Vegans of Color

Because we don’t have the luxury of being single-issue

skinny (white) bitches February 1, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 11:40 am
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Love it or hate it, the Skinny Bitch thing has gotten a whole lot of people talking. Sometimes even about veganism, har har!

I’ll be up front: I haven’t read the book. I don’t plan on it (so many books, so little time…). My thoughts are based on the reactions I’ve heard, both pro & con, & on the very fact that a book with such a title & design is such a hit. I feel like analyzing the reception it’s gotten, & how it’s being talked about, is pretty telling in itself.

In the recent New York Times article about sequel book Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, one explanation for the popularity of the Skinny Bitch phenomenon is given:

Kimberly Latham, a fashion publicist in New York, said: “I would never have read ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma.’ I’m not even sure I know what an omnivore is. But I know what a skinny bitch is, and I know I want to be one.”

That’s right. Let’s prey on women’s fears about being (gasp) fat, & on the catfighting among women that comes of insecurity about one’s appearance. Never mind that fat & health are not as intricably linked as most people believe, anyway (check out the Illustrated BMI Categories — pretty eye-opening, especially the “morbidly obese” triathletes!).

Is shaming women into going vegan a good idea? I feel like the idea behind the book, & certainly how it’s being talked about, definitely plays the shame game. And competition & jealousy — I mean, women who don’t care about animal rights are picking this up because they want to be skinny. The kind of skinny that makes other women hate you. How… healthy. And life-affirming. Right.

I’ve heard folks defending the book by mentioning an epilogue that says basically that the authors don’t care about being skinny, they think everyone should just eat healthily. Well, I flipped through the book yesterday at a store, & this epilogue is about 3 paragraphs long. Not only that, I almost missed it — & I knew it was there & was looking for it! It’s hidden among the endnotes & resources & all that kind of end-of-book stuff. Funny, usually epilogues come right after the text. Could it be that they didn’t really care if people read this one? And how persuasive is it likely to be, since the very title of the book (& presumably everything else in the book) argues to the contrary?

I’ve also heard folks arguing that this is a good way to get the “chick lit” crowd interested in veganism. Stealth conversion, like Latham’s quote above would seem to indicate. But from my own experiences, & from what I’ve heard other folks talking about, those who convert to veg*nism for health reasons (I’m being generous & putting the “I want to be a skinny bitch” crowd under “health” although really it’s more about appearance & weight loss) are less likely to stick with it, unless they also have a strong ethical reason for eating the way they do. Is this just going to end up with a crap ton of ex-vegans in a few months? (& we know what a pain in the ass they can be.)

Even if readers do become interested in animal rights issues as a result of the book, I still think framing it generally as a weight-loss plan is a bad, bad idea. Not all vegans are skinny, & not all vegans would be better off “skinny.”

And what about the subset of young female veg*ns who do it to lose weight? I’ve heard a lot about how sometimes this is used to mask eating disorders — not that every teenage female veg*n has an eating disorder, of course, but that because veg*nism has a reputation as a way to lose weight, sometimes it is adopted specifically for this purpose. Isn’t Skinny Bitch-ism playing right into this? I bet the pro-ana crowd loves Skinny Bitch.

Oh, & the parenthetical word in my blog post title up there? Lately I’ve had an even lower tolerance than usual for the overwhelming promotion, & preference, of white skinny conventional standards of attractiveness to the near-total exclusion of anything else. And now Barnouin & Freedman, who exemplify this really narrow standard of beauty, are the new faces of veganism to American society. (Yeah, there’s the “vegan” football player — but he eats fish.)

Meh. Go vegan because you know you can live a life full of delicious food without killing for it. Go vegan because you care about animals. Love yourself even if you’re not a “skinny bitch.”

(& please, yes, I know that men have eating disorders & body image issues too — but it seems pretty obvious that the brunt of the Skinny Bitch thing is playing to women.)

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24 Responses to “skinny (white) bitches”

  1. [...] my previous post, I mentioned that it seems like vegans motivated predominantly by health were more likely to fall [...]

  2. dailywalrus Says:

    Thank you for the comment and especially the resources you cited. It brought up great points that I never thought of – such that cats tend to not chew their dry food and therefore it is not helping their teeth. I do wonder, though, since this is a post brushing treat, if it is still better for him to swallow that treat whole than chow down on some wet food. Would love your opinion.

    I think you make great arguments regarding Skinny Bitch, but I must disagree. This book was actually recommended to me by a friend who went vegetarian after reading it and it contributed to two other people I know going veg. Unfortunately, there is a large group of people who would not choose to read a book about veganism, so I love the deception with this book. Also, I understand your frustration with “veg*ns” who fall off the wagon after a short amount of time. But I think back to when I first went vegetarian and it took me a couple of tries to figure out what I was doing and build some willpower. Also, every little bit helps – so if they go without meat just for a couple of weeks that’s better than nothing to me.

