A friend recently lent me the book Skinny Bitch, by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, with a request that I read it and write about it for my blog. The book is touted as “a no-nonsense, tough-love guide for savvy girls who want to stop eating crap and start looking fabulous!” Since the book assumes that self-loathing and envy are great motivators (it even has a chapter entitled “Don’t Be a Pussy”), I can see why my friend wanted me to write about it.
A feminist opinion of this book is a no-brainer: the book uses unhealthy cultural attitudes about women as a marketing gimmick. Hate yourself because you’re fat? Want other women to envy you? Lose weight our way! My reaction? No thanks—I don’t really want other women calling me a skinny bitch and whispering behind my back.
The first time I consciously and consistently approached weight loss, including carefully thinking about what and how I eat, was after the birth of my daughter. The book that helped me most—and I’ll note here that I’m not a person who follows diet plans—was Dr. Phil’s The Ultimate Weight Solution. The book presents seven keys to weight loss, the first of which is self-acceptance. Now that is a much better starting point than self-loathing, don’t you think? And it is possible: Dr. Phil doesn’t pull any punches, and he doesn’t let you get away with excuses. He just doesn’t call you a “lazy shit” like Rory and Kim do.
But Rory and Kim didn’t really write a book about weight loss—how to achieve it and maintain it (although if you follow their advice, now and forever, I have no doubt you’ll lose weight). They wrote a political book about what we eat and why and wrapped it in the platitudes of the latest Cosmo. I wish they had marketed the book differently, because—as a political book about food—it is insightful, frightening, and culturally necessary.
This book arrived in my life at a time when I am seriously examining food. My daughter has become gluten intolerant, and I’ve learned that almost half the population has a problem with gluten. Why? It’s in everything. Once you start thinking about everything your family consumes, and I mean everything (toothpaste, Tylenol, Claritin, baked beans, Jell-O, mustard…), you begin to understand just how far from the earth we’ve drifted as a people. And just how much it’s hurting us. Ultimately, that is the point that the authors of Skinny Bitch make. Here are some quick facts I learned from this book:
- Aspartame, the sweetener in Diet Coke (to which I have been addicted, with brief hiatuses for my pregnancies, for years), has a seriously murky history. It shouldn’t have been approved—many scientists said so—and was anyway, for political reasons. Guess what? Today is my first day going Diet-Coke free. And I’m switching to Stevia, a plant-based sweetener (my brand is Truvia), for my tea. So thanks for that, Skinny Bitch book.
- The way we treat animals that are meant for our consumption is beyond repulsive. I suspected that already, but this book told me about it in such excruciating detail that I had to skim that chapter. I’m not planning to be a vegetarian (Kim and Rory are vegan, and that is what the book recommends), but I do plan to seek out meat from animals that are treated humanely and fed in a way that will nourish me and my family.
- Politicians are not only untrustworthy when it comes to money, women, and power—they’re untrustworthy when it comes to money, food, and power. Not shocking, but the details of it—well, they make you REALLY want to buy organic food, approved by some nice farmers who are running a small operation.
The book is revelatory in many ways, discussing in detail the way our bodies function and interact with the food we eat, as well as the political infrastructure that has created the current food chain. My guess is that some of the science could be refuted by other science—isn’t that always the way?—but the research is solid, the bibliography is filled with credible references, and you can’t read this book without realizing that something needs to change about the way we feed ourselves.
Which leads me to my final issue with the book: the solutions that Rory and Kim present are only feasible for a very small portion of the population, but our food system affects the whole population—poverty and malnutrition go hand in hand, and always have. The authors recommend a vegan diet, list trusted sources of prepared organic foods, and expect their audience (whom they describe as having the money for regular manicures and pedicures) to go hungry between small vegan meals in the name of envy.
Rory and Kim didn’t invent the financial issues connected to eating well. Buying fresh fruits and vegetables and reliable organic products is expensive. Eating fast food or a bag of chips is not. That’s the system. These women expose it, but I wish they did more to combat it. And I really wish they’d trusted their message to stand for itself and trusted their readers to care about more than how fast they can stop hating themselves so someone else can envy them.