Is ‘Skinny’ the New Ideal? A Closer Look at the Latest Buzz Word in Diet Books

45507039All the popular new diets books seem to have “skinny” in the title.  Have you noticed?

New York City Real Housewife Bethenny Frankel’s “Naturally Thin” promises to unleash your Skinnygirl.  Her latest cookbook is The Skinnygirl Dish and there’s an  audiobook The Skinnygirl Rules. Do I smell a Skinnygirl empire brewing?  Frankel is getting her own Bravo TV show, so expect to hear a lot more about being a SkinnygIrl and sipping Skinnygirl Margaritas.

You can find an array of books that glorify the attributes of being skinny, celebrate the journey from fat to skinny and outline what it takes to be skinny.

I’m not saying all these books are bad.  In fact, some of them are likely to include good information.  I haven’t read all of them.

I did like Joy Bauer’s book “Your Inner Skinny.” It YourInnerSkinnywas one of my top five picks in the Chicago Tribune. Her new book includes solid nutrition advice and some inspiring case studies of people who have successfully lost weight. But still, I wondered why skinny?

No doubt, publishers see dollar signs with “skinny.”  Is this what it takes to sell books?  Is having skinny in the title the only way to appeal to the book-buying public?

Perhaps the trend got started with the runaway success of  “Skinny Bitch,” which is a vegan book that sparked an entire line of skinny books and products — including “Skinny Bitch In the Kitch,” ”Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven (for pregnant women) and ”Skinny Bastard” for men.

“Fat to Skinny” appears to target men.  Yet, by far, most of the skinny books are trying to appeal to women  — inspiring you to be either a skinny bitch, skinny girl or skinny chick.

The list keeps growing:  “The Secrets of Skinny Chicks,“ ”Skinny Chicks Don’t Eat Salads,” The Secret to Skinny,” Skinny Chef,” “Goodbye Fatty! Hello Skinny!” and “Get Skinny On Fabulous Food” by Suzanne Somers.  Many of these books focus on appearance.  There’s Urban Skinny that wants to help you live a fabulous life and still zip up your favorite jeans and The Skinny is all about fitting into your little black dress. Katie Drummond rants about the ”The Secrets of Skinny Chicks” on True/Slant:

According to the author Karen Bridson, “skinny is a state of mind.”  If that’s the case, then I’m not sure what all the references to “size six jeans” and “fabulous bodies” are doing in the book — other than reinforcing that skinny is not a state of mind, but rather an unattainable, and very physical, ideal….Bridson goes on to offer glimpses into the diet and exercise routines of 25 “skinny chicks,” most of whom eat less than 2,000 calories a day, exercise at least 10 hours a week and weigh in on the dangerously low end of the BMI Index.  These ladies, by all accounts, aren’t training for the Olympics or an Ironman.  They’re just trying to stay skinny.  And I’m not referring to a state of mind.  Bridson’s book is yet another example of health gone oh-so-wrong.  When a successful health journalist is the same person advocating excessive exercise and “cheat foods,” not to mention misconstruing skinniness with wellness, I can’t help but hope I don’t have daughters.”

skinny-chicks-dont-eat-salads-christine-avanti-hardcover-cover-artTo their credit, some of the skinny books attempt to promote a non-diet mentality, including Bethenny Frankel’s book that says “free yourself from a lifetime of dieting.  And “Skinny Chicks Don’t Eat Salads” talks about ”stop starving and start eating.”  Good messages.

Even so, the skinny titles overly emphasize weight and appearance, along with obsessive calorie counting.

Not sure where the health and enjoyment of food fits in.

I contacted registered dietitian Evelyn Tribole, who has pioneered the concept of intuitive eating.  Her specialty is helping people discover a healthy relationship with food, mind and body.  She believes the skinny trend is troubling.

Ultimately, health and healthy behaviors are not a size, Tribole told me.

I believe that this “skinny” trend combined with the “war on obesity” and our “toxic food environment” will converge into a perfect storm that in the end will create more weight problems and eating disorders.

Beyond diet books, “skinny” has become a big marketing buzz word.  You can buy skinny jeans, skinny hair products and even skinny lattes at Starbucks.

Registered dietitian Marsha Hudnall of  A Weight Liftedsaid she understands the marketing aspect of “skinny,” but believes it fails to urbanskinnyconsider the implications for a population that is struggling with achieving and maintaining healthy weights.   A focus on body size (being “skinny”) tends to make people adopt behaviors that don’t lead to health in the long term, she told me.

In the pursuit of thinness, or skinny, we try fad diets, skip meals, even fast, and generally do things that are all about calories (or fat grams, carbs, etc.) and nothing about health.    It’s a misplaced focus that only exacerbates problems instead of getting people where they’d like to be.  And for most people, I believe that would be feeling good and if society would allow it, at a weight that’s right for them independent of the media image of what’s right.  Ultimately, it’s about enjoying a fulfilling life, not spending our time obsessing about what we eat and weigh.

