August 6, 2007

The Book Skinny Bitch

Posted in books, emotional healing, mental health, physical health, veganism at 4:40 pm by nevavegan

The authors of Skinny Bitch were on the Today Show. I would love to hear some further discussion of the pros and cons of Skinny Bitch, but an internet search turned up almost nothing except some book reviews.

Apparently “Posh Spice” has been photographed with the book, though she gave some statement that she eats fish. Am I the only one who finds it odd that such a very thin woman would be reading a weight loss book? But ok, moving on…

I have to admit that I purposefully have not read the whole book, but only a few excerpts, because I really don’t need to feel any worse about myself or the way I look. So maybe I’m not in the best position to comment. I know people in real life who would be happy to call me a “loser” and a “fat pig” but I avoid them, so why would I pick up a book to put that kind of stuff in my head.

While marketing veganism as a weight loss diet may get people to give veganism a try, I have doubts about the sustainability of such an approach. This might also be why it can be criticized as a “fad diet” as opposed to a sustaining lifestyle that is kind to animals, the planet, and our own bodies. People tell me that Skinny Bitch encompasses these ideas too, and it’s not merely a weight loss book.

Part of my concern is from participating in the Vegan People forum and seeing quite a few young women join the forum and post that Skinny Bitch has inspired them to try veganism for weight loss and describing their current non-vegan diet and asking for help finding vegan versions. Most of the non-vegan diets being described were severely calorie and nutrient deficient to begin with, and it did worry me that veganism was being regarded as a new way to be eating disordered.

This is troubling because I know that I have had difficulty finding doctors that didn’t regard my own veganism as a form of eating disorder, to the point that now if I need to find a new doctor I have to open with “I’m vegan. I take this seriously as an ethical lifestyle. I am not underweight. Here is my height, here is my weight. I eat 3-4 good meals a day. If my veganism is going to be a problem with you, it’s better that we just agree right now that I should find a different doctor.”

Another thing I find worrisome is the alleged catch phrase of Skinny Bitch which is “skinny=healthy, fat=unhealthy.” Because this is so glaringly inaccurate, I wonder if people will disregard all other information in the book. While I agree that everything else being equal, it is better to be a healthy weight than overweight, mortality studies actually show that being underweight is associated with a higher premature death risk than being slightly overweight according to BMI indexes (though these stats might be misleading as nearly all athletes are “overweight” by BMI charts).

Furthermore, some diseases, like osteoporosis are more common in thinner people. I hope Skinny Bitch covers exercise and physical fitness. It is worth mentioning that there is increasing awareness lately of how being thin but out of shape carries significant health risks and that people who appear thin but don’t exercise can have similar organ damage as the obese. So skinny definitely does not automatically equal healthy.

The language is actually an issue for me, though others may disagree. I don’t believe in calling women “fat pigs,” nor do I approve the use of words like “pussy” as a derogatory term because it implies something inherently defective in being female, particularly as the term is generally used to mean weak, wimpy, useless, etc. So many women (and I think more and more men as well) in our culture already have self-defeating “tapes” playing in our heads telling us our worth is based on our physical appearance and weight, and that in those regards we can never measure up. I’d prefer to see veganism promoted in a more holistic way that empowers rather than degrades people.

I do think a low-fat vegan diet, in addition to an exercise plan can help people be healthier and in some cases lose weight. But I’m a vegan who couldn’t be called “skinny,” though I think I’m relatively healthy. I hate to encourage a mindset that does only value women for what they look like or a number on the scale. A person can be overweight and still do good work to help animals, contribute to society and culture in many ways, and look very attractive while doing it all.

By all means disagree with me, though. Tell me more about this book, so I won’t cave into the desire to read the whole thing and risk restarting those self-critical tapes in my head.

Edit: I edited this entry because I worried that I was implying all vegans are thin, which they’re not, or that people who weigh more than they should are somehow not trying hard enough, which is also something I didn’t mean to say.

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15 Comments »

  1. Anna said,

    How funny, I just literally got a package from Amazon with this book in it and then clicked on my Bloglines and found your book.

    I have been vegan for 3 years and have always had weight issues. I actually gained weight when I went vegan and have also gained weight from 2 pregnancies that I now need to get rid of.

    I think the term ‘fat pig’ is one that a lot of women think about themselves, I know it’s a phrase I’ve used in my head against myself. The book claims that it will you find a healthy way of life rather than being a fad diet, and I’m hoping that it will give me some pointers to make my vegan diet more healthy, we’ll see!

    I’m sure I’ll post something on my blog about it once I’ve read it.

