“Shut Up, Skinny Bitches!” Tells Readers To Love Their Bodies—Or Else

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By Valerie Kusler

“In America, we no longer fear God, or the communists, but we fear fat,” stated David Kritchevsky, a former professor with Philadelphia’s Wistar Institute and long-time advocate of health and nutrition issues. This is just one of many poignant quotations that Dr. Maria Rago and her friend and co-author Greg Archer borrow for their new book, Shut Up, Skinny Bitches! (The Common Sense Guide To Following Your Hunger and Your Heart), first published by NorLightsPress in January 2011. The book – though guilty of sometimes oversimplifying complex body image issues or adopting a forceful tone with its readers – offers important messages about overcoming fear of food, body hatred, and how serving the community can help you “see your body as an instrument, not an ornament.”

Rago, who runs an eating disorder treatment program in Naperville, IL, first got the idea for the book when one of her patients came into her office angrily clutching the bestseller, Skinny Bitch, by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin.  Rago was in disbelief at exactly how far Skinny Bitch had taken the message that happiness requires thinness, at any cost – including shaming and demoralizing readers into feeling that their worth is absolutely dependent on their size.

Although Shut Up is not intended to be a direct response to Skinny Bitch, discovering the book lit a fire in Rago, who enlisted her childhood friend and writer, Greg Archer, to team up and write a manifesto on how to find real happiness by making peace with food and your body. The book drills in the idea that dieting doesn’t work, supporting it with plenty of salient research studies. It also deems society’s obsession with unattainable thinness the “Skinny Bitch Mindset,” or “SBM” – which it notes is a “real form of bullying.”

Well-intentioned as they are, the first couple of chapters may be difficult for some readers to get through. Throughout the book, Rago and Archer seem to trivialize exactly how complex body image and food issues can be, and that even the most educated, self-aware individuals can struggle immensely with these issues, which can be as mentally destructive and difficult to overcome as full-blown eating disorders. Of course, Rago must be acutely aware of this given her profession, but the tone of Shut Up – which aims for “cool” and informal with a side of tough love – sometimes comes across as harsh, punitive, and patronizing in its oversimplification. While the issue is most obvious at the beginning of the book, some cringe-worthy examples of this tone are sprinkled throughout:

“You can either force-feed the SBM – a mindset that only lets you feel good about yourself when you starve and are skinny – or you can open the refrigerator door of life and enjoy the smorgasbord. Do the latter more often, and surprise! You won’t be a bitch.”

 

“Let’s face it, skinny bitches sit in their popularity castles and try to rule the world by sticking their bony derrieres out there for all mankind to see.”

 

“Myth: I could always be more beautiful if I was thinner.

Reality: Shut up and go eat something. Every person is beautiful in every size. Yeah, it’s true. We will always be beautiful if we’re loving and grateful in our lives.”

 

“Yes, the best alternative to dieting is happiness. The best thing you can do is get happy. Now is good. You can start by not bitching. Think about it; how much progress can you make in moving any part of your life forward when you’re constantly harping on yourself and others?”

Nowhere in the book do the authors explain that this punitive tenor, and repeatedly telling the reader to “shut up,” is intended to be tongue in cheek – which is starkly contrasted with statements telling readers how beautiful, awesome, and worthy they are. Additionally, Shut Up does not acknowledge individuals who are naturally thin and may feel hurt by others assuming that they are “bitches,” who surely must constantly diet and hate their bodies. Given how many times the book tells “skinny bitches” to “shut up,” this message begs to be included.

In an interview with the Santa Cruz Sentinel about Shut Up, Archer clarifies, “What we’re doing is we’re saying shut up to a mindset, a belief, a form of bullying, which insists on and pressures us to look a certain way, be a certain way, don’t eat this or that, be something other than what we are … We’re taking a stand for anyone who’s ever been teased or bullied or pressured to look or feel a certain way, especially thin, in order to be happy.” It’s certainly hard to argue with that explanation, but it is one that should be included in the introduction of the book, not just in the minds of the authors.

Beyond these misgivings, the book has a lot to offer for readers who are looking for validation that they don’t need to buy in to the hysteria of the Hollywood ideal. Rago and Archer offer concrete steps to take for re-learning how to listen to your body’s hunger, how to integrate exercise into your life in a healthy way, and the all-too-real dangers of eating disorders when dieting gets out of control. They also don’t neglect to include guys in the equation, devoting a whole chapter to the body image and food challenges men face, especially the stringent physique expectations placed on gay and bisexual men.

Perhaps the most unique and intriguing topic in the book is that of giving back to the community as a method for healing and redirecting your life focus from the thinness obsession to what really matters. As the clinical director of the Eating Disorders Program at Linden Oaks at Edward hospital, Rago created a treatment intervention program called “Real Meals,” in which the patients must shop, prepare, and serve a meal to a group of homeless individuals, and then eat the meal with them. This program was the subject of a 2008 article in O, the Oprah Magazine and penned by Archer himself. The concept behind Real Meals is to show the patients what true hunger looks like, and thus, the real value of food as something that we all need to survive. One participant shared in the O Magazine article,

“Here I was taking food for granted and denying myself, and there was this group of homeless people who needed food and couldn’t get it. Once we were in the actual process of making the meals, it was suddenly like I didn’t have an eating disorder. It became natural just to eat and talk with the others.”

If you can get past the book’s occasionally overpowering informal tone, it offers a serious dose of passion and action steps that can help you reevaluate your approach to food and your body. Just be prepared for a little tough love.

For more information about Rago & Archer’s book, visit their site at  www.ShutUpSkinnyBitches.info

Or connect with them on Twitter at @suskinnybitches

 

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Comments

  1. “Additionally, Shut Up does not acknowledge individuals who are naturally thin and may feel hurt by others assuming that they are “bitches,” who surely must constantly diet and hate their bodies.”

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying this! This has basically been my life experience. It’s hard to get over your body issues when people hate you for being naturally thinner and you are constantly discounted in any conversation about body image. If being skinny doesn’t equal happiness, then why is it assumed that skinny people always feel great about their bodies? Thank you again for challenging this assumption.

  2. i love the skinny bitch series of books & cookbooks. they aren’t about starving yourself. they’re about making healthy choices.