diets · eating · weight loss

Let’s Talk about the Myth of the Skinny Vegan Bitch

vegan-food-cc-300x400Here’s how the first installment in the Skinny Bitch series (authors Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin) starts:

Are you sick and tired of being fat?  Good. If you can’t take one more day of self-loathing, you’re ready to get skinny...

This is not a diet. This is a way of life. A way to enjoy food. A way to feel healthy, clean, energized and pure. It’s time to reclaim your mind and body. It’s time to strut your skinny ass down the street liek you’re in an episode of Charlie’s Angels with some really cool song playing in the background. It’s time to prance around in a thong like you rule the world. It’s time to get skinny.

It sounds almost empowering.  Almost.

The first red flag?  If you’re full of self-loathing then…wait for it…getting skinny is the answer!  If that’s not clear from the introduction, it is made super-clear on the first page of chapter one where it says: “Healthy = skinny. Unhealthy = fat.”  I’m sorry, but I think that simple equation has been firmly established as utterly false.

Getting healthy is a lot more complicated and is absolutely not correlated to being skinny.  Some of the least healthy people I know are really skinny.  The authors seem to maintain a distinction between a “skinny bitch” and a “scrawny bitch.” That’s when they recommend against over-exercising. Despite warning against over-exercising, they promise that “you’ll soon become addicted to exercising.”

And the mixed messages don’t stop there. They are opposed to fad diets, like low-carb diets (and especially Atkins). They encourage people to eat bread and fruit.  This makes it seem like a not very restrictive way of eating (a lifestyle, remember, not a diet).  But they have a whole chapter that explains why “Sugar is the Devil.”  That would make it thoroughly evil.  I’ve posted about why food is beyond good and evil here.

On the pro side (for me, anyway) they promote a vegan diet for lots of the right reasons too. They quote Linda McCartney, who said that “if slaughterhouses had glass walls, we’d all be vegetarians.”  They remind you that if you adopt a vegan diet, “you’re sparing the lives of at least ninety animals a year.” They even talk about the environmental impact of livestock farming (methane from livestock contributes a lot to global warming).

But I want to take issue with two of their fundamentals.

First, the whole bitch thing.  People are annoyed enough with vegans.  We are inconvenient, not just as dinner guests (“what will we feed you!?”) but as in-your-face reminders that your food choices have moral implications for other animals and for the planet.  So associating veganism with being a bitch. It’s just not the kind of PR we need.

Second, the idea that being vegan will make you skinny.  No. It’s just as easy not to be skinny as  a vegan as it is not to be skinny as a non-vegan.  There’s all sorts of vegan crap out there.

Now of course, the skinny bitch “philosophy” does not include vegan crap.  Nope. A skinny bitch will embark on a regimen of “pure eating.”  Remember: this is not a diet:

Never feel like or say you are “giving up” your favorite foods.  Those words have a negative connotation.  You are simply empowered now and able to make educated, controlled choices about what you will and won’t put into your body, your temple.  Be grateful that you know the truth about the foods you used to poison yourself with…Be excited about feeling clean, pure, healthy, energized, happy, and skinny.

So let me say this.  I’m vegan. Have been for over two years now.  I eat a fairly “clean” diet, in the sense that I choose lots of whole foods, no animal products, I don’t drink alcohol or take any drugs, I’m more active than my peer group.  But I am not skinny. I’m kind of average, really. And I was kind of average *before* I became vegan.  So the magical transformation won’t come simply by becoming vegan.

That’s not to say there aren’t all sorts of good reasons.  But becoming vegan is not to be approached as another diet that will get you thin.  And all this “pure and cleansing” talk–getting rid of toxins and so forth–it’s just not borne out by science. See this about juicing.

That’s my myth-busting message today:  Go for it! Become vegan (which is not just about food, by the way). But you don’t have to be a bitch and don’t listen to the people who promise you’ll be skinny.

Skinny isn’t even a great goal.  It’s not empowering.  And if you are experiencing self-loathing, try loving the body you have and treating yourself with compassion and care.  We have lots of that to go around on this blog!

