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

Kate Cairns, Josée Johnston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)153-175
Number of pages23
JournalTheory and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Corporeal control
  • Dieting discourse
  • Femininity
  • Food choice
  • Food consumption


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