Theory and Society

, Volume 44, Issue 2, pp 153–175 | Cite as

Choosing health: embodied neoliberalism, postfeminism, and the “do-diet”

  • Kate CairnsEmail author
  • Josée Johnston


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 food discourse that frames food choices through a lens of empowerment and health, rather than vanity and restriction? This article addresses this question, drawing from interviews and focus groups with women (N = 100), as well as health-focused food writing. These data allow us to document a postfeminist food discourse that we term the do-diet. The do-diet reframes dietary restrictions as positive choices, while maintaining an emphasis on body discipline, expert knowledge, and self-control. Our analysis demonstrates 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. With respect to theory, our analysis demonstrates how the embodied dimensions of neoliberalism find gendered expression through postfeminism. 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.


Dieting discourse Food choice Food consumption Corporeal control Femininity 



We are grateful for the feedback Ali Rodney and Deborah McPhail provided on previous drafts of this article, as well as the contributions made by Katelin Albert, Merin Oleschuck, Kerstin Giannini, and Elizabeth Lun. The idea of the “Foucault Machine” originally emerged out of conversations between Kate and her brother, James Cairns, and we are thankful for the contribution he made to this early conceptualization. Finally, we want to thank Mike Goodman and David Goodman for encouraging us to write a book on Food and Femininity, and for providing continued support, feedback, and insight throughout this process.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Childhood StudiesRutgers University-CamdenCamdenUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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