Critique Books, Not Bodies (Guest Post by Kayla Manley)

Critique Books, Not Bodies (Guest Post by Kayla Manley)

If I hadn