Hugo Rifkind

Why are so many men on diets? I blame feminists

Pretty much every man I know under the age of 55 is on some kind of diet. And I think I know why

4 April 2015

8:00 AM

4 April 2015

8:00 AM

According to Jenni Russell, my colleague at the Times, David Cameron has lost 13lb since Christmas, mainly by giving up on peanuts and biscuits. Now that’s a lot of peanuts and biscuits. It’s a bit yo-yo, Cameron’s weight, isn’t it? He gets bigger, he gets smaller again, like a giant, very pink, human-shaped balloon that some giant unseen hand is alternately squeezing and relaxing around the legs. He wears it well, though. When Nigel Lawson lost all that weight he looked like a man with a puncture.

George Osborne only shrinks these days, and will soon be as slim as his own lapels. So I suppose Cameron might be spurred on by the sight of him every morning, picking up muffins in cabinet and putting them down again with a sigh. Ed Miliband is fairly slim, too, although I doubt that’s wholly deliberate. He strikes me as one of those people who genuinely forgets to eat. Indeed, you sort of suspect he might occasionally need a small prompt with the breathing thing, too. ‘Ed!’ Justine will say, in alarm. ‘Your face is doing that purple thing again! And you’re swaying!’ And Ed will gasp, ‘Whoops.’

Pretty much every man I know who is under the age of 55 is on some sort of a diet. This could just be something I’m suddenly noticing because of my own age, which is not quite yet into the foothills of middle age, but has lately undeniably joined the uphill trek out of youth’s hedonistic valley. Only I don’t quite think that’s all it can be. A generation ago, I’m sure men didn’t have figures. Instead they had tailoring. You didn’t have to sculpt your body because that was the responsibility of some oldish, fruity gent with a measuring tape around his neck, who would normally rely upon a waistcoat to do the job. And sure, when said waistcoat was released, a chap might unload like so much blancmange, but how often was this likely to happen? I’ve seen a photo of my grand-father wearing a three-piece suit on a beach. Hot, probably. But dignified.

At any rate, a man could expand back then and nobody cared. You can’t imagine Winston Churchill skimping on the pies. Whereas today, Barack Obama may be the thinnest man in America. Our whole perception of fat has changed. It has become a sort of moral incontinence.

My own diet is sporadic because I am, indeed, morally incontinent. Although in the past six months I have become a gym person. I could pretend that I do this for health reasons, but that would be a lie. It’s all vanity. Which I disapprove of, obviously. On a beach, in a park, I see those men who are buff, lithe and sinewy, and I have nothing but sneering disdain for their joyless, hollow, self-congratulatory existences. The thing is, I’d rather be sneeringly disdaining them without looking like a haggis on legs myself, if it’s all the same to you. Thus the gym.

It’s pretty crowded, my gym. Largely men in their late thirties, and often with quite fascinating bodies. By which I do not mean good bodies. The most common oddity is those men who lift weights all day but do nothing else, and thus have giant, defined he-man biceps, but bellies like a Vietnamese pig and legs like a child with polio. It’s a strong look. And yet on they grunt and sweat, driven by demons that will not let them rest until they are somebody else.

There’s a strong temptation to blame the gays for this, and the way they all suddenly look like they’re wearing those fancy dress superhero costumes with the muscles on them, thus rendering traditional homophobia really hard work.

Or we could blame the media. Recall the fuss 20 years ago when Colin Firth came out of a lake in a wet shirt in Pride and Prejudice. Next to Aidan Turner in Poldark today, he looks like the ‘before’ shot in a diet pills advertisement.

The people truly responsible, I think, are women. Feminists especially. For 50 years now, they’ve been reasonably reminding men to stop staring, while slyly and simultaneously getting ever more hot. And as a result, being simply incapable of doing the mental gymnastics required to stop objectifying women in the manner we have learned we ought, straight men have started trying to make up for it by objectifying themselves just as much. Even if they are the Prime Minister. At least, some weeks.

Mugged by Labour

The Labour party has put its five core election pledges on mugs. No, I don’t know why. Presumably the idea is that you buy all five, and then when your friends come around for tea, you each drink yours out of the one featuring your favourite. Yeah, I know. As if the sort of people who’d buy these mugs would have friends.

There’s an odd fuss, though, about mug four, which says controls on immigration on it. Quite widely, this has been perceived as a gaffe, a betrayal, a slump into Farageism and all the rest, with numerous Labour pundits wailing in dismay.

Why, though? How many people out there don’t think there should be controls on immigration? I’m pro-immigration in almost every scenario, and even I think there should be controls on immigration. Normally, when people say ‘You can’t talk about immigration’ they’re quite wrong. Not here, though. ‘This shameful mug is an embarrassment,’ tweeted Diane Abbott. Indeed you are.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.

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Show comments
  • Mc

    “Why are so many men on diets? I blame feminists”

    Why does Rifkind opine on the most inconsequential and vacuous subjects known to man, delivered in faux-intellectual verbiage?

    • Simon de Lancey

      Because it is all that he is capable of.

    • hedgemagnet

      Surely it’s just an excuse to come up with something reasonably amusing and witty? I don’t take this article seriously.

