Brock University

Media Studies: The Gendering of Food Media

As Joke Hermes notes the media, in their capacity of informing us about the world, and as entertainers, show us an immense range of possibilities and practices of doing gender (2007:192). Media representation is important to gender politics because gender is a crucial structuring element of power relations in society. This session will focus on gender boundaries as they are drawn in the increasingly popular realm of food media. More specifically, papers in this session will explore how the contemporary or historical production and consumption of food media legitimates or deconstructs gender boundaries. We welcome papers that address different empirical or theoretical explorations of the ways in which masculinities and femininities are represented in food media, including (but not restricted to): social media, magazines, cookbooks, television, movies or literature.

Session Organizer: Sarah Cappeliez, University of Toronto, ; Alexandra Rodney, University of Toronto,


The "do-diet": Embodying neoliberalism and postfeminism in healthy eating discourse

Kate Cairns, University of Toronto, , Josée Johnston, University of Toronto,

Feminist scholars have long demonstrated how women are constrained through dieting discourse. Today's scholars wrestle with similar themes, but confront a thornier question: how do we make sense of a popular food discourse that frames women's food choices through a lens of empowerment and health, rather than vanity and restriction? This paper addresses this question, analyzing health-focused food writing (blogs and magazines), as well as interviews and focus groups with women (N=100). This data allows us to empirically document a postfeminist food discourse that we call the do-diet – a term drawn from the Canadian women's magazine, Chatelaine.  The do-diet reframes dietary restrictions as positive choices, while maintaining an emphasis on body discipline, expert knowledge and self-control.  Analyzing health-focused food media alongside women's narratives of healthy eating, we demonstrate how the do-diet remediates a tension at the heart of neoliberal consumer culture; namely, the tension between embodying discipline through dietary control, and expressing freedom through consumer choice. This remediation rests upon, and reproduces idealized middle-class femininities. We conclude that the do-diet heightens the challenge of developing feminist critiques of gendered body ideals and corporeal surveillance, as it promises a way of eating that is both morally responsible and personally empowering.


Constructing the place of the female foodie self: culinary personas and the rise of food blogging

Sarah Cappeliez, University of Toronto,

The idea of “museum of the self” has been used to examine how domestic spaces and design come to represent and define memories and personal identities. In this paper, I use and further develop this concept to consider food, and in particular, the gendered culinary identities and imagery presented in five well-known food blogs written by female food bloggers. In these cases, the museums of the self are virtual, but they are also material; these blogs constitute a carefully curated collection of foods that were prepared, eaten, and photographed by the blogger. The splashy and colourful photographs presented on blogs suggest a fascination with the aesthetic aspects of foods, as well as an interest in publically presenting a private collection of memories, moments, and other selective aspects of the self. The ‘museum of the food self’ concept is used to analyse how photographs and text construct gendered culinary personas, drawing from a sample of food blogs. Reflecting on food blogging as a gendered phenomenon, the paper concludes by arguing for a reconceptualisation of food habitus that provides more theoretical space for understanding mediated female food identities and food/media spaces that navigate between the curatorial/reflexive and the unconscious/habitual.


“Life’s too short to count calories, carbs or fat”: Contrasting healthy eating discourses on healthy living blogs with those in women’s fitness magazines

Alexandra Rodney, University of Toronto,

This paper is a comparative analysis of how food is discussed on healthy living blogs and in health and fitness magazines. Using Foucauldian discourse analysis, I will show how the food discourses and the subject positions on offer in these blogs and magazines differ, as well as how these are related to ideologies of health and femininity. Health and fitness magazine discourses are in line with dominant weight-loss principles while boundaries were drawn on healthy living blogs to differentiate from weight-loss goals. Although bloggers did engage with dominant food and health discourses, their message was more in line with the principles of the anti-diet Health at Every Size (HAES) movement. Michel Foucault’s (1979) concepts of “technologies of domination” and “aesthetics of the self” are used as tools for exploring these discourses and their relationship to how power is exerted on the female body and the potential spaces for freedom to focus on the self in a way that is free from disciplinary control. Further, in emphasizing themes of body discontent, reliance on expert advice and dietary restraint, the subject position on offer in magazines is one that is flawed, out of control, and ignorant. In contrast, the themes of intuitive eating, lay expertise and the sensory pleasures of eating, n healthy living blogs contribute to a subject position that is confident and knowledgeable and attuned to one’s bodily needs.


One Thing is For Sure, It’s Mom’s Fault: Examining Childhood Obesity Discourses in Canadian News Media

Jennifer Braun, University of Alberta,

Over the last decade, childhood obesity has managed to capture the attention of scholars, health experts, and the general public across the globe: children are indeed getting fatter (Maher, Fraser, & Wright, 2010). Similar to studies done in the Australian context, this research is particularly interested in media representations of childhood obesity in Canada: how it frames public discourse around the roles and responsibilities of parents and other (feminized) care workers, and in turn how this puts women at risk for interpellation in discourses of risk and blame. Through a content analysis of Canadian news media articles on childhood obesity taken from the Globe and Mail, and the National Post in the year 2012-2013 there emerges a strong dichotomy in public discourse: mothers and care workers (teachers, primary care givers) are invested with responsibility on one hand, while institutions and public entities are divested of responsibility on the other. I find that, much like previous work done on the same topic (albeit in different geographical contexts), print news media utilizes key rhetorical tropes of parenting, responsibility, choice, and blame to discuss childhood obesity, however, unique to Canada, there is a strong suspicion of government interventions like taxation and other regulatory measures on food items. These findings contribute to the growing literature on media discourse and obesity characterized by pervasive individual blame and the gendered roles and responsibilities of care work that extend beyond just mothers, but to women more broadly. It also highlights the complexity of childhood obesity and the conflicting views about institutional responsibility and intervention in the Canadian context.


© Canadian Sociological Association ⁄ La Société canadienne de sociologie