  2. mary martin said,

    I haven’t read the book, but I did want to refer you to Sam Harris’ The End of Faith regarding an earlier post of yours about violence. Harris’ position is that pacifism is unethical and that standing by and letting yourself or others be hurt or killed because of nonviolence is ridiculous. I’m seriously paraphrasing, as I left the book at the aveda spa this morning (coloring my gray hair), so I don’t have the quote in hand. Started me re-thinking nonviolence in general (particularly regarding our current war). Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have the same belief. Very convincing, for me. If you haven’t read them, you might find them helpful or at least interesting.

  3. jen said,

    i have no interest in weight loss books, even when they are supposedly a back-door way to convince people to go vegan.

    i don’t think this book can do harm in terms of un-empowering women or promoting an unhealthy attitude toward eating and weight compared to everything else out there. i am also almost certain (even knowing almost nothing about it) that it’s not going to do any good either. in my view, if it “tricks” some women into going vegan, great (for the animals’ sake). if not, whatever, the book is a non-issue. books like that are a dime a dozen.

  4. springsandwells said,

    Hi Neva,
    as always, your blog is so thought-provoking! it’s great to be back in the saddle after a busy month.

    There are SO many things in this post that got me thinking… but I’ll try to stay on track.

    First off, I haven’t read the book.

    That said, I find the tone of the title alone enough to keep me away. Along the lines of what you’ve said – I don’t really need to spend my sacred reading time soaking up a message of veganism that’s coated in snarky nastiness and sarcasm.

    For me, veganism is part of a larger commitment toward non-harming, and the tone of this book immediately implies that they author is coming at it from a different angle.

    Also, over the years, I’ve found that what made veganism particularly transformational in my life was that I was doing it for *someone else*. The difference between being vegan to lose weight and look skinny, vs. being vegan to help reduce the suffering of others is huge.

    It’s great to be healthy, and it’s great to to be fit. But as a yoga teacher who looks at all sorts of bodies (& spirits) all the time, I can *definitely* confirm that skinny does not necessarily equal healthy. It might be a part of the ideal package, it is definitely not a guarantee.

    In fact, I know many vegans who seem to have borderline food issues and always look unhealthy and frail to me – rather than generally fit and vital.

    And finally, no you are not the only person who observed the odd creepiness of Victoria Beckham buying a book about getting skinny. Yipes!

  5. Anonymous said,

    Vegans run around complaining that more people aren’t joining the cause, but when a book comes out (written by a strong woman)promoting veganism you all sit and still complain. Get a clue. This book has reached the masses and promotes the only proper diet. I have heard countless people have taken up a vegan diet because of it. I commend the authors for spreading the word of veganism. I also commend them for taking control of their life and not blaming others.

  6. Sean said,

    To Anonymous/C.H.:

    Countless people may be trying a “vegan” diet because they think it will make them skinny, but how many people stick with any diet?

  7. Anonymous said,

    Sean,

    You proved my point exactly. Are you never happy? Stop trying to second guess something. If they try it and stay with it, more power to them for making the switch. One of the authors was converted by her college roommate who I also know. I say kudos to her for converting as many as possible.

  8. jen said,

    neva, did you know you can disallow anonymous comments? people always are much ruder when their name isn’t on their comment, it’s very cowardly.

    this particular anonymous commenter seems to have missed the point of neva’s post. even if we assume that the book will “convert” people to long-term veganism (which is debatable), if that is done at the expense of adding to the already-voluminous disempowering “noise” women are constantly bombarded with surrounding weight-loss diets and body image, then is it worth it? it’s a valid question.

  9. Sue Walker said,

    Thanks Jen, I wasn’t a Google blogger, but since you feel emboldened to call me a coward I found that I can post with my name even when not a member. Everyone feels so confident on blogs or emails regardless of using their name or not.

    I understand Neva’s point, but it is an argument to keep women down. I went to college in the 60’s and raised my daughter as a strong confident woman who ignores the fears of woman who can’t stand up for themselves and against men who try to keep her down. She has done very well and her young daughter has a great role model.

  10. Neva Vegan said,

    Thanks Anna, you’ll have to let me know how you like the book. I also gained some weight as a vegan (not that it’s always unhealthy to gain). If you find the book helpful or inspirational I hope you’ll stop back in and let me know. I do want to hear the good along with the bad!

    Mary!! I need to read the book naturally, considering all the discussions you and I have had on the topic.

    Jen, you’re right, the weight loss books and the unhealthy messages are everywhere, so it’s not like there’s anything about this book that is all that different, except that it is also promoting veganism. People have told me it also contains ethical information too, so that’s a plus.