      • Mc

        I understand your point. I’m alluding to the fact that Rifkind seems to be under the mistaken impression that he possesses an impressive intellect and insight, as all his articles present a faux intellectual angle.

  • Mark

    Fit men fight better, perhaps the penny is dropping, a huge fight for our civilisation is coming and the fat men won’t win.

  • Bertie

    Possibly because he is of the limp wristed trendy Notting Hill set -same vacuous interests, similar values(empty and hollow) & similar disdain for what this country used to stand for.

    @Mark – Agreed – the fat men wont win.Nor will the Sheet wearing bearded ones either.

    • Verbatim

      Something for them to skin their teeth into, like Ghandi, I should think!!

  • Good stuff, Hugo. I think we should all ask Diane Abbott exactly why she wants uncontrolled immigration, whether she thinks any amount would be too much, why she thinks it’s good for the country, and why anyone else should give a cuss what she thinks.

    But the topic that really grabbed me was your discussion of men and weight. Speaking as a woman who is, I like to think, something of a connoisseur of men, I have to say that most of them are deeply disappointing — as physical specimens, never mind anything else. Most of them, to begin with, lack your own natural good looks. Melissa Kite claims, in the comical memoir that I’m now reading, that every other man she has met was ‘handsome’, possibly even ‘very handsome’, and even if not handsome, he possessed a raw s-x appeal. She is obviously better at squinting than I am. Either that or I need to move to her neighbourhood.

    The problem is with extremes and with the fact that it’s not all about visual aesthetics. Fat men can’t make love. They don’t even have to be particularly fat to be fairly useless at it, but the bigger they are, the worse it gets. If the man is clearly obese, you can be fairly sure that that couple isn’t bothering. Thin men, on the other hand, lack the soft squeezableness and hard heft that is both s-xy and reassuring to the woman that embraces him. Who wants to lean on an insubstantial reed? Who is really turned on by the too-much-not-thereness of a bony figure?

    • WillyTheFish

      I don’t thank that she particularly wants unlimited immigration per se but, given that her electoral base is in a constituency that has a large number of third world savages, her ticket to ride the tax payer funded gravy train depends on it.

    • Frank Marker

      According to The Kite’s recent article she now resides in Dorking. I always imagine those places to be full of David Lloyd Leisure Centres, tennis clubs, spas and ever so dull and snobby golf clubs. I guess with all that activity going on the guys would be pretty, what’s the word, buff. I bet they are as dull as a Toc H lamp though.

      • Hi Frank. According to my e-book, M. K. ‘divides her time’ between a London home and a Surrey one. Nice if you can afford it. As you may know, she’s just published a novel whose protagonist is one ‘Madison Flight’. Madison Melissa Flight Kite, get it? I suspect that it mines the life as usual, albeit in a more fictionalized way. Just a guess, mind, based on what the summaries say.

        The chaps may indeed be buff, though there is a lot of muscle that can be carried around under persistent layers of fat. And one can be ‘pretty buff’ without being at all pretty.

        • Frank Marker

          That over- muscular always looks out of place on City boys anyway. If you got them through hard outdoor work fine, but if it was just through being a gym bunny then it just looks plain absurd. That doesn’t mean you should look like a slob, but there are reasonable limits.

          • To be perfectly frank, Frank, I think I would accept the muscles as presented and not inquire too much into how they were acquired :^0

          • post_x_it

            He has a point regarding City boys. There are personal trainers with studios in the various EC postcodes who charge obscenely high fees for a promise to turn their clients from slob to washboard in 6-8 weeks. I’m reliably informed that this really works, provided the client goes along with the gruelling programme, and I have witnessed several such transformations around the office. Truth be told, they always end up looking not quite ‘right’. I’m not sure what the problem is, but they have the aura of a shellshocked slob who doesn’t know how to wear his new body with dignity.

          • Sounds intriguing. Perhaps you should give me a list of names and I can arrange to interview them, individually, about the hardship of being hard-bodied. I reckon I should have my report ready in about a year….

          • Guest

            Have you got a Dora Gray portrait in your attic? Jut noticed your new photo.

          • Yes, it wasn’t taken yesterday! A reminder to me to stick to what I know I should be doing, instead of enjoying myself : )

          • Mr_Twister

            I’ve always found F¥€&ing…….the best way……to stay in shape……. for F¥€&ing.

          • I don’t know anything about that, mister. You do seem to be a rather rich man, however.

          • Mr_Twister

            🙂 not at all Mandy,
            but a great smile, an even better body, and lots of qualifications from the University of life…..afrodisiacs 1,2 & 3
            (Thanks to equality/Feminism women are as shallow as men…..yaay!)

          • afrodisiacs: And there was I, always trying to straighten my hair.

          • Mr_Twister

            It seems, that a lot of women like their hair being pulled during sex! Which, if it needs straightening? is both time saving and proves that men can multitask! 🙂

          • I think if you pulled my hair I’d slap your face. Anyway it would take a lot of pulling to take *these* kinks out!

          • Mr_Twister

            The hairpulling usually follows a request!

