Emma Hilborn

Researcher, Researcher

Research areas and keywords

UKÄ subject classification

  • History


  • Early 20th century labour history


The purpose of my current project, The feminisation of dieting. A comparative study of food and controlled eating ca. 1890–1930, is to study how dieting emerged as a feminine concern in Scandinavia, Great Britain and Germany in the years 1890 to 1930. This period provides a particularly fruitful opportunity to study how the cultural implications of foods were shaped in an era when a traditionally male practice was introduced into a female cultural context, causing the meanings and functions of certain foods to be re-interpreted and re-assigned. The comparative approach and the choice of source material – from the male dominated sphere of popular medical publications regarding food, to the intimate and feminine context of women’s magazines – enables me to trace the changing notions of of food and body. My aim is to shed new light on the way we relate to food and body by combining insights from different fields of research, chiefly gender studies and food studies, as well as introducing theoretical perspectives different from the predominant foucauldian tradition in previous works. Using Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s theory of corporeity, I propose to offer a new take on dieting, developing a way to conceptualise not only the coveted ideal body, but food as well.

Today's obsession with body, fitness and a healthy diet is deeply affected by the kind of thinking originally promoted by different slimming cures and the foods associated with them, but the historical roots of this phenomenon have not yet been explored. Recently, the already questionable status of dieting has been further challenged by scientists pointing out the importance of genes and hereditary factors in individuals’ propensity to gain or lose weight. This underscores a well-known fact about dieting: that it doesn’t normally work in the long run. Far from being a well-kept secret, this is a widespread knowledge among the very audience targeted by the diet industry. From the perspective of cultural history, however, the dismissal of dietary self-help should lead to even more questions, the most pressing one being why, despite the awareness that the chances of success are virtually non-existent, it has attained such a grip on Western culture.

Recent research outputs

Emma Hilborn, 2018, (Accepted/In press) In : Scandia.

Research output: Contribution to journalReview (Book/Film/Exhibition/etc.)

Emma Hilborn, 2018, In : Scandia. 84, 1, p. 102-104

Research output: Contribution to journalReview (Book/Film/Exhibition/etc.)

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