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J Soc Hist. 2010;44(1):39-70.

Regime change: gender, class, and the invention of dieting in post-bellum America.


"Regime Change" argues against commonly held interpretations that see dieting as a practice established in the 1920s to control women at a time when they gained suffrage and greater economic independence. This article offers an alternative reading, arguing that diet advice literature arrived in the US in the 1860s and originally targeted a male, white, middle-class audience. While the hegemonic beauty ideal for the female body was at its heftiest, men started to build muscle and reduce weight. The ideal of the slender male body was associated with white superiority, social mobility and the national ambition for an American empire. When white middle-class women eventually started dieting in greater numbers in the 1890s, it was because they claimed the same mastery over their bodies as men—and demanded the same privileges as their male peers over immigrants, African Americans and working-class people, who were increasingly imagined as overweight. Revising the history of dieting to show its origins as a masculine practice appropriated by women to stake a claim to class and race privilege invites a rethinking of power and resistance in the disciplining of the female body.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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