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.)