Governing Bodies. American Politics and the Shaping of the Modern Physique
Rachel Louise Moran
University of Pennsylvania Press
Americans are generally apprehensive about what they perceive as big government—especially when it comes to measures that target their bodies. Soda taxes, trans fat bans, and calorie counts on menus have all proven deeply controversial. Such interventions, Rachel Louise Moran argues, are merely the latest in a long, albeit often quiet, history of policy motivated by economic, military, and familial concerns. In Governing Bodies, Moran traces the tension between the intimate terrain of the individual citizen's body and the public ways in which the federal government has sought to shape the American physique over the course of the twentieth century.
Distinguishing her subject from more explicit and aggressive government intrusion into the areas of sexuality and reproduction, Moran offers the concept of the "advisory state"—the use of government research, publicity, and advocacy aimed at achieving citizen support and voluntary participation to realize social goals. Instituted through outside agencies and glossy pamphlets as well as legislation, the advisory state is government out of sight yet intimately present in the lives of citizens. The activities of such groups as the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Children's Bureau, the President's Council on Physical Fitness, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) implement federal body projects in subtle ways that serve to mask governmental interference in personal decisions about diet and exercise. From advice-giving to height-weight standards to mandatory nutrition education, these tactics not only empower and conceal the advisory state but also maintain the illusion of public and private boundaries, even as they become blurred in practice.
Weaving together histories of the body, public policy, and social welfare, Moran analyzes a series of discrete episodes to chronicle the federal government's efforts to shape the physique of its citizenry. Governing Bodies sheds light on our present anxieties over the proper boundaries of state power.
Rachel Louise Moran teaches history at the University of North Texas.