    Thanks Springs and Wells, it’s nice to hear the perspective of someone who works to keep people healthy. I appreciate also that you got what I was saying in terms of what I want to fill my head with and what I’d rather not fill my head with… I don’t mean to say that the book might not help some people. I just know from my own experiences how hurtful insults can be, so that’s a personal turn off to me, nor would I insult someone I care about.

    Sean, thanks for pointing out that people might not stick with veganism if it’s just for weight loss. I’ve been vegan long enough to have seen many vegan friends go back to eating meat. The ones that seemed to give it up first had hoped to lose weight or experience optimal health and quickly got discouraged. I do think we can lose weight and be healthy as vegans, but at the same time, the ethics keep us going through the rough spots. Also, I read about an actress who went from vegan to low-carb because she wasn’t losing enough weight as a vegan. Eeeek.

  11. Neva Vegan said,

    Thanks Jen for totally understanding my point. Can we help animals by putting others down? Though I am for people having a healthy lifestyle, I am not so much for emphasizing being thin over general health or using insulting language. But I am open to hearing from people who personally felt the book was helpful to them, especially if they can explain with some depth what specifically they loved about the book.

    C.H./”Sue Walker”

    This isn’t an argument to keep women down at all, and I’m not blaming anyone or failing to take control of my life. Part of taking responsibility for my life is recognizing those things that are damaging to me and avoiding them.

    I’m an ethical vegan, but I also avoid transfats because I know how bad they are for my body. I avoid toxic people and toxic messages for the same reason–they are harmful to my mind. The messages from our culture that emphasize physical appearance and a very thin body type really place style over substance. I find those messages unhelpful, even harmful to me, and likewise I would try to avoid passing them on to other women. Which has nothing to do with “standing up to men” or women for that matter, but is about holistically trying to promote the culture I would like to live in.

    I asked for comments on the book from both angles, those who love it and those who hate it because I didn’t want to read it myself. I’m already vegan, I lift weights and work out, I don’t need a weight loss book. Further the hype the said the book used insulting language alerted me that this was something I might not want to expose myself to.

  12. jen said,

    well, i don’t think anyone has ever accused me of being someone who can’t stand up for myself. if anything, i’m a bit too quick to stand up for myself. but for me, the whole fat thing is just embedded deep in my subconscious, it’s not something i can consciously control. i will always feel like skinny = attractive.

    i actually just had a conversation very much on point for this subject. i told a friend that it makes me uncomfortable that i, as a woman, am bigger than my male partner. she responded, of course, that this is ridiculous. i reassured her that i KNOW it’s ridiculous. and i would never date a MAN who believed that i should be smaller than him, or had other degrading opinions about women. but the fact remains, despite knowing how ridiculous it is, and despite the hypocrisy of holding potential partners to a higher standard of enlightenment than i myself have achieved, i still cannot help feeling icky about being bigger. i have zero control over having that thought.

    now, of course, we humans have big brains, and we can choose to base our decisions on rational ideas rather than subconscious fears. and i do. for the most part i’m ok with my body. and there’s a silver lining to all of this in terms of my health, because i’m a lot more motivated to eat well and work out for the sake of my appearance than i am for the sake of my health — if it weren’t for my body image issues i’d probably be unhealthily fat. but the fact remains that (1) i can’t help wanting to be thin, (2) even though i’m a very happy person, i’d be happier if i didn’t feel the pressure to be thin, and (3) this desire to be thin is obviously a result of our culture teaching me, at some point in my life, that skinny = good, fat = bad. so if that is “blaming other people for my problems,” i guess that’s what i’m doing.

  13. Neva Vegan said,

    Jen, thanks for your comments.

    I know what you mean about wanting to be smaller than your spouse. It’s not something that makes logical sense but it’s so deeply ingrained in us that it’s almost impossible to break out of.

    I’m interested that you say this has a positive effect though as you feel more motivated by the desire to be thin than by the desire for good health. I think that’s probably true of many people actually. Though I wish I could just tell everyone and have them actually hear it, that they all look great and they shouldn’t worry so much. But I do totally know what you mean! Actually I wish I could believe that I look great and shouldn’t worry so much!

    I do agree with you that society/culture put those ideas in your head. We do have to sometimes put blame where it belongs obviously! I meant I wasn’t blaming the authors of Skinny Bitch specifically for something that is so pervasive. They might be part of it but they didn’t create it.

    Ok, excuse me while I go wallow in some self indulgence for a while… Everyone else, look away please.

    I think I’ve been pretty open on this blog about some of the stuff I went through when I was younger in terms of my mother constantly harping on my weight and kids at school calling me ugly. I don’t say that to blame other people, but at the same time I do think I would feel differently about these things if I hadn’t been through that.

