When Charles Barkley first launched his “Lose It Like A Man” Weight Watchers campaign, we were nervous. Their latest commercial, featuring Barkley in drag, talking about “manly” foods, is exactly why. We spend a lot of time talking about the horrible gender stereotypes and body ideals that women are up against, but if Charles Barkley and Weight Watchers say anything about the pressures facing men, I don’t know if men are much better off.
Putting Barkley in drag is pretty low-hanging fruit as far as publicity stunts go; of course putting a former NBA player in a dress is going to get some eyeballs. But the actual content the commercial is mostly baffling: He reassures his dude viewers that, although he’s lost 42 pounds and counting, he can still eat “man foods like steak and pizza.” Because…eating healthy foods is feminine?
Entire books have been written about the stereotypes of masculine and feminine foods—including some academic analyses and, most famously, Simon Doonan‘s recent tongue-in-cheek “Gay Diet” book—and to be honest, I feel somewhat ambivalent. The idea that women should only eat salads is categorically sexist and bothersome, but who am I to say that steak isn’t a “man food”? There may be some physiological basis for the idea that men crave different foods than women. (Although all sexism aside, it does seem like a company promoting healthy weight loss might want to put the brakes on stereotyping pizza as a “man food” or “lady-food”—because it is pretty much just “junk food,” last time I checked.)
It’s not particularly socially acceptable for men to be obese, but even if the pressure to fit narrow body ideals isn’t quite as relentless fo them, they’ve also got the added pressure of having to eat a “manly” diet. Weight Watchers seems to be trying to break some of those stereotypes (if not for the greater good, at least for sales), but I’m not sure that Charles Barkley has quite figured out how to help people “lose it like a man.”