Hudnall, who runs the healthy weight retreat Green Mountain at Fox Run, said a focus on skinny simply reinforces the message that skinny is the shape we should all be, and not everyone can truly be skinny.

This is a pursuit of an unrealistic ideal that leads to loss of productivity and again, ultimately ill health, whether it be from methods adopted to attempt to reach that unrealistic ideal or just from the stress of it all and the unhappiness it generates.  It also perpetuates the idea that anyone who isn’t skinny is somehow less than acceptable.  Ultimately, I believe a focus on health is the only way to move Americans,  and increasingly the rest of the world, to a better place physically is to stop thinking about weight and size and start thinking about the real issues of health.  If we turn our attention to these issues instead of a number on a scale or a label on a piece of clothing, we’re much more likely to have a significant impact on helping those who are at unhealthy weights and not create problems for those who aren’t, even when it’s larger than the societal ideal.

MoniqueHey, maybe Mo”Nique has the best “skinny” book of all:  “Skinny Women Are Evil, Notes of a Big Girl in a Small-Minded World.”

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  • http://www.healthforthewholeself.com Katie @ Health for the Whole Self

    Great post! I have also noticed the increased use of the word “skinny” as a marketing tool, and I find it a bit disturbing. As someone who has struggled with disordered eating in the past, I know what it feels like to see being “skinny” as the ultimate goal, even when it’s not really attainable for lots of people.

    The biggest issue for me is that it takes the focus away from all-around HEALTH and puts the focus on APPEARANCE. I’m sure a lot of those books offer sound advice, but I don’t like where the motivation is coming from. Ultimately, the use of the word “skinny” implies that the ultimate reason to eat healthy and exercise is to reach a certain external ideal…and that’s really not a very good reason.

  • Seth Walton

    They’re all bad…the people touting the serious diet books have good intentions, but are still filled with misinformation here and there. I admire that Monique’s book sends a message that you don’t have to hate yourself for being fat….but does she have to swear every other sentence to get her point across?

  • http://www.afeteforfood.com Jessica (A Fete for Food)

    I was thinking about this earlier in the week when I ordered a tall nonfat latte and got back from the barista, “so you want a skinny vanilla latte?” It’s interesting that we synonymously use the words “tall” and “skinny” to describe bodies… and coffee drinks. Thanks for your insight on this topic.

  • http://carbzilla.britehive.com Tiffany S.

    I hate that word. My body could never be skinny but that’s not why I hate it. It just sounds unhealthy to me. I do believe it’s a dangerous word to throw around and that everything Hudnall said is dead on. I think we have Hollywood, again, to blame for this one, plus the media and folks who want to sell books. I would much rather be “strong” than skinny.

  • http://www.offwhiteliving.com Rebecca

    Janet,
    I’m glad you posted this and what you said all resonates with me. I think the use of the term skinny is ‘edgy’ and ‘seductive’ and sort of depicts being in a certain elite class of women that only a certain few can become. I agree with you that if skinny were a state of mind, there would be associations with flaunting your physical hotness and sassiness associate with it, the attributes would be completely irrelevant to anything physical, which is not the case.
    There is something we buy into about purchasing a book, a pair of jeans or a latte that let’s us feel like we are getting a little bit of skinny in every bite, wear, or read. It’s great marketing but toxic to the mind. Note that we never talk about skinny men, skinny kids, or skinny bank accounts in the same way – we want all of those things to be robust, strong, healthy, abundant….

    In a country where being within normal weight (accourding to BMI) is a MINORITY situation (2/3 are overweight or obese), I think some people capitalize on that concept to play to the part of all those who struggle with their weight to feel a little bit ‘skinny’. Maybe instead of skinny, the feeling state they are really looking for is: happy, free, confident, peaceful, which we assume skinny people are (not always true, but ANY means!).
    Anyway, thanks for putting light on the topic. I appreciate it,
    Rebecca
    PS: I retweeted this one for sure becuase it’s GOOD!

  • http://hollywoodweightwatch.wordpress.com/ Leigh Ann Otte

    Awesome post. I love the quotes in here–so down-to-earth. I’m going to pick one to highlight on my blog later this week. I’m not sure how I’ll pick though. Thanks for this important article.d

  • http://foodtrainers.blogspot.com Lauren Slayton

    Oh I think I have to go against the grain with this one. Sure, skinny is unrealistic and not for everyone but I think there’s also a bit of inspiration there. I may never look like the trainers or fitness professions I go to but I do find that their example makes me work out harder or simply want to eat my best. What I like about skinny is that it does not beat around the bush. People who purchase these books are trying, not just to eat in a balanced manner, but also to lose weight. I like Joy’s use of your skinny….which may be different from my skinny etc. I don’t find this troublesome. Now, on national TV the editor of Entertainment Weekly telling Sandra Bullock her look “was worth starving for” that crosses the line.

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