    I don’t know for certain, but I imagine that people who got more positive messages about their appearance growing up are likely to have a different perspective. Which is fine. Everyone is entitled to their own perspective. What isn’t cool is seeing someone in a vulnerable place and kicking them when they’re down, if that makes sense. So telling someone who is troubled by these negative messages that the very act of caring means there’s something wrong with us–not cool at all.

    Like you I have heavily internalized the messages that thin is better. So much so that when I lived at home with my parents and was being nagged and insulted every single day about my weight I dropped down to 85 pounds and had a seizure from being underweight. In other words, I was skinny, but not in a good or healthy way. When I left home to go to college and no longer got those daily messages on how bad I looked or had every bite I took criticized my weight ballooned. This wasn’t due to unhealthy eating really, so much as that my body was in starvation mode and saved every single calorie, so once I began to eat again I gained about 50 pounds and grew one inch taller within about a single year (and most women don’t grow taller after 18, so I think that demonstrates the extent of the malnutrition). Later my weight went down to about 120 when I lived in NYC and walked everywhere and had tons of stairs to climb and carried my groceries. Living now in a less pedestrian friendly area my weight has gone up again. But I do work out. My BMI is high, but I have muscle too.

    I hate to feel I am too heavy, and like anyone else I want to be attractive. On the other hand I really regret the years of damage I did to my body through starvation and I never ever want to see anyone else go through that. I am about six inches shorter than my sister; I am two inches shorter than my mother’s adult height before she started shrinking from osteoporosis. I do think that I’d be taller and my metabolism would work better if it were not for the starvation during those critical years from 12 to 18.

    I don’t mean to pin my problems on someone else, but I also think that someone who has never been in that position really has no idea what it’s like to grow up around abuse. Should I have been able to take better control of my life? Maybe. But I was so young and had been trained from an early age on not standing up for myself. Also sometimes people who have been there believe that their solutions or way of thinking should work for everyone. But this is not the case. Since we are all individuals there is no one size fits all solution.

    Anyway, I was going to say that someone who didn’t grow up with barrage of negative messages might find it easy to shrug off comments that are critical of their bodies. For me, I just can’t expose myself to those messages because I started getting the negative body messages when I was so young, even before I started school. I remember my brother eating as much as he liked for example, but if I wanted more food I’d be told “No, you’ll get fat and then you won’t have any friends because nobody likes fat people.” I remember being so hungry that I went into the garden and started eating just plain lettuce right from the plants and then I was punished for it. It breaks my heart really (if I can break my heart for myself?) because I look at pictures of me from when I was little and I just see a normal little girl, so I wish I could tell the younger me that I wasn’t fat and that I was ok.

    Naturally my situation is a far cry from most people’s and I don’t mean to imply a universality of grossly distorted body image. On the other hand I know a lot of beautiful, healthy, vibrant, active women who are miserable because they wrongly perceive themselves as overweight because they are constantly told that their body weight is more important than their brains. I think that’s unfortunate.

    But all that’s an aside from the book, because without having read the whole thing it’s hard for me to say how extreme it is in pushing this “thin is good” concept.

    The kind of twisted thing about it is that people are conditioned to find unhealthy images unattractive. In my case I destroyed most of the photographs of myself when I was really thin, for example there was one where I was holding my sister (she was maybe 3) and her arms were bigger around than mine and I just had to get rid of that. But I kept my high school graduation pictures. I know that I was having health problems from being too thin at that time, but when I’ve shown the pictures to other women they often say things like “don’t you wish you were that thin again?” or “you had great cheekbones then!” So we are trained to find these images attractive.

  14. Annie said,

    Just wanted to say..that you really can’t say much about this book unless you have read the entire thing. I have read the whole book..and it was awsome. I was an ethical vegan for some months.. and it seemed so easy for me at the time. i did however go back to eating meat 😦 grrr i was mad at myself..so i went to the book store..and found this book.. this book has really helped me to get back on track.. it talks about animal cruelty surounding the meat and dairy industries. It even has quotes from factory farm workers.. describing how they tortured the animals…really sick.. i think maybe it will hit up the young crowds.. i am only 20.. and i do kinda find the language immature..but obviously these girls are very informed!

  15. Annie said,

    oops forgot to add something.. the one thing that bothered me about the book is how they tell you to wait till you are starving.. to eat..thats not really a good idea..and as you or someone mentioned if your body is in starvation mode..it holds onto whatever you eat..because it’s not sure when it will eat next.. so they got that wrong which might make people question the validity of the whole book..


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