using physical comedy that makes light of gender stereotypes, this commercial attempts to rewrite the perception that dieting is not for men. Furthermore, this advertisement provides an example of a spokesman providing overt and direct assurance that dieting is an appropriate and manly endeavor. Barkley speaks with frustrated disbelief, a scolding tone, and an element of humor when he accosts the male audience for thinking Weight Watchers is only for women.
The use of humor and direct assurances that dieting is appropriately manly are just two of the themes that I explore in my analysis of the marketing of weight loss programs to men.