Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Skinny Bitch and Bulimic Vegetarians

In 2007, few people would have expected a "no-nonsense" book of "tough-love" for American females to become one of the most successful vegetarian advocacy publications in the Western hemisphere. This book, Skinny Bitch, spawned a whole slew of products including a cookbook, an instructional book on pregnancy, a journal, and now three work out videos. Already, the original book has become an international bestseller, hung onto the New York Times bestseller list (including a brief spot at the top), has sold two million copies, and has been translated into 20 languages.

While many vegetarian and AR activists have welcomed this book with open arms, too few people have heeded to the criticisms that this book preys on female body insecurities. Below, I will discuss why disguising a vegetarian message within a frame about weight-loss/management is not only detrimental to the health of adolescent females and young women but also trivializes the radical political orientation of veganism by conflating it with a self-interested, faddish diet. In light of continuous research that links the adoption of vegetarian diets by teens to disguise and/or justify their eating disorders, the sizist discourse that shames and blames "fat" people, and the vogue-ing of vegetarianism for the mainstream, I suggest that vegans ally instead with feminist and radical social justice groups to promote body acceptance and HEALTH rather than societal acceptance and "health."

"I am a vegetarian: I don't eat meat... or anything for that matter."
For a while there has been some discussion over whether many young female vegetarians choose their diets as a way to manage their weight by having a socially acceptable reason to decline eating a large percentage of the food available to them; however, not until recent years have researchers ever had substantial evidence to conclude whether this was true or false. Just several weeks ago, a paper published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association proved such fears true. The authors of the study conclude that

[a]dolescent and young adult vegetarians may experience the health benefits associated with increased fruit and vegetable intake and young adults may experience the added benefit of decreased risk for overweight and obesity. However, current vegetarians may be at increased risk for binge eating with loss of control, while former vegetarians may be at increased risk for extreme unhealthful weight-control behaviors. It would be beneficial for clinicians to inquire about current and former vegetarian status when assessing risk for disordered eating behaviors.
Though there may be health benefits from adopting a vegetarian diet, many who choose such diets do so as a guise to manage their weight in the most unhealthy ways.

John Cloud from The Times recentlyreported on this latest study:

Although most teens in Robinson-O'Brien's study claimed to embark on vegetarianism to be healthier or to save the environment and the world's animals, the research suggests they may be more interested in losing weight than protecting cattle or swine...in a 2001 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers found that the most common reason teens gave for vegetarianism was to lose weight or keep from gaining it. Adolescent vegetarians are far more likely than other teens to diet... [and] teens with eating disorders are more likely to practice vegetarianism than any other age group.
So while the public and socially acceptable answer many teenage vegetarian girls for their vegetarian may be "to save the animals/environment," at least one out of five (and potentially over half) really adopted the diet primarily out of concern for the health and/or image of their body.

Cloud continues, summarizing the results of the study:

approximately 20% of the [teen] vegetarians turned out to be binge eaters [and had engaged in extreme weight-control measures], compared with only 5% of those who had always eaten meat...This disparity in extreme behavior disappeared between [the]... ages 19 to 23, with about 15% in each group reporting such weight-control tactics. But among former vegetarians, that number jumped to 27%. The findings suggest that age matters when it comes to vegetarianism
Interestingly, teen vegetarians were four times as likely to be binge eaters than omnivores, but young adult vegetarians were no more likely, suggesting that many teen vegetarians started extreme dieting prior to their omnivorous counterparts. Most concerning is that over one of four those who had once been vegetarians as teens, but quit, were extreme dieters. That's twice the rate of eating disorders as among young adults who had never been or who still were vegetarian! The moral: the adoption of a vegetarian diet as a teenager for the primary purpose of body-management sets one up for serious risk of eating disorders in the future.

