“I’m fed up of being on a diet” – Penny Houghton (My mum) recorded in the final episode of the ‘Mum’s always on a diet podcast!”, 20th March 2021, providing insight into her frustration about cycles of dieting over her lifetime.
Body image, dieting and food create conflict between physical and mental wellbeing. A culture of dieting and a preoccupation with slimness negatively impact mental wellbeing although, are often seen under the guise of health. This is related to the deeply imbedded interrelation between health and beauty. “Mum’s always on a Diet Podcast!” podcast was an attempt to highlight this conflict. Encouraging women to have relaxed conversations about their approaches to well-being but with a particular focus on dieting, body image and food over their lifetimes and between generations. I wanted to show that dieting is a bad thing and that it is part of a much larger issue of women being socialized by patriarchy to feel they need to try and attain the ‘thin ideal’. Although, I also wanted to highlight positive feelings and memories many women have around food. Food can be vital in maintaining our relationships with others, often being key to celebration, family, and happiness. I thought it was important when looking at approaches to wellbeing over time to acknowledge the positives as well as the negatives.
“Mum’s always on a Diet Podcast!” made up my practice-based history dissertation and was intended to be a piece of interesting public history. At its core it was a public, oral history study which aimed to record women’s approaches to well-being over time. The final podcast was made up of six recorded conversations, each between a different group of women and then a final analysis of what was heard across these conversations.
Oral history records people talking about the past and their personal experiences but is often conducted through formal interviews. I deliberately made my study informal, by providing talking points rather than questions and giving women choice over what they talked about. These talking points were developed through research of feminist literature around dieting, beauty practice and media. This methodology allowed women to choose topics that resonated with them. I also removed myself from the recording process (in most cases) to encourage relaxed conversation around the topic. Not only did my topic suit this informal style because wellbeing is personal, I hope this also made the podcast more interesting to listen to (public history should be interesting!). Additionally, this informal approach, I felt gave women autonomy over their own memory by allowing them to speak about what resonates with them.
Because of this informal approach the conversation topics were really varied and extended beyond dieting, body image and positive memories around food (like with all oral history projects my results were unpredictable). I think I did highlight the conflicting feelings many women have around food but what was also highlighted was many other pressures women face. This included pressures around feeding children, unequal distribution of domestic chores around the home, confidence, self-esteem, relationships with mums and sisters, the damage of media and social media and so on.
The podcast’s informal nature really put the participant at the centre of the study, it became intimate, and interesting because I created a relaxed environment allowed people to talk about all of the personal elements of well-being and tell their own stories. What is history if it is not at its core storytelling.
But most importantly the podcast encouraged women to talk about well-being and the complexities around it including the good and the bad. I personally think particularly in a COVID-19 era where mental health issues are on the high being open about the pressures, we face is so important.
So have a listen (and probably a giggle!) to the “Mum’s always on a diet podcast!”, six intimate audio files which I hope, have contributed to debunking dieting and told the experiences and memories of a selection of women, on their own terms.
Check out the podcast here: https://soundcloud.com/user-883433426
This article is part of our themed content sharing summaries of undergraduate dissertations related to feminism or women’s history and literature. We hope you enjoy!