Becoming fit to be a mother: class, learning, and redemption in Supersize vs Superskinny

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Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • University of Oxford


The UK Channel Four reality television programmes Supersize vs Superskinny and Supersize vs Superskinny: Kids present their viewers with a stark, and supposedly educative, reforming of food practices. Pairing participants defined as underweight with others defined as morbidly obese, the programmes are premised on a so-called ‘diet swap’, in which participants consume their foils’ (either meagre or excessive) meals in order to face the supposed follies of their ways. While the programmes include both male and female participants, in-depth content analysis reveals that their televisual storytelling has gendered underpinnings, centred on the theme of ‘fitness’ to mother. Notably, this ‘fitness’, as the programmes frame it, entails reforming women’s food consumption: from ‘perilous’ working-class eating and feeding practices, which ‘threaten’ women’s and children’s bodies with obesity, to ‘appropriate’ middle class tastes and choices, poised to foster trans-generational wellbeing. Thus, presented as ‘public pedagogy’ that implicates both participant and viewer, Supersize vs Superskinny evokes classed abjection and shame to cast population obesity as the outcome of maternal ‘failings’. We argue, then, that at the core of Supersize vs Superskinny’s focus on ‘balanced diets’ lies a neoliberal prescription for women’s moral citizenship as anchored in upwardly mobile, middle classed, responsibilised motherhood.


Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Gender Studies
Early online date22 May 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 May 2016


  • Reality television, Obesity, Mothering, food, eating, social class, neoliberalism, Food studies