“Val Frankel is a woman of amazing insight. . . . Read this, weep, and heal.”
—Stacy London, cohost of What Not to Wear
You’ve heard the phrase “the mirror is not your friend.” For Valerie Frankel, the mirror was so much more than “not a friend.” It was the mean girl who stole her lunch money, bitch-slapped her in the ladies’ room, and cut the hair off her Barbie.
If you’re like 99.9 percent of women, the war you wage with yourself over your body image begins at the ripe age of eight, and the skirmishes are fought for the next eight decades. Sometimes you don’t even know when you’ve won. (How many of us have taken out a photo from high school and thought, “Hey! I looked great—why didn’t I know it?”) This book is for anyone who has spent most of her life on—or thinking about being on—a diet. It’s for anyone who ever wished for candlelight in dressing rooms. It’s for anyone who has ever owned a pair of “fat pants.” In short, this book is for anyone who ever felt good or bad about themselves based on how they look.
Valerie Frankel, like most women, has spent most of her conscious life on a diet, thinking about a diet, ignoring a diet, or failing on a diet. At age eleven, her mother put Val on her first weight-loss program. As a teen, she was enrolled in Weight Watchers (for which she invented creative ditching methods). As a young woman, her world felt right only when she was able to zip a certain pair of jeans. Not wanting to pass this legacy on to her own daughters, Valerie set out to cleanse herself of her obsession. Thin Is the New Happy is the true story of one woman’s quest to exorcise her bad body-image demons, to uncover the truths behind what put them there, and to learn how to truly love herself. It’s a poignant, hilarious, and all-out honest account of one woman’s struggle with body image—the filter through which she’s always seen the world—and the way she ultimately overcame it.
Let me start by saying that I loved this book. I mean, what's not to love about a book with a dedication like this: "Dedicated to...THE LAST FIFTEEN POUNDS. I don't miss you, not one tiny bit, you bitches." This book made me laugh, a LOT, and yes, it even made me cry a fair amount too. It's completely crass and irreverent (see the dedication above) so if that's not your thing, you might want to steer clear, but other than that I think this book should be required reading for all women. WHY ARE WE SO HARD ON OURSELVES? I'm not even a chronic dieter, like Frankel and many other women out there. And yet, I have really been struggling with my weight and general body image for the last number of years (particularly post pregnancy). We all know that the way in which we view our bodies affects far more than our physical health. When I'm feeling bad about my self my energy is lower, and I actually have LESS motivation to eat well and exercise. Frankel makes the sad point that, "Among all oppressed peoples throughout history, we women hold the dubious distinction of being the only group to persecute ourselves. We are our own enemies. We chose the battle that we could never win."
I was having chatting with a new friend recently, and was saddened to hear that she spent a solid decade of her life struggling with an eating disorder. This story is all too familiar to me. My feminist conscience was really developed when I was in college and started hearing story after story of young women that I knew who were, literally, killing themselves through a full blown eating disorder or "merely" disordered eating. (See some important and depressing current statistics at this site.) I started to get angry because at my sanitized Christian college campus, this was not something that was being discussed publicly. Why are we so silent in our pain? Raising awareness of this issue became a galvanizing force in my emerging "college activist" role, but 10 years later, it is still haunting friends, and "disordered eating" is still plaguing me. The thing that broke my heart as I sat with my new friend, listening to her describe how she is now 40 pounds heavier than she was 8 years ago, was the simple observation of how beautiful she is. It was chilling for me, because I've been dogged with especially negative feelings this past winter as I've watched my weight climb higher than it's ever been outside of pregnancy. As I was noting how beautiful and healthy my friend looks, a little voice in my head implied that maybe I don't look half bad either.
I spent the first 20 years of my life on the thin end of the spectrum, even bordering on "skinny" at times where mono or depression brought me to unhealthily low weights. I was the girl in high school and college that other girls loved to "hate" because I could eat whatever I wanted (LOTS of ice cream!) and not gain any noticeable weight. I was not remotely athletic, but I was "outdoorsy" and my periodic hikes and rock climbs, combined with my youthful metabolism, kept me thin without ever having to work out.
On spring break, my senior year in college, a few months after a very dark depression that involved insomnia and very little appetite.
**I'm falling asleep in my chair, so I'm going to bed. I'm going to post what I have so far, but I plan to continue this tomorrow, so stay tuned for Part II! In the mean time, I'd love to hear your stories of your own journeys with body image. It it's too personal to post in the comments, e-mail me and I can share things anonymously.**