15 thoughts on “Let’s Talk about the Myth of the Skinny Vegan Bitch

  1. My vegan sister about 2 weeks ago attacked the rest of our family as being sick, ugly people for eating meat and proceeded while we were eating dinner to show us scenes of a slaughterhouse on her labtop, while she continued to attack us verbally. Tracy, the presence of vegans around us does not in the least or in absolutely any way, whatsoever, serve as in-our-face reminders that our food choices have moral implications for animals and the planet. That’s complete you-know-what and nothing but the wishful thinking of a vegan. My brother’s response was to simply smile and whisper in his 14 year old daughter’s ear: “If I can catch it, and kill it, I can eat it.” His daughter sat there saying nothing, looking down, and just smiled although she was clearly uncomfortable. I told my sister to stop with the personal attacks, as she has no right to so attack us, and I told her that we all live in glass houses in many, many regards. And this is from me – who is strongly considering a vegetarian, if not a vegan lifestyle. Regarding everything else you say in this blog, you’re already speaking to the converted. 🙂

    1. My delusion I guess. I don’t usually attack anyone. I don’t find it productive. But I do think that vegans sometimes make people reflect. That’s been my experience. Not everyone, of course. There are many people who think their food ‘source’ is the meat fridge at the supermarket where all the white styrofoam trays of meat are nicely wrapped in plastic. They just don’t think about it at all.

      1. Oh, Tracy, always the vegan in mind, and the philosopher in heart. Not a bad way to go through life. Oh well, as said, I may be joining your ranks one day soon (on the vegetarian front – maybe vegan one day). Anyway, I think the issue is between intolerance on the one hand, and moral indignance on the other. Moral indignance in my experience leads far too often to cruelty and intolerance. I guess that’s my point in general.

      2. Also, people have to remember: if they hit, they very possibly will get hit back, and sometimes quite hard. So state your views for sure, but don’t hit others. One: you don’t have the right to. And two: you’re likely going to get hit back if you do. Plus you’ll become the bully – the monster. So it’s not going to work out for you. That’s all I’m really saying here.

  2. When I have a new guest to dinner, I always ask for preferences, aversions, and allergies — I don’t think feeding a vegan is hard.
    I didn’t eat meat for six years. I do now, and I remember the comments about how my hostess spent all day on a roast, or how the beef was grass-fed, and I won’t subject my guests to that.
    Unfortunately, most of the vegans I know are constantly spouting hateful lectures about how meat-eaters are destroying the world. But not all of them are like that. And not a one of them is thin.
    My scrawny friend eats enormous portions of whatever she wants and never exercises.
    I think what we need is balance. Not just within our own lifestyles, but when we interact with those whose lifestyles conflict with our own.

    1. I’ve been vegan for 4.5 years, and yeah, I’m skinny. I gradually cut back on meat & dairy; then processed vegan foods and refined sugar. I look and feel better than I ever have. My weekly migraines vanished. I don’t ever “attack” or judge people for eating animals but I do get a lot of rude comments about a( my weight and b) “that tofu sure looks unappetizing”.
      When people show interest in my eating habits, I tell them why I became a vegan and why I stick with it.
      And no, it’s really not hard at all.

  3. Can we also talk about how incredibly gendered this pitch is?

    Like, if I were looking for a diet/exercise regime to give me the body I wanted, I would 1) never pick up a book titled “Skinny Bitch” or, really, skinny anything; 2) if I did pick it up, I would put it back down once I saw the part about “strut[ting] your skinny ass down the street like you’re in an episode of Charlie’s Angels.” Why? Because the body I want is not a skinny, feminine or conventionally attractive one. I want to be (and am) big, strong, and visibly muscled. I want to have a body that is not immediately identifiable as female. I don’t particularly want to attract the male gaze.