I Love them Bitches: Don't Have a Cow, You Fat Pig, LOL!
The authors and publishers of Skinny Bitch are not naive to the "self-loathing" young (and old) women feel as a product of modern capitalist patriarchal culture. The official Skinny Bitch website gives a concise description of the book, or at least why someone should be interested and pick the thing up:

If you can't take one more day of self-loathing, you're ready to hear the truth: You cannot keep shoveling the same crap into your mouth every day and expect to lose weight.
The answer to self-loathing, the book suggests, is not to accept and love one's body, but to stop eating crap and lose weight--never mind that many of the readers of the book are probably already at a healthy weight. In fact, if you didn't already know, "fat" does not always = unhealthy.

As one blogger writes, "[t]hough Skinny Bitch is meant to be dramatic, its overall message, inspiring self-loathing complete with the names to call yourself was over the top." The blogger cites a quote from chapter 12 that particularly disgusted her. In it, the authors explain how they, as "skinny bitches," empathize with their audience of "fat bitches:" "we have some fat, gross body parts, too. We’re women." In other words, the authors agree with mainstream misogynism that, yes, women are just kinda disgusting; no matter how much you alter and manage your body, it'll always be just a little "gross," a tad "fat."

Of course, the point of the book is not to make girls into "skinny bitches" but into veg*ns with jarring editorializations of meat processing and propaganda. The title is just a diversion to get people to pick up what Julie Klausner, in a scathing review of the book at Salon described as "a PETA pamphlet in chick-lit clothing and an innovative fusion of animal rights with punitive dieting tactics that prey on women's insecurities about their bodies." According to a previous review in the New York Times

[o]ne South Cal botique has sold more than 2,000 copies of Skinny Bitch because "[customers] just like the title." Likewise, one fashion publicist said that she "would never have read 'The Omnivore’s Dilemma.' I’m not even sure I know what an omnivore is. But I know what a skinny bitch is, and I know I want to be one."
To put it simply, the Skinny Bitch franchise is so popular largely due to the clever marketing that went into it. As the fashion publicist said, women know skinny bitches, and they know they want to be them; they don't necessarily know (or care) what an omnivore or a vegan is. With a title like Skinny Bitch, the book drew on a much larger, mainstream audience, like a magnet for body-insecure women. But is this more of a success for vegetarianism or perpetuating body-image anxiety?

Klausner would probably agree with he latter: Skinny Bitch is more likely to perpetuate eating disorders than to nurture a sustainable compassion for animal others. For instance, the book exploits metaphors that are both misogynistic and speciesist as part of its "in your face" coaching:

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."
Likewise, Joanna at Vegans of Color believes the book is being marketed as a tool to shame women into a vegetarian diet so they ca be skinny. She adds
I feel like the idea behind the book, & certainly how it’s being talked about, definitely plays the shame game. And competition & jealousy — I mean, women who don’t care about animal rights are picking this up because they want to be skinny
The authors of the book, understand that bullying voice internalized in women from all races, classes, and regions of America that drives them toward unhealthy eating, and they are not afraid of exploiting it to humorously shaming/motivating people into eating "better" food.

Angie at Voice of Dissent further notes that the tag line, "Stop being a moron and start getting skinny," "is playing directly into the stereotype that all overweight people are stupid, ignorant and lazy." Not only the readers being shamed for being "fat," but all the bad stereotypes associated with it: fatness is something that could be overcome if you weren't too stupid not to be disgusted by your body and too lazy to exercise and cook healthy food. How ever tongue-in-cheek the humor of their tough-love style is, it trivializes that oppressive voice within women's heads and further validates false associations between fat/stupid/lazy/bad and thin/smart/agency/good. In many ways, the humor actually is apologetic for that oppressive voice as well as misogynism and sizism.

Nonetheless, some counter the criticism by noting that the authors admit at the end of the book that they tricked the reader into reading this pro-vegan book, that they really don't care about being skinny. Johanna, however, is not so convinced that such jest makes any difference. Johanna writes: "Well, I flipped through the book yesterday at a store, & this epilogue is about 3 paragraphs long. Not only that, I almost missed it — & I knew it was there & was looking for it!" The discreetness of the true intent of the book, whether the authors' decision or the publishers', ultimately betrays the good intentions. Consequentially, most readers will read/skim through the book without ever realizing the political agenda behind the text; and if they do, they probably won't even care since the agenda--the "real" values behind the text--are such a marginal theme.