    Again, thanks for the comment. And thanks for your blog, I’m already hooked.

  3. vegansofcolor Says:

    Thanks for your comment!

    I think that dry food has absolutely nothing to recommend it to cats overall; I don’t feed it to mine & I never plan to again. Dry food doesn’t do anything good for the teeth & has so many other nutritional & health downsides. Freeze-dried meat treats would be much better than any sort of kibble-like treat. Or chunks of raw chicken necks are great for dental health too (no, I’m not a vegan who feeds her cats vegan food — I believe that it would be biologically inappropriate).

    “Also, every little bit helps – so if they go without meat just for a couple of weeks that’s better than nothing to me.”

    I can see your point in this, but I also wonder if ex-veg*ns end up doing more harm than good (for the meat that they gave up when they were veg*n), b/c they tend to become so vociferous in defense of eating meat & against meatless diets. I mean, I think one of the best advertisements for going vegan is a peaceful, happy vegan eating delicious food. So an ex-vegan w/a grudge, say, could potentially dissuade lots of people from going vegan, if that makes sense.

    I’ve also read a few reviews of the book where people said they were put off by the animal rights talk, when they were expecting a diet book. So clearly not everyone is going to be persuaded (which I know, no book would persuade anyone anyway).

    And… I still really hate that the book is founded on making women hate their bodies. Positive, pop-culture-y, chick lit-y vegan writing I can get behind — but why does it have to have that poisonous aspect to it? Women are already taught to hate themselves & their bodies from a really young age — I refuse to trade one kind of cruelty for another.

  4. Jesse Says:

    I’ve actually been vegan for almost 2 years now after reading Skinny Bitch. The humor of the title and the frankness of the writers really attracted me to buy the book–the info. inside it kept me vegan. Perhaps it would be wise to not judge how people fall into veganism, but rather embrace them once they are there. It is this sort of hyper-critical holier-than-thou mentality that scares many people away from veganism (acting as though your veganism is somehow more pure since you don’t care about your waist size). If someone stops eating animals and their secretions because they want a smaller ass, then I say score for the animals. The fact that someone would go vegan because they want to be a “skinny bitch” is a sign that veganism is going mainstream and that’s a beautiful thing. Further, even those that go vegan for “pure” reasons often fall off the wagon. There is no guarantee that anyone will stay vegan, no matter how they come by the decision. Our fear of disapproval shouldn’t discourage us from inviting anyone with an interest in going vegan to give it a try. If we demand a lifelong commitment from every new vegan, we will have to wait more than a lifetime to see any change in society’s treatment of animals.

  5. Great post! I picked up Skinny Bitch last summer because I wanted to see what everyone was talking about. I agree with everything you said here, pretty much. The book does have an upside, to me, though, which is this: instead of taking vulnerable women and telling them to starve themselves or go on some other hairbrained diet, the book advocates that women simply clean up their diets and eat in a healthy and sensible way. As in, stop drinking all that soda and eating all those chips and start drinking more water and eating your fruits and vegetables. They offer this advice (well, it comes across more like a superior sort of command, really) in what seemed to me to be a pretty compelling way, so I thought that was something, at least. Still, I agree that this is not an ideal way to market veganism to the masses, and it seems to me that women who went “Skinny Bitch vegan” would be less likely to stick with it…

  6. vegansofcolor Says:

    Jesse — yes, obviously the more people who go vegan, the better for the animals. I don’t think it’s holier-than-thou to note that people who make the change mostly for health reasons seem more likely to fall off the wagon, though; there are lots of behavioral changes that people make that they’re likely to drop if it’s just for health reasons (going to the gym — how many of us make that resolution every New Year’s & then drop it?).

    Also, I don’t think it’s a victory if women turn vegan & are still panicked about whether or not they conform to a really narrow societal standard of what beauty is. Sure, there are less animals dying, which is great. But it’s at the price of women still suffering from unrealistic beauty standards — something that can often have real, medical consequences for women. I suppose the single-issue folks out there will see that as a good thing, but I don’t. Helping animals at the cost of making women hate themselves more? There are better ways to work. We can help animals w/o tearing ourselves down at the same time.

    Textual Bulldog — It’s definitely better than telling women to go on Atkins, or something like that! I just wish that this mass appeal of veganism didn’t come w/all the baggage of telling women You Have to Be Skinny. I mean, it seems like in a way it’s just repackaging veganism as another fad diet… & I wonder if folks will then abandon veganism if it doesn’t make them skinny (as it won’t, for everyone, b/c not everyone is genetically programmed to be “skinny”).

