Back in the early 2000’s there was a very popular diet book called The Skinny Bitch diet. It was a New York Times bestseller, and a secret manifesto for an extreme form of veganism. You were of course, not to know this from the cover. The word “vegan” isn’t mentioned at all in the marketing. Your first clue that it’s bullshit is that they have to lie to you to get you to buy it. Then when you actually read it, they sell you a vegan diet with compelling, manipulative and graphic depictions of animal slaughter.
The book goes much further than just mere veganism though. It’s a highly restrictive way of eating. No animal products of any kind (not even honey, because it comes from bees) and no sugar, no refined carbs, no processed food (unless it was vegan… hypocritical much?), strongly encouraged organic food only, and no caffeine.
For a lot of women who were sick of being fat (so all of us back then, and yes obviously, you could be sick of being fat without even needing to be fat, that’s how pervasive fat hatred is), this was a very appealing book on the surface. It was like a sassy, edgy, cool diet book. It was marketed like chick lit, and for those of us tired of feeling sad and being on the sad Atkins diet or whatever, it seemed like this might be a diet book that would make us feel angry instead, which is much more satisfying.
The authors used really mean bullying language and lots of profanity; lovely little quips like “don’t be a fat pig anymore,” and “you need to exercise you lazy shit.” I LOVED it. Let me tell you, for somebody who deeply hated herself, this book was like a breath of fresh toxic air. The book hated me too! Finally, I had semi-scientific proof that I was horrible.
This mean ass book had me MORALLY CONVINCED that following its every command was the right thing to do. It was also a very convenient excuse for me to become the most annoying of all my friends and to have VERY STRONG OPINIONS about why this current version of restrictive eating was TOTALLY ABOUT LIKE THE PLANET AND STUFF and not because I hated my body and wanted to erase it somehow. One of the ways the diet industry loves to convince you to buy their books and products and restrict what you eat is by convincing you that you have a moral obligation to do so. Buy this or you’re bad- erase yourself or you’re bad- alienate all your meat-loving family and friends or you’re bad, and so on…
(P.S. I am not anti-vegan. I know there are reasonable vegans out there who have great reasons to be so. I also know that veganism is not a miracle cure for weight loss though, and that anybody selling you veganism as a weight loss method is not to be trusted. A vegan diet does not equal a place in Taylor Swift’s Supermodel Squad.)
Naturally, the authors had totally bullshit credentials, so they wrote a diet book of course, which was cool because they were also already thin. We all know that naturally thin people are like, total experts on losing weight. It’s kind of like if I had decided to become a mommy blogger before having my kid, even though I’d never given birth, because, I like totally have a mom. I was born! Listen to me!
So needless to say, this eating disorder masquerading as a diet worked it’s magic. I bought it all hook, line, and sinker. I followed the diet in this book for months, to the letter. I was very committed and yet remarkably, I never lost any weight. There are lots of reasons why scientists now believe diets don’t work, yet we keep trying them, and I was no exception. I spent tons of money on this diet too, because it was so restrictive and it was like, only the most expensive foods possible were on it. I was also starving all the time because everything was so low calorie I had to eat a ton of it not to feel hungry, then of course it would pass right through me and I’d be hungry again in what felt like minutes.
I remember the book telling me that skinny bitches only ate one piece of fruit for breakfast, that’s it, and only if we were starving could we have another piece of fruit. There is not a nutritionist in the world who would tell you one piece of fruit is enough calories or balance of nutrients to get you through an entire morning after you’ve not eaten since maybe 6 pm the night before, and that meal was carrots.
I talked about and defended this diet constantly in order to justify how annoying I had become, placing myself in an ever-spiraling cycle of being the most annoying person around. I was super socially detached, because I couldn’t eat nearly anything I didn’t prepare myself. I tried to save face a lot by just not eating in front of other people at all.
After months of this, eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore, but I was too embarrassed to admit to anyone that this totally unsustainable way of life was making me so miserable. I never “got used to it” as all diets promise. So I developed this habit of most nights, after starving myself all day or just not having enough money to buy organic avocados and raw almonds for 3 meals a day, going to Wendy’s after work and eating their latest monstrosity, an incredibly delicious sandwich called the Baconator, that feels like eating a heart attack in physical form, with large fries and a coke. I would shovel this into my mouth in secret in the parking lot of the Wendy’s, so nobody could see my shame, all the while mentally torturing myself for being such a failure.
Then in front of everyone else I would eat slices of orange bell pepper and talk about how much energy I had, even though I was constantly exhausted.
Then, one day while I was living my double life, I came across an article in O Magazine written by a fat girl about my size who had been dieting on and off for years and had stopped and embraced something called “fat acceptance.” From what I remember about this article (which is very little) she talked a lot about her relationship with her mom and how she thought diets were actually making her gain weight, I think? She said she had found peace when she started reading fat acceptance blogs. This was the most shocking thing in the article. These were literally like BRAND NEW words to me. Okay? FAT. ACCEPTANCE. What in the hell was that? I was instantly suspicious.