Klausner continues by noting the irony that the L.A. boutique cited in the NYT article which has already sold 2,000 copies, is a place where purchasers of the book are "only to be blindsided with accounts of live cows skinned alive on the assembly line." Will people change their minds about animals used for clothing after reading the book--now feeling disturbed and disgusted at skins wrapped around their bodies--or will these readers celebrate the sizes they've dropped by purchasing a whole new wardrobe of "sexy" leather pants and wool sweaters? Johanna, again, is skeptical.

from my own experiences, & from what I’ve heard other folks talking about, those who convert to veg*nism for health reasons... are less likely to stick with it, unless they also have a strong ethical reason for eating the way they do
Most vegans I know will also agree that the reason for one choosing to become veg*n is important in determining whether one will maintain their lifestyle or trade it in for an old or a new one.

If one goes veg because they value justice and compassion for animal others, they are more likely to commit to veg*nism than someone who prioritises their self-interest or external opinion. If one cares about animal "rights," veg*nism is essential to putting their values in practice, but veg*nism is only contingent if they care more about body-image, which can not only be attained a number of ways, but is also something that cannot be guaranteed by a strict vegetarian regime. Certainly one can be "vegan" and eat unhealthy foods and not exorcise, but some people are not naturally disposed to being "thin" as others--making the pursuit of thinness a futile journey. In the end, those people striving for thinness on a veg*n diet may be unhappy with the lax results and move on to "the next big thing" to lose weight so that they can achieve their "ideal" body size.

PETA: People Encouraging Teen Anorectics?
The title of this section may be hyperbole, but I also don't believe it is totally out-of-hand or false. On the contrary, the success of the Skinny Bitch franchise comes after almost two decades of PETA "selling" vegetarianism and sex in the form of attaining a more beautiful and virile body, which is almost always abnormally thin and fit and often (though this is less and less the case) white. It is not surprising then that Ingrid Newkirk endorsed Skinny Bitch, saying that "If I had it in my power, I’d provide a free copy to every young woman in the developed world; we could then become, instead of the fattest next generation in history, the healthiest." [Note that she wrongly equates fatness with both veg*nism and health. I'll touch on this in a future post ("The Fat, the Thin, and the Hungry")]

Skiny Bitch, in fact, has successfully done what PETA could only dream of doing, tapping into millions of young, impressionable female minds and promoting vegetarianism. The book has even increased the number of requests for vegetarian starter kits. According to Gina Anderson of the Colorado Daily

The New York Times bestseller "Skinny Bitch" is creating a new wave of vegetarians and vegans -- especially on college campuses..."'Skinny Bitch' has helped to introduce millions of mainstream Americans to veganism," said Ryan Huling, the College Campaign Coordinator for PETA2, the youth division of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals..."For example, we have been distributing our free 'Vegetarian Starter Kit' for years, but by some estimates as many as 25 percent of those requests in 2008 were as a result of the requester reading 'Skinny Bitch,'" Huling said. "That is thousands of new vegetarians and vegans."
Certainly, it is good to hear that some people who picked up the book are interested enough in requesting a veg starter kit from an animal welfare organization. But again, the question is not how many "new" vegetarians are there today, but how many 5-year-long vegetarians will there be in five years.

Yet, PETA, which unlike Skinny Bitch, does not garb its political agenda in weight-management discourse, is no less the culprit of perpetuating body-image anxiety. The organization often utilizes fat phobia and sizism to shame/motivate people to adopt a veg*n diet. For instance, Vegan Kid notes that, according to PETA's video"Chew on This: 30 Reasons to Go Vegetarian," the #3 reason to go vegetarian is because "meat and dairy make you fat." Of course, many other things "make you fat," and meat and dairy need not be any of these things. They prioritize this "fact" because they know that most people are already insecure if not ashamed of their weight and size, and as such, it may be more compelling than reason 11 "because it is violence that you can stop."