  7. Rob Says:

    I feel you’re projecting you’re own negativity towards this book, plus, you haven’t even read it, how you feel you can comment about it is lost on this reader.

    any book that can bring this kind of awareness to the general public should be welcomed, not bashed. yes its quite obvious the authors used women’s insecurities to get them to read it, but in the end the reader comes away with a clear picture of how to eat healthy, how can this be bad?

    plus you’re argument that this is a white issue is just sad, a purely negative reaction.

    robert

  8. Rob Says:

    Jesse’s – well said, (comment #4) you wrote it much better than i did

    the author of this blog is judgmental, and is also stereotyping the readers (white).

  9. vegansofcolor Says:

    Rob — You’ll notice that I said up front in my post that I was basing my comments on what has been said about the book. That, & the attention the book has gotten based on its name, are very illustrative of the ways in which women are supposed to freak out about their weight. I think it is very possible to critique the sensation the book has become just by looking @ what other people say about it, which is what I did.

    @ what price is this book bringing vegan awareness to the general public? @ the price of maintaining, & contributing to, the idea that women must be skinny to be worthwhile human beings? That’s too high a price, in my opinion. Bringing vegan awareness to a greater audience is awesome — doing it @ the expense of women? Not awesome.

    Also? I’m so over people saying that looking @ things from a viewpoint that includes race is just being negative.

  10. Noemi Says:

    Also? I’m so over people saying that looking @ things from a viewpoint that includes race is just being negative.
    I agree w/ this sentiment. I examine everything through this lens, no rose colored glasses here.

  11. lintil Says:

    i read in the toronto star how the authors want to do a version of the book for men – i.e. guys won’t pick up a book called skinny bitch right? so they said maybe they’d title it skinny bastard. gee, i can’t wait to see it.

    can i make an entry request? i think it’d be awesome if you could do an interview with the people at strictly roots (the jamaican vegan place in nyc). it’s a really good e.g. of veganism in communities of colour. there’s also a lot of chinese influence there that one wouldn’t usually expect, e.g. using tofu, and using plates that you’d normally see in chinatown! i thought that was cool. :)

  12. vegansofcolor Says:

    Noemi — a-fucking-men!

    Lintil — huh. “Bastard” has rather a different connotation than “bitch” does, & I’m not sure how that would play out. I’m sure it’ll be a fabulous book anyway. Ha ha.

    A Strictly Roots interview is a great idea!! Or perhaps Veggie Castle II — which is near my place (10 min. bus ride + 10 min. walk). Apparently it’s been open for about 2 years, but I only knew about the original Veggie Castle (now closed) in Brooklyn. I wish I’d heard of it before — we could’ve gone when you were here! We went to get lunch there on New Year’s Eve & the place was hopping. And the food was tasty. :)

  13. lagusta Says:

    YAY! What a great post, I completely agree, and I love that we both picked up on that insane insane quote from that NYC fashion publicist. Goddamn, I fucking loathe the SB phenomenon!!!

    If I knew how to neatly link to my post, I would, but I don’t, so oh well.

    Anyway, I am so happy your blog exists and that the only other blog I’ve seen with my same theme is such an insanely awesome one!!

  14. By the way, I decided to get the book and read it. And while it does have some moments that are just awful, it’s also got a lot of good stuff. I think it’s gotten a bit of an unfair reputation because of the title, the cover image, and some earlier reviews. It’s written in a style that will be very off-putting to some people, but it’s really not bad. I think it should have been edited a bit more and I hope future editions are cleaned up here and there, but I see why it’s so popular – it’s extremely accessible. And when you think about it, there really aren’t any other books about veganism and health that are so super easy and fun to read.

  15. noemi Says:

    Elaine, I don’t get how promoting thinness (because being fat is the big bad ala buffy) and associating it w/ veganism is a good & fun thing to read. and I won’t use the excuse that there is nothing out there that is fun and easy to read for folks that want to be vegan as a reason to promote this book.

  16. johanna Says:

    Lagusta, thanks for your comment! (& your truffles, which I have enjoyed previously ;) )

    Elaine — I feel like whatever good stuff is in the book will always, of necessity, be subsumed to the title. I mean, it’s the title, y’know? Supposedly representative & all that. And who will find a book that tries to shame women for not being “skinny” a “fun” read, & who won’t? Also, I get frustrated that a lot of people assume that objections about the language are referring to the cursing (you didn’t say that, Elaine, I’m just mentioning that more generally). Most folks who’ve met me know I swear like a sailor & love the snark. My language-based objections are to how they contribute to shame & hatred revolving around weight.

    Noemi: yes! As usual I agree w/you. ;)

    This is all making me think more about why vegans feel the need to make veganism “fun.” Maybe another post sometime from me pondering that.

