Off your feed
Most of today was wasted on thinking about Skinny Bitch, the vegan-with-a-vengeance diet bestseller that's all about insulting women and making them feel guilty about the cruel abuse of the animals whose flesh, milk or eggs land on our tables.
As if we don't have enough issues around food, you know?
Don't get me wrong: I am all for significantly cutting back, or even cutting out, all meat, poultry and most seafood. My reasons are partly humanitarian and partly environmental. It's green to eat green. I haven't had veal in 30 years, loathe lamb and I don't touch pork anymore. (I never got over Babe, and I believe pigs are so intelligent that killing them is like slaughtering dogs.)
That said, I continue to enjoy cheese, although I eat it sparingly because of its fat content. I only buy eggs from chickens that are free-run and given organic feed. And I avoid those fish which are endangered.
That's the good. The bad is that I eat a lot of chicken. The ugly is, I will never give up putting milk in my coffee.
I do pretty well, considering. That's because, having grown up in a Greek-ish family, I quite enjoy the Mediterranean diet of fruit, veg, whole grains, legumes, nuts, olives and fish.
If Greeks (in Greece) are among the longest-lived people in the world, they can thank (a) their mountainous country which forces them to climb a lot and (b) their Orthodox religion which has so many ''fasting'' days on which you have to lay off animal products that, 200 days a year, you're virtually a vegan.
But back to Skinny Bitch.
(When friends go on and on about how it opened their eyes to the cruelty-to-animals industrial complex, I have to ask them how they can then justify their leather shoes, suede bags, lambskin jackets or down coats. I'm a fat bitch, I guess.)
In yesterday's edition of Salon, Julie Klausner does a fierce job of flailing the Skinny Bitch authors, Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin.
Many women, hoping to get saucy advice from two stunners about staying slim, have felt duped by the offerings of what the authors proudly tout as a "manifesto." Aspiring Bergdorf blondes buy copies of "Skinny Bitch" at L.A. boutiques, only to be blindsided with accounts of live cows skinned alive on the assembly line. At least when a Hare Krishna gives you a vegetarian cookbook in the airport, you know -- thanks to their flower-wielding characterizations in Zucker brothers movies -- that they are cultish wack jobs. But Barnouin and Freedman, under the ruse of weight loss expertise, alternate concern for animal abuse with reader abuse.
The relentless bullying peppered throughout the authors' advice accounts for much of the book's humor, including quips like "you need to exercise, you lazy shit," "coffee is for pussies" and "don't be a fat pig anymore." It was a formerly anorexic friend of mine who nailed it when she read excerpts from the book. "When you have an eating disorder," she told me, "that's the voice you hear in your head all the time."
Thanks to "Skinny Bitch," women who hate their bodies no longer need rely on their own self-loathing to stoke the flames of what seems like motivation but is actually self-flagellation -- penance for the sin of being too fat. Now dieters can have the convenience of a former model (Barnouin) and a former modeling agent (Freedman) putting their transgressions in the black-and-white terms of right and wrong. "If you eat crap," they chirp, "you are crap."
That pretty much says what I feel about the book. But hey, women will subject themselves to any amount of abuse -- even self-abuse -- in their quest or desire to be thin.
Which brings me to this, a column by The Guardian's Kira Cochrane, who today launched a series about her own struggles with weight.
Taught from a young age that looks and size are all-important, women often learn to keep a check on their eating, and each other's, too, before they even reach kindergarten. So, for instance, you hear grandmothers tell their three-year-old granddaughters that they'll never get married if they don't cut out the cake. You hear one schoolfriend (OK, me) being asked by another how much she weighs, to which the only reasonable answer, of course, is to subtract 10lb from the actual amount and announce the revised figure. Being met with a look of disgust and "Oh, how awful" told me all I needed to know. Next time I'd subtract 20.
As an adult, the conversations often become less vicious, but descend instead into a soul-sucking round of apology and reassurance. A constant run of dialogue between women that starts, "Oh, I'm so fat" (meaning, "Do I look fat? How much do I need to deny myself today? How long can I leave it before I ask this question again and make it clear to everyone around me that - yep, that's right - I don't actually like myself all that much?"), to be met by the reply, "No! You look amazing!" (meaning, "You look fine, same as usual, and please respond similarly when I assail you with this question.")
I understand why women engage in these conversations, and why we feel that if we don't apologise for the space we take up, we're afraid that someone else will get in first and cut us down. I understand, too, that for some women these conversations are actually a way of highlighting just how thin they are, thus shoring up their place in some vast unspoken pecking order. And while I find it utterly depressing that a woman would feel that her weight - or lack of it - represents her major achievement, given that we live in a society in which women are, on average, paid 17% less than men, make up only a fifth of MPs, a 10th of leading company directors, and have little choice but to watch in horror as less than 6% of reported rape cases end in a conviction, I can understand why women often don't feel that they or their abilities are really valued, and try to assert whatever small slice of power they can through drawing attention to their body by denigrating it. I understand it, and I don't blame anyone who does it, and I have done it myself, but I also really hate it. It is boring. It is tiring. It is sad.
Cochrane has some great insights, and you should read the whole thing.