Another example of the "fat" phobia/shaming done by PETA is in a response to Jessica Simpson's "Real Girls Eat Meat" shirt on the official PETA blog. According to this PETA employee, the #4 reason that "Only Stupid Girls Brag about Eating Meat" is that

Meat will make you fat. All the saturated fat and cholesterol in chicken wings, pork chops, and steak eventually leads to flabby thighs and love handles. I hope the upcoming "Jessica Simpson's Intimates" line comes in plus sizes! Going vegetarian is the best way to get slim and stay that way.
Here again, just like we saw with Skinny Bitch, is the perpetuation of the stereotype linking size to stupidity--something that has been common at least since the pseudo-science of physiognomy. The reasoning goes as such: only a "stupid" person would eat meat because they'll get cancer and fat; just think how ashamed of herself she'll be then when she gets caught shopping in the 'plus size' section, gasp! Even worse, is that this fat phobic response is neither logical nor scientific: saturated fat and cholesterol intake are no more connected with weight-gain than carbohydrates and protein.

Worse of all is that PETA even has the audacity to distribute "Chicken Chump Cards"--which are still available at their online store and Petakids.com--to kids, of which one shames fat children. On the front of the card is a sad, morbidly-obese child entitled "Tubby Tammy;" on the back it explains "how" chicken makes you so fat you'll have to wear a bungee cord for a belt. Also, since this card is part of a series of other cards including "Cruel Kyle," "Sickly Sally,' and "Feathered Friends," there is an implicit position that being "tubby" is analogous to being "sickly" and "cruel," not something conducive of friendship. Fatness is thus framed as a mix between a social disease (i.e. cruelty) and a biological one (i.e. sickness).

Again, these three cases of fat phobia/shaming are in no way trivial. Each is part of a highly calculated marketing tactic to "sell" vegetarianism as a social panacea. The discourse in the blurbs and visuals has little to do with enhancing and sustaining health (or even a healthy body weight), but about looking your best for society which will reject you as a big fat, stupid person who is probably less compassionate and more self-indulgent than the other kids.

Unfortunate for the well-intentioned female animal advocates of PETA, those who do not conform to the mainstream's socially acceptable standard of beauty for women, the very standards PETA perpetuates, will be harassed and shunned. Take for instance the reactions at Perez Hilton to a publicity stunt in which a pregnant woman posed in a mock-gestation crate to protest hog farms. Comments included:

Yikes, I get the picture, but hmm... saggy boobs= kinda gross!!!!
What's a tubby naked bitch in a cage got to do with eating pork??
She needs to go on a diet
wtf is this about
Moo cow..UGLY
Why couldn't they have chosen an attractive female?
Of course, no one deserves to be called such horrible, misogynistic and speciesist names; but it would not be surprising if PETA, or some animal advocates in general, used the same rhetoric to attack a woman who was promoting pork. As is suggested in their anti-fur ads, "Be Comfortable in Your Own Skin," one blogger comments, PETA "is basically saying that yes, you should let animals keep their fur because you should be comfortable in your own skin–as long as you’re a size 2 and conventionally beautiful."

In a devastating critique of "fascist" beauty standards established by many ARAs to promote vegetarianism as a "healthier" and "sexier" diet, Sabayon at Vegans Against PETA examines how certain advocates alienate and ostracize vegans who do not look "as good as they should." According to Sabayon:

so much of the animal rights movement, thanks mostly to PETA, has built itself around the idea that vegans, particularly vegan women, are hot...They try to convince people that being vegan will automatically make you hot if you're a woman, and if you're a dude you'll suddenly have all these hot women flocking to you...And what does this emphasis on looks mean for us vegans who don't measure up, for vegans who are fat or have acne or, like me, have thin hair...It means we're a failure.
She cites one blogger (and believe me, I've heard these comments from several animal advocates in person) as an example of some of the fat-hate ARAs have to deal with, particularly women:
Fat vegans, however, have failed one important animal: themselves...their audiences of meat-eaters and animal-abusers may be so distracted by their appearance that they cannot hear the vital issues of animal rights
So not only do "fat" vegans have to deal with fatphobia in the mainstream world, but also among their supposed allies. Yet, so much of this is borderline hypocritical since people's agency is not necessarily to "blame" for their "fatness." The result: body-insecure vegans rushing out to buy body products that have been likely tested on animals in order to look "good" and "sexy" to promote the cause.

