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.