Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Big Fat Truth about Sexism in the Diet Industry

Last month, a posted a link to the Facebook fan page to an article about Dr. Pepper's new drink which explicitly states "is not for women." I had read elsewhere that, due to public outcry (which probably sounded like "What the fuck?"), the Dr. Pepper folks had decided to axe the campaign. But then a week ago, I saw the commercial on TV:
On top of being enormously sexist, it's also incredibly stupid. "It's not for women?" Well ok then. Does that mean that men who drink other, sexually ambiguous diet sodas need to be ashamed? Why are we suddenly giving men permission to drink diet sodas when they've been on the market for as long as I can remember? 

And what the hell is so feminine about diet soda? 

It also assumes a LOT about women - that we hate action films (sadly this one is true for me; I get bored out of my skull when a movie is all explosions and no plot, no character development, and no interesting dialogue), and that we dig romantic comedies and so-called "chick flicks." I like some mind candy every now and then, but rom-coms are not my goto choice of film. 

If this isn't bad enough, Weight Watchers has started an all new program for men. The first time I saw the commercial for it, it kind of broke my brain. I never knew Weight Watchers was exclusively for women. All this time I thought men were already using their products and having success.  

I know that women have far more pressure on them to be beautiful and perfect than men do, and that a fat women would never be the lead in one of those romantic comedies that we apparently love so much, but I'm quite shocked that the diet industry is now being so bold and so blatant in their sexism. The more subtle and insidious things have been pointed out by feminists for years (and we usually get told to shut up and that we're making too much out of nothing), but this is obvious enough that no one can ignore it. Saying that Weight Watchers has a program for men is saying that for 40 years Weight Watchers has existed only for women. Saying that Dr. Pepper 10 is a drink for men says that all other diet drinks are for women. 

And the worst thing that a man can be called is a woman.

"You throw like a girl." 
"You run like a girl."
"Quit being a little bitch." 

"Man up."
"Stop being a sissy."
"Get the sand out of your vagina."
"You're a pussy."

Sound familiar? I'm sure it does. No one grows up in a vacuum. This kind of thing starts on the playground and slithers its way into adulthood, apparently to the point that men feel they can't diet like a woman lest they be compared to one. 

And how ridiculous is that?


  1. You do know that men and women lose weight differently, right? And that about 85% (I'm grasping here, based on what I saw when I was on WW) of WW folks are women, right? And that they're a business, trying to make their weight-loss plan more attractive to men? I'm not saying your points aren't valid, but there are reasons. And I don't see the WW example as their original plan being only for women; I see the new "for men" plan being geared toward the differences in men's and women's physiologies.

    Have you taken a good, hard look at Curves? If you want to talk sexism, they advertise the crap out of Curves and it's only for women. Because, evidently, women need a "safe space" for fitness. Um, I'd like a small, private gym where I'm not going to be mocked, ridiculed, and bullied because I don't want to be some giant 'roid-induced gorilla and would rather lose weight and tone up. What's my option? What I'm doing now: home-based workouts.

  2. "And that about 85% (I'm grasping here, based on what I saw when I was on WW) of WW folks are women, right?"

    Anecdotally, this too was my experience while on WW. At pretty much every meeting I went to, there'd be a solid 20-30 women, but only 3-5 men. And most of the guys were there because their wives/girlfriends were members of WW and decided to join because they wanted to loose weight too and be supportive.

  3. Jeremy, I agree with some of what you're saying about Weight Watchers. When I went there was maybe one man there for every 8-10 women. Diets and Weight Watchers aren't just for women, but the sexism might not be the fact that they're just not advertising a program for men but that for years their spokespeople have been women. Same with Jenny Craig and others. Opening it up to men may be more 'in your face,' but was the traditional female-only ads better? They have had very few males spokesmen for diets, including Jason Alexander (Jenny Craig) and Tommy Lasorda (SlimFast). It's really only Subway that made a male their spokesperson and kept it that way for years. Weight Watchers was open to men and women, every time I went in there or saw an ad for them, it was always dominated by women.

    Curves is for women only because they don't want to feel uncomfortable in gyms full of men. (More on that in a minute.) Having been to multiple WW meetings, I can understand how men would feel more comfortable in a program geared toward them. Not because they don't want to diet 'like women', but because it's hard to go into a situation where you're already admitting you have a problem and now you feel like there's no one there like you, except you're all overweight. It's not true that they're not like you, but that's how you might feel, especially when weight is connected to body image. People already feel vulnerable and sometimes it's easier to be vulnerable when you don't have to think about the opposite sex. Had I gone to my first Weight Watchers meeting and been the only woman in a room full of men with the session led by men, I might not have felt very comfortable and might not have wanted to go back. I think the few men in those rooms full of women are very brave. I think that Weight Watchers trying to get more men involved is great.

    Back to Curves... I can only base this on my experience at the Curves I went to for a while, but it was terrible. I wouldn't recommend it to women and men should be glad they don't have Curves for men. It was in a strip mall and had the circuit training stuff laid out in a circle. The workout was good for beginners and, if you really tried, you could get a lot of benefit from it. But I really didn't see anyone trying really hard. Most women went with friends and chatted more than they exercised. I was usually the only one there breaking a sweat. I think most people were pretty happy about not sweating, because they didn't have showers there. If you're getting NO physical exercises and want a social place to go exercise gently, which is better than nothing at all, Curves might be good. If you really want to work at losing weight and you haven't done much physical activity for a while and don't know how to start, Curves is a good place to start. It's not a good place to stay. I found Curves really depressing and didn't go there very long at all.

    That Dr Pepper thing I hate. I think that's stupid and insulting to both men and women. (For the record, I know more men who drink diet soda than women.) But Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig trying to open up their doors to more men and/or create programs geared toward men? I think that's great and I think it's finally ending the sexism in the diet industry, not creating it.

  4. Yeah, I completely left out anything on the Dr. Pepper thing. It's stupid, and they're getting a CRAPLOAD of negative feedback about it, because people know it's stupid and sexist. At this point, they're like the soft drink equivalent of Axe and those ridiculous Old Spice ads.

  5. While I don't exactly disagree with you that the idea is stupid, I think you must have been living under a rock for a couple years because Coke Zero and Pepsi Max are both products that are/have been marketed as "diet soda for men" and Dr. Pepper 10 is Dr. Pepper's clone of those products.

    Shouldn't this be more offensive to men who drink diet soda than it is to women? This marketing campaign isn't saying "women aren't allowed to drink our soda" it's saying "you aren't a real man if you drink other diet soda". Real man being defined as the macho beer guzzling caveman type.

    Also: "Curves is for women only because they don't want to feel uncomfortable in gyms full of men."

    I can sympathize with that. I am TERRIFIED of men. I won't even go through the line in the grocery store if a man is working the cash register if there is another line being worked by a woman. Yet, because I have male genetics I get excluded from all the places where there are no men? How is that fair?