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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