Monday, February 11, 2008

Bitch, Bitch, Bitch

Don't call me a bitch, because I'm not one. I don't like the term when applied to women, and I think the "reclaiming" of the term as a symbol of grrrl-power is stupid and offensive. Yet, I continue to encounter this word as I explore the world of career-minded books aimed at women. You know these books. They are pink, and throw around words like "success," "savvy," and "sophisticated."

I click through the covers of these magenta manuals on Amazon, and buy a few, and check the rest out from the library. The bad buys go up on Half.com. Recently one of my browses flicked me past the mostly career centric guides and into the "lifestyle" section. As if career management were just part of the glam 20-something lifestyle we were sold in the beginning of this millennium, along with Jennifer Aniston's hair and Kate Spade handbags. I flicked the spinner through the titles and landed on Skinny Bitch. I peeked into the "Search Inside" option on Amazon and found myself looking at a description of soda as "Liquid Satan."

While the Mean Girls tone of narrative turned me off, at the same time, I was fascinated. Here was a voice that might be able to tell me not to drink soda. (I kicked the Coca-Cola habit cold-turkey six years ago, but for the past five, I've swapped my addiction for Canada Dry.) In fact, that one paragraph actually kept me away from ginger ale for two whole days, which is very impressive. So I put it on my request list from the library (I was 22nd in line when I put in the request).

Today I happened upon Julie Klausner's smart and, dare I say it, sassy review of Skinny Bitch, and well, I'm glad I read it first, so I can take my request out from the library list. (I think I'm 15th in line now, but someone else can take my place.) It turns out that Skinny Bitch is actually a disguised vegan manifesto--something not discernible from the "Search Inside" snippet I read. But worse was the moronic feeling that I had been tricked by the nastiness of the authors. Anyone can yell at you not to drink soda. But it takes a special packaging to belittle the audience your selling yourself to:

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."

It's not as if I eat crap, I eat fairly well-balanced meals, crave vegetables, and don't ingest half the amount of chocolate that I used to (don't ask how much that was). I don't want to read a book that demeans and denigrates me. Books are supposed to be my friends, and I wouldn't want a friend to talk to me that way. And besides, I can't stand being called a bitch.

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