            As for your kinks…..


          • Well it’s a point of view. But when one has had a lifetime of innocence, even the non-kinky seems wildly risqué. You have no idea what I’m talking about, of course.

          • Mr_Twister

            You’re right of course (70’s child from twice broken home by 10 years old) 1st generation screwed by feminism!

            I do however mourn the loss of our more innocent times (even then)

            South West.

          • Up with UKIP!

        • Frank Marker

          London and Surrey, always a lethal combination and not one I would personally like to be part of.

          • I find that Surrey is like most other counties: it has bits that are divy or drear, but other spots that are charming. In particular I like Guildford and Godalming.

          • Frank Marker

            Went to Guildford only last year and couldn’t get out of there quick enough. As someone said once said about the Somme; “My dear! The noise! The people!” I can’t comment about Godalming, but according to the quality supplements it has most expensive real estate in the country. All very nice, but I find those places a bit unreal.

          • Yes, I gather that one doesn’t go to Surrey looking for a bargain. Mind you that could be said for most of England.

  • Feminister

    “You can’t imagine Winston Churchill skimping on the pies. ”

    Yes but he got elected from a male-only shortlist.

    • Verbatim

      You mean ‘pie in the sky’ politicians, don’t you?

  • wudyermucuss

    I diet,eat less,because I enjoy it and it places less strain on my muscular-skeletal and digestive systems,and I feel and look better.
    Most of my female friends,some with feminist inclinations,disapprove,but their opinion in this matter is completely irrelevant to me.

  • balance_and_reason

    Hole in your article Rifkind junior…….health?!!

  • Dogsnob

    I blame office jobs.

    • Yet without office jobs we would not be on an Internet thread to complain about them. I blame processed foods, myself.

      • Dogsnob

        There is so much that makes it difficult these days. I am lucky in that I do physically demanding work every day. I call in the office sometimes and wonder how they sit there all day at those desks without being able to move around and burn off energy.

      • Dogsnob

        And yes, there’s always a half-eaten bowl of something in milk, by the keyboard.

        • Cereal? The only cereal I can abide is add-your-own-sweetener Alpen. But it’s a cooked breakfast for me, every time.

        • Verbatim


  • James

    I wish we could deport the ‘ists’ in society – feminists, islamists, racists – any group with an ‘ist’ or ‘ism’ is highly likely to be a destructive force.

    • jamie

      therapist, psychologist, neurologist, biologist.. what’s wrong with them?
      theist, atheist, agnosticism, should we just deport the entire earth?

  • Ambientereal

    I blame medicine for ruining all pleasures of life and enlarging it. It is the same as enlarging a male part and taking out the sensitivity. I would prefer to live with pleasures and die young.

  • David Prentice

    Western civilization is in the hands of spineless metropolitan castrati like this. Be afraid.

    • Feminister

      More afraid than when it was in the hands of the exoskeletal, metropolitan testicle clangers who took us into two world wars?

      • David Prentice

        Tone it down, Bittercea. If you don’t like it here, foxtrot oscar to Somalia or China.

      • Dogsnob

        Much more. Where do you think this lot are leading us?

  • Grey Wolf

    I thought you were a feminist, Rifkind. Are you or are you not?

    • Verbatim

      ……….a member of the Community Party?

  • Verbatim

    Actually, no, it’s FOOD that makes men diet (if, in fact, they DO diet).

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    “Why are so many men on diets?”
    Overweight? Now there’s an original suggestion.

  • cromwell

    I blame feminists for Hugo Rifkind.

  • Mech Shop

    “Diet, the deliberate selection of food to control body weight or nutrient intake” ,Wikipedia. A diet takes some self discipline and its not the typical road to victimisation hence not a feminist issue. Men have become more conscious of nutrition as a result of body building going mainstream. There are other factors too, feminism is not even at the bottom of the list.

    Obesity is a problem dispositionally affecting women. Feminist added Saudi women to there list of victims, they are the fattest humans on earth. Maybe feminist should push for abolishing the Saudi requirement for wearing the abaya and niqab so everyone could see how bad the problem really is, this is an enormous health crises. Exposing the problem may creat some healthy competition for improvement.

  • UncleTits

    I imagine that the idea of, erm, staying alive is quite a motivator in middle-aged men. Checking out the chicks is a big winner in most gyms and so your ‘objectification’ [groans] avoidance theory seems to fall flat on its face.

    • Most gyms are a great place to meet germs. They are also a great way to mismanage your weight-room practices (gyms want you to use their machines in the order that suits them so that you’ll hurry up and get out for the benefit of their next customer). Also I don’t believe in sweating in public, never mind displaying to all and sundry. I never go to them.

  • DavidGolani11

    Silly article. Cultural norms of health come and go. The 80’s fitness craze died out, the new slim-is-healthy narrative takes over after a 20 year lull.
    The ancient greeks obsessed over bodies so much all their gods had human bodies…perfect ones of course.
    No need to blame feminists, having a good male body is its own reward.

    • The 80’s fitness craze died out, the new slim-is-healthy narrative takes over after a 20 year lull.