    Otherwise, like Craig Burgess above, I am very receptive to people who want to recommend a vegan diet to me! I know I can meet my caloric and protein requirements that way, and I know it’s the right thing to do, if I can. So it’s like they’re shooting themselves in the foot by inserting all these assumptions about who the reader is and what kind of body the reader wants. I guess they wanted to get veganism a foot in the door of the mainstream diet-book press, and this is how mainstream diet books are written, maybe? But to me it’s just like, “Hey, gender non-conforming, not-necessarily-straight women reading this? You can leave now, because I have nothing to say to you.” So I do. Leave, that is.

  4. When I see “clean” and “pure” attached to diet talk, that is an enormous eating disorder red flag to me. (Veganism isn’t an eating disorder, of course, it’s a perfectly valid way to eat.)

    1. For sure these days we have to de-code everything. And yes, the words ‘pure’ and ‘clean’ are surely part of the diet-but-let’s-not-call-it-a-diet genre.

  5. This book irritated the crap out of me the first time I heard about it, and it continues to annoy me. There are so many good reasons to be veg*n but doing so to become skinny is just…ugh. I can’t even speak rationally about it. Why do so many diet books end up being so totally offensive on so many levels?

    I can also pinpoint this book as the moment I started to hate the word “skinny.” Not the body type itself but the actual word. It started to seem very ugly and smug to me, and that was just perpetuated by things like the Skinnygirl line of alcoholic drinks. “Skinny” is basically my “moist.”

    1. So true. The word ‘skinny’ annoys me to no end. I have a whole post about it coming up soon. The final straw was the ‘skinny water’ advertised for being calorie-free. As if there is another kind of water that isn’t calorie-free.

  6. Reblogged this on Fit Is a Feminist Issue and commented:

    Here’s a #tbt for you from four years ago. Though I would venture that veganism is more popular now than it was then, and is gaining followers all the time, myths still abound. And one of them is that you’ll get skinny real fast if you opt to eat a thoroughly plant-based diet. You won’t necessarily lose weight at all. But that’s not a reason not to try it. Another myth is that you can’t possibly retain muscle if you’re vegan. You can! I’ll write about that sometime next month. Meanwhile, enjoy this old post. I’m vegan, but I’m neither skinny nor a bitch (or so I like to think anyway)!

  7. I have always said to be wary of the skinny vegan (a mythical creation no doubt), simply because I always thought they touted “vegan” as a screen to hide their acquired eating disorder. In all fairness, a vegan diet, especially a raw vegan diet, will leave you feeling rejuvenated as well as looking “healthy” skinny. A postmodern beauty image that defies the former, over-glorified, and emaciated look of, “heroin chic.” You remember the look of those heroin addicted runway models from the 90s? So I agree. It’s not about so much as looking “thinner” as it is about feeling “better.” And perhaps one of the ways we can feel better is by lightening our conscience by knowing our food consuming “foot print” is aimed at promoting a healthier global environment.It, at the very least, is worth a try. Possessing a conscience in being mindful about one’s actions should be the goal of veganism. For example, I don’t need to kill another living being just to sustain my life here on this under-protected planet, over-consumed, global economy planet.

  8. I really relate to your point about how vegans make people feel uncomfortable because they’re forced to reflect on how their food choices have moral implications… I’m new to being vegan (about 3 months in as vegan, have been vegetarian for about 1.5 yrs)…I was at a bachelorette party last weekend and at every meal had people ask me about why I was vegan and then when I would tell them they got defensive about why they wouldn’t or couldn’t do it themselves! It was interesting to observe since I had only made the change recently and made a HUGE effort to not appear judgmental. I was also praised for not being “militant” with other people’s food choices and I found that odd. My response continued to be “the more I got educated on the implications for my health, the environment, and the truth about animal agriculture, the more I felt it was the only option. The more I did it, the easier it became, and now I love it.” I found myself struggling to strike a balance between avoiding being preachy, yet also not wanting to condone that which I don’t agree with. What is your advice for these situations? I said a lot of phrases like “I encourage you to read this or watch that” and “if everyone could cut down on their meat and dairy consumption I think it would be a great start.” I felt as though I was holding back the truth to not look like a bitch…. it was tough!

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