American women invest millions of dollars, as well as much time and energy, in a quest for a body that meets our culture’s standard of beauty—slenderness. Since we define a woman’s sexual attractiveness as essential to her social worth, it is no wonder that “fat is a feminist issue.”
Commercial weight loss organizations have come under attack from feminist scholars for perpetuating the very social values that cause women to obsess about their weight. In Women and Dieting Culture, sociologist Kandi Stinson asks how these values are transmitted and how the women who join such organizations actually think about their bodies and weight loss. As part of her research, Stinson fully participated in a national, commercial weight-loss organization as a paying member. Her acute analysis and sensitive insider’s portrayal vividly illustrate the central roles dieting and body image play in women’s lives.
As she experiences the program and interviews other members, Stinson discovers that the women view the causes and cures of being overweight according to five distinct, though often overlapping, concepts: self-help, work, religion, addiction, and feminism. Drawing extensively on the dieters’ own words, Stinson explores each of these concepts and outlines how they form interrelated patterns which, when analyzed, yield an exciting new perspective on the transmission of cultural values.
Armed with fresh insights into how women feel about weight and their bodies, Stinson finally ponders the question: Can one be a feminist and still wish to lose weight?