It is thus ironic that, after all the fat phobic media PETA has produced and distributed, in a press release, PETA's Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch would be cited saying

The AKC's fetish for body image causes dogs health problems that mutts don't usually have...The AKC is directly responsible for the promotion of purebreds, which means money for breeders but creates sick dogs and vet bills for their guardians--and leaves pound pups homeless.
Of course, one could also argue PETA has a "fetish for body image" since they not only publicize fat phobia, but also advertise themselves through images that capitalize off the bodies of conventional beautiful women which "means money for [them] but creates sick [girls] and [hospital] bills for their [parents]." As Angie notes,

[t]he majority of PETA’s messages include promoting a certain type of body. All of their models tend to be thin, young and fit contemporary society’s definition of beautiful. They have ads blatantly telling women that body hair is unattractive and comparative to wearing animal skins. They [even] have ads making fun of overweight people.
In face of the constant letters they receive pleading them to stop objectifying women and using only abnormally thin women in their ads, PETA has yet to end its tactics that more than likely to some degree create sick teen females with the dominant "fetish for body image."

Lettuce Entertain You: Vegetarianism is the New Black
In contrast to past anti-fur ads that are occupied by naked and nearly naked small-sized women, PETA's recent ad campaign, "Let vegetarianism grow on you" features women in more graceful than haughty clothing. However, even these ads have raised some concerns. Take the new ad featuring long-time film actress, Cloris leachman. Ophilia at Feminocracy

highly doubt[s] Peta would have run the ad if Cloris had wanted to be naked. Placing Cloris in a lettuce dress reaffirms the sentiment behind their previous ads–that the female body is meant for consumption, and when that body begins to show age, it must be covered to protect our sensibilities (however, it is worth note that the dress conforms to her figure–so they’ve got to have their sexy factor in there somewhere).
The accusation of ageism may seem trite to many people, especially since Alysa Milano, who certainly isn't particularly an "old" woman, has also been a part of the "Let Vegetarianism grow on you" ad campaign and thus also robed in a lettuce dress instead of the typical lettuce bikini of Pamela Anderson and others. Another blogger notes that she "doubt[s] they would dress Carmen Electra in a cabbage gown" because she both wants to and is "supposed to" be seen as a sex object. Those without the proper body, as was the case above in the mock-gestation crate, are publicly ridiculed for not hiding theirs beneath clothing.

The following blogger brings up another excellent point: Ms. Leachman may be older than typical PETA poster girls, but she isn't exactly "fat" or "overweight." Is it solely a coinicidence that Elizabeth Berkley, the original Lettuce Lady,

started the trend by sending a postcard with her ad and a note to every restaurant in the U.S.' 10 fattest cities urging them to do their part to help diners slim down by beefing up on vegetarian selections[?]
PETA's official Lettuce Ladies website further validates this suspicion by listing the reasons lettuce ladies choose vegetarianism: "vegetarian celebs are hot!," "vegans make better lovers," "a vegan diet gives you a lean sexy body," and "eating meat causes impotence." None of these reasons actually have to do with being veg*n; they are all contingent--equally true of someone on a Mediterranean diet who works out and reads Cosmo. Yet, all of them praise sexually virile bodies (see their "Sexiest Vegetarian Next Door" competition) and shun those that do not "perform" in socially acceptable ways. [Note: the website does also feature a small "amateur photo gallery" reserved for people wearing custom-made lettuce bikinis, many of whom are non-conventional sizes.]

