Saturday, May 9, 2009

Why I am not a "skinny bitch"

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

I like to use this blog to procrastinate. And currently, I'm working on a paper about pregnancy advice books that's making me tear my hair out - so I'm taking some time off to express how I feel about these books in non-academic language (oddly, they don't like it when you curse or use sarcasm - yet another reason why I may not go to grad school). Particularly, I'd like to talk for a minute about Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven, which is about as subtle, practical and useful as Bristol Palin's latest abstinence tour. I have never gotten past the first page of the original Skinny Bitch book (any book that begins "Healthy = skinny. Unhealthy = fat" is likely to render me either sputtering with anger or sobbing by the end), but for this paper, I read a significant portion of the book, simply because I'm writing about the way pregnancy advice books address nutrition, caffeine, alcohol and medication, and the authors of Skinny Bitch seem mostly interested in using their book to shame women who don't consult the book before they consume so much as a prenatal vitamin.

Not only are the authors personally unpleasant (I have no idea why this book sold so well - I hope no one is enough of a masochist to read to the end), but they manage to say very little that's helpful for pregnant women. Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven is actually a vegan manifesto that sees women's health and well-being as an unfortunate casualty.

This is very upsetting for me, because I'm a lifelong vegetarian and I agree with everything they're saying. I cried last semester while I was reading a Michael Pollan article about the beef industry - it really doesn't take much to get me worked up about these issues. But when they choose to couch their message in language like this, I have a lot of trouble getting behind their cause.

"Being a mom means being compassionate and caring. Not just toward your own baby, but in general. Just because you can’t see what’s happening doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Every time you have a craving for meat or dairy, remember what goes on inside every farm, slaughterhouse, and processing plant. You and your baby are what you eat."

Excuse me? I'm not sure what I was expecting from a book called Skinny Bitch, but this certainly defies my expectations - and not in a good way. I read an article in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago about the latest in the Skinny Bitch franchise - Skinny Bastard (apparently men are no longer exempt from the heckling that these authors feel qualified to bestow). I am so, so sick of the PETA approach to animal rights. I fully support their cause, and I don't disapprove of a vegan diet for pregnant women (although I do think that it's unrealistic for many), but these books (and many of PETA's ads) are served with a large dollop of misogyny that I just can't stomach.

Being healthy is not about being a "skinny bitch" (if you're still stuck on the idea that body weight equals health, read this). Yes, it would be better to eat less sugar and drink less soda, but is shaming women by saying that "soda is liquid satan" worth it? Wouldn't it be better if - gasp - women felt good about themselves, and wanted to be healthy, not just because they were nagged by a book or shamed by an ad on TV? What would it be like if pregnant women actually felt that they had control over their bodies, and were competent adults capable of making their own decisions about things like caffeine or alcohol? Unthinkable! If everyone felt good about themselves, how would we sell self-help books?

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