I was so fucking skeptical my eyes nearly rolled right out of my head, out the door and went off to live a life of their own somewhere without me and my confused ass brain, but the concept that there was something out there that might free me from this misery I was in was so fascinating I had to know more.
I googled “fat acceptance blogs,” with the same curiosity I would, “is Bigfoot real?”
The internet was a little different back then. If you google this today, you get directed to feminist websites that have entire catalogs of articles written about this. There’s a Wikipedia page for it. There are dozens of actual books written about it. There’s a whole glossary of new terms with which to discuss it. Back then, it was a relatively small community of bloggers who wrote on their own individual blogs and shared information. It was insulated. It was subversive.
I don’t know if I can properly convey how it felt to read these blogs. Literally for the first time in my fat life (all of it post puberty) I felt like I mattered, but more than that, I felt like myself. Truth bomb after truth bomb just flooded my consciousness. Everything was just a resounding brilliant exuberant form of “YES!” Fat people are people! It’s not nice to make fun of people, even if they’re fat! Fat people can be healthy! Skinny people are sometimes unhealthy! Diets don’t work! You deserve love! You are a person! Your body is not bad because it’s fat! Boom. Boom. Boom.
The fountain of all this fat acceptance wisdom seemed to emanate mainly from one place though, and that was Kate Harding‘s blog, Shapely Prose, where Kate and other bloggers dissected fat hatred, and proposed the radical feminist concept that fat people are people. She certainly wasn’t the only influential blogger, but she was definitely at the top. She was whip-smart and was published and featured in bigger more reputable places than just her blog. She also wrote about feminism and other things not related to fat acceptance. She had a ton of credibility and she is an even more respected and widely read author today.
Kate had inspired thousands of women to consider the possibility that they weren’t worthless horrible human beings simply because they didn’t look like Victoria’s secret models. She had also written, really, the quintessential manifesto for fat acceptance which was and still is, the Shapely Prose FAQ page, in which she answered with sass, research, science, data, logic, and incredibly well-reasoned arguments why being fat is not a crime, it’s actually okay, fine, and not a moral failure. I will forever be grateful to her and that community for speaking out and giving me this life line.
The thing was, not in a bullying way, but in a frank, in-your-face, truth-telling bad ass kind of way, Kate’s writing gave me similar feelings to what the Skinny Bitch diet had, but instead of angry shame it was more like angry feminist inner power, and this time I could tell, for whatever reason, that without a doubt, she was right.
Even at my most committed on the Skinny Bitch diet, I was dubious that it was trustworthy. For one thing, I never became the svelte sophisticated glamorous thin woman I had been promised on the Skinny Bitch diet, and I had followed it to the letter for months, yes, even exercising. I had just gotten sadder.
Nothing in my life improved from dieting, and I think it was this sort of rock bottom that allowed me to see the light. I was depressed, unfulfilled, overworked, underpaid and not pursuing any of my passions. I wanted to write but I wasn’t writing. I wanted to do theater but I never auditioned. I wanted a boyfriend but I detested my own body and appearance so much that men could smell my misery from a mile away. I was a walking red flag.
I wasn’t in control of my life at all, and I was placing all my dreams and effort to make those dreams happen in the hands of a diet book written by self-proclaimed bitches. It’s not like this was the first diet I’d gone on. I had been on many before it, but this was the last one (and in my opinion the most evil). I no longer wanted to be thin above all else. I wanted to be a nice smart person and a good human being, and I started by being that to myself.
I forever gave up on the idea that “once I was thin,” everything would get better, and you know what happened? Pretty much everything got better. I moved to New York, where I got my first published writing work. I put up my own original plays. I started my own blog, a body positive style blog that I wrote as a silly character/alter ego named Coco Beautiful, and it started raining men. I was pulling HOT dudes that I never would have even had the confidence to look at when I was in my dieting craze (otherwise known as my entire teenage to adult life to that point).
Also, this new “fat acceptance phase” did something no diet ever managed. It stuck. Despite the fact that fat hatred is still resiliently lurking around every corner, I am still fighting it, over 8 years later, and my life is better than ever. My mental health is the best it’s ever been. I have a beautiful healthy child who fills my life with joy and purpose. I’m dating a great guy right now. I’m getting paid for my writing work. I have incredible friends and family. I feel beautiful. I love my style and taste and feel wonderful and sexy in my own skin. I eat. whatever. I. want. to.
It wasn’t easy and it still isn’t. If you haven’t noticed, there are a lot more people trying to convince you to be thin than not, but it’s a lot better, and one thing I know for sure, is that I’m pleased as punch not to be anybody’s bitch, skinny or otherwise.