  17. I don’t get how promoting thinness (because being fat is the big bad ala buffy) and associating it w/ veganism is a good

    They definitely made some mistakes and there is some fat shaming, but their hearts are in the right place. For example, here are a few quotes from the book:

    “We have been so brainwashed by fad diets, magazine articles, and advertising that we have forgotten how to think for ourselves. Skinny Bitch delivers the truth about food, so that you can make intelligent and educated decisions for yourself.” (from the Introduction)

    “We really couldn’t care less about being skinny. [...] our real hope is for you to become healthy.” p224

    The good stuff comes in sentences like this:
    “The USDA will protect the data confidentiality of farms that are supplying the public with contaminated meat? Why don’t they just give all the ranchers blowjobs, too?” p96

    “Vegetarians need not worry [about protein]. Researchers at Harvard found that vegetarians (who don’t live on junk food) get adequate amounts of protein in their diets.” p85

    “A simple way to get adequate calcium us by including the following foods in your diet: fortified grains, kale, collard greens, mustard greens, cabbage, kelp, seaweed, watercress, chickpeas, broccoli, red beans, soybeans, tofu, seeds, and raw nuts.” p62

    And it’s not just about veganism. They tell readers to avoid sugar and caffeine. They recommend vitamin supplements and exercise.

    Even with the dose of fat shaming, they throw other stuff in there like:
    “Love yourself and your looks, even if no one else seems to.” p191 and “don’t go anorexic on us.” p184

    It’s got a good resources section and a bunch of endnotes. It’s far from perfect the perfect book, but you know what? It’s a good start.

    So… I’ve noticed that the book has received a ton of criticism from a lot of people who haven’t even read it. At first I thought it was warranted because of the title, but more and more I think some of it is just an anti-vegan smear campaign. Just look at who has written about Skinny Bitch – a bunch of omnivores who “have nothing against veganism” and many of whom haven’t read the book. The truth is, the book is much more about information about meat, dairy, eggs, sugar, caffeine, etc. than it is about fat shaming. And it’s done in a very accessible way that appeals to a lot of people.

  18. johanna Says:

    Elaine, that’s a good point about people perhaps taking the opportunity to complain about Skinny Bitch just to slam veganism. But at the same time, clearly there are vegans who don’t like this philosophy as well, & I’d hate for our voices to get lumped in w/the non-vegans who are slamming the book.

    I appreciate that they may have good nutritional information in the book, but is it worth it when it is surrounded by this mantle of body hate? To me, it doesn’t sound like the tiny steps they make in the direction of body acceptance are likely to be really effective in mitigating the larger frame, about fat hatred, that their title & most of their book seems to be putting across.

    Also, I still think that the quote about not caring if people are skinny would be more potent if it wasn’t hidden in that epilogue that is itself hidden past the endnotes & index & stuff (which isn’t usual for books).

  19. Kristina Says:

    So… I know this is rather late after posting, but…

    1. I think Elaine missed the point with this one, the title “Skinny Bitch” gives away their intentions. There is more than just a little bit of fat shaming, the entire premise of the book is that going vegan will make you a skinny supermodel-esque woman. This only serves to reinforce the disturbing standards for beauty in the United States. Its prominent place in the media also served to obscure the true message of veganism: helping all animals (human and non). Which brings me to…

    2. If you search “veganism” or “vegan” in LiveJournal’s interests category, the very first result that turns up is a “pro-ana/pro-mia” community. Hm.

  20. [...] constituencies previously not conscious of animal issues. Personally, I find the whole phenomenon a bad move, & I’m not alone either). Yay, let’s make veganism fun (for some values of [...]

  21. [...] because Asians are all thin & veganism makes you lose weight, lucky me. (A fallacious argument I hate — two links there, [...]

  22. [...] “Skinny (White) Bitches” from Vegans of Color (Feb. 2008) [...]

  23. Julie Says:

    I am not a vegan and don’t want to become vegan. The impact our diet has on our bodies is not very well understood. How do you know that eliminating animal products might not have a negative impact? How can you be sure that they have a greater negative impact than a positive one? Life always teaches us that we don’t have all the answers.

    Do you really feel confident that you can identify each and every component that impacts human health in all animal products? No one actually can, so why would you take that risk?

    Diet has always had passing fads. In the 70s it was all about taking vitamins and minerals and eating from each of the the basic food groups. That was the key to healthy living. Later this was called into question. Should you eat when you take vitamins? Which vitamins have to be taken together to work properly? More recently, we have begun to question the value of vitamins alone because scientists continue to discover new properties such as antioxidants which have a great impact on our health. Red meat has been blamed for many health issues while red wine has been praised. Could marketing have a hand in this sometimes too? Good fats and bad fats – sunflower seeds were considered empty calories a few years back and now they are a healthy addition to our diet. I could go on and on. The more I learn the less I know.

    Why chance it?


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