If PETA wants to get people to eat more vegetables and less meat, Chris L. astutely wonders whether "it make more sense to show celebrity advocates, you know, EATING vegetables, instead of wearing them?" To this I have a couple responses. First, as I will argue in a future post ("The Sexual Politics of Vegetarianism"), PETA knows much of its mainstream audience will not consume veggies without also consuming "meat." In this metaphoric sense, PETA "serves" up the "meat" (i.e. erotic women) to their audience, garnished--or rather "dressed"--in lettuce and other vegetables. Rather than challenging the entire system of privilege which requires the subordination of Others, PETA perpetuates it by downplaying the subjectivity of one marginalized group (women) for another (animals). Lettuce ladies wear vegetables to be looked at, as they ought to be "consumed" just like the vegetables they wear. Both "food" and women ought to be "consumed" by the arrogant eye, or male gaze, and be denied their independence from the observer. With these ads, however, "the animal" is what Carol Adams has called the "absent referent"--the subject that is being referenced, but not directly. Thus, veg*nism can be promoted through the dominant means of denying the subjectivity of another without ever mentioning the real reason people should adopt the lifestyle: by acknowledging Others' subjectivities.

Second, and perhaps more relevant to the topic at hand, nearly all of PETA's ad campaigns utilizes not just any woman (or man), but celebrities, and not just any celebrities, but particularly physically attractive ones who are actors and musicians. These celebrities, thus, are visual icons. There are few, if any ads of famous (and beautiful) female scientists, photographers, authors, scholars, etc. suggesting the organization values (or at least values the people who value) "entertainment" over "art," science, and literature. Such famous people may not be "cool" enough for PETA's campaign targeting youth. Vegetarianism and AR is being "sold" as the "in" thing, and as is evident with anti-fur slogans in the movement that publicly shame (cisexual) women for wearing fur (as well as trans people for just being "rediculous") (i.e. "worse dressed," "the Trollsen Twins," "Fur is worn by beautiful animals and ugly people," "Fur is a Drag," etc.), women who do not conform are not only morally but physically ridiculed.

Toward Radical Vegan Outreach: Out with Mainstream Advocacy, in with Alliance Politics
Let me emphasize that the use of such visual celebrities is very deliberate, and, as I believe, very misguided. The use of these celebrities over others emphasizes not any moral, political, artistic, or intellectual of the particular person being associated with vegetarianism and AR, but an image. One should go veg because vegetarians are pretty, hot, bad ass, or funny, not because they are social/political radicals healing injustices everywhere or writing/discovering something that will change the world. (Unfortunately, television, cinema, and the internet have made the former celebrities' images much more prominent and at the expense of the great works of scholars, scientists, artists, and social entrepreneurs).

To return to Chris' point, PETA dresses-up celebrities in vegetables instead of showing them eating vegetables because PETA doesn't really care what people eat so long as their "food" does not come from animals. For all they care, vegans could just eat a Boca burger, potato chips, and a soft drink--not exactly a nutritional powerhouse. The ads are not intended to promote HEALTH, but to promote an image. By dressing up celebrities in vegetables, PETA is marketing the vegetarian diet as either sexy and/or graceful. Vegetarianism, in a sense, is the latest fashion, "the color" of the 21st Century.

However, note that by framing vegetarianism and AR as an image, as an "in" thing, it easily can become an "out" thing. Many of these ads and campaigns which target younger audiences may influence thousands of people to try out vegetarianism and AR, but the question becomes "for how long?" If vegetarianism is a matter or being like a particular "cool" or "hot" celebrity, especially one whom may be obsolete in two years or turns out not to actually be vegetaraian, as soon as another "cool" celebrity comes around who eats animals or people realize how potentially challenging a vegetarian diet can be (all the social and emotional maintenance that is involved) they may shrug it off; it's just not worth it, just as those irksome designer heels are just not worth it.

On the other hand, if vegetarianism is advocated as a political-ideological-intellectual orientation and commitment, it becomes a part of one's values, and hence one's more permanent identity until those values change, if they change. Instead of going for numbers, if non-profits and other organizations went for outstanding citizens, we may have much stronger and longer-term advocates on our hands. So much of these attempts take the "shotgun" approach by trying to hit any and everyone in a mass audience.

In contrast, rather than appealing to the masses through ads that cater to juvenile longings to be like a superficial and scandalous celebrity, organizations can target more radical and politically active social agents committed to multiple social justice causes by demonstrating how vegetarianism fits into their world view (rather than the typical self-interest/altruist trichotomy of health, environment, animals). Tragically, many of these politically active and radical people are being "turned-off" to the vegetarian message and thousands of dollars are being wasted because these ads and discourses more than likely alienate and offend potential ARAs who are not "thin" like the women in these ads, and more generally, unjustly contribute to the anxiety of girls outside the movement about their own body image.

A Healthy Conclusion
This is why I advocate HEALTH and not "health." As I will more thoroughly describe in the future ("What is Health?"), HEALTH cannot be achieved by individuals alone; true health is the consequent of an entire community flourishing mutually together. Modern reductionist approaches to health, define "health" as something that can be achieved independent of Others and often at the expense of them (i.e. (over)fishing to consume more fish oil, enslaving people to pick tomatoes, wiping out wildlife to grow organic leafy greens, "curing" diseases by giving them fist to millions of "animals," etc.). Within this outlook, veg*n outreach that promotes veg*nism as good for "one's health" is playing into the liberal, antagonistic discourse of self-interest. Instead, promoting veganism itself--an anti-oppression philosophy--does not allow for the appropriation of "health" (the privilege accorded to "self-interest") discourse. Since Health must be achieved together it ought not, as much as possible, come at the expense of the health of Others.

In this sense, appropriating mainstream means of advertising (i.e. using the promise of becoming a conventionally sexy and beautiful women) so as to exploit common insecurities over body-image (o)pressed into the minds of young women is not healthy. Exploiting, and thus perpetuating, oppression as a means to a "good" end can never be healthy, even if it promotes "health," because it ultimately subordinates the health of Others. Since it is more than likely true that these ads and discourses prey upon insecurities over one's own body, of which often lead to extreme and even fatal weight-management, they are not morally justifiable.

If as the recent study suggests, that young women who become vegetarian for body-management issues (and later give it up) are twice as likely to practice extreme dieting, we ought neither promote nor celebrate books such as Skinny Bitch and organizations like PETA if they continue to prey on unjust insecurities. If the Skinny Bitch franchise and PETA wish to redeem themselves, they ought to empower young women and other marginalized groups (including those that have been marginalized by them in the past) rather than appropriating their oppression to "sell" an agenda, no matter how benevolent it may be. Though I doubt they will change any time soon, by doing so, they will be more authentically applying the principles of veganism and augmenting a very powerful task-force for the cause of not only "animals" but everyone on the planet.


Luella said...

So true, so true. I was flipping through a PETA pamphlet the other day, and it said, "Contrary to popular belief, vegetarians do not just eat fruits and vegetables." And then it had recipes and photos of processed foods. Shocking, or what?

Anonymous said...

It's very hard to read your post on the green background. In particular, the links (which are in blue) are almost impossible to read. Can you change the background, please?

Alfonso C. said...

Great post.... very well reasoned.

Haley said...

Hey Adam! I kind of have to agree with the anonymous poster. We're the same age, and I have a giant, high quality monitor, and I still found it hard to read the white text on the green background. Interesting article though. -Haley

The Venerable Vegan Empress said...

Wow. THANK YOU for taking the time to write this, Adam. I'll definitely be linking to this post as soon as I get a chance. I've been trying to come up with something about the recent vegetarian/eating disorder stories, but couldn't figure out a good angle -- this post has helped clarify a lot of my thoughts on it!.

me said...

I love your blog already. :) Someone needed to say this.

Unknown said...

Adam! I love your critique here! I couldn't (remember I am a blogtard) find your recent one on male lactation, eeeeee!

Scu said...

Interesting article, and at the heart of many things I have been thinking about recently. I hope to write a response on my blog later tonight or tomorrow. I'll post a link if it happens.

Lemur-Cat said...

I finally found the good (i.e. not-fatphobic and otherwise socially conscious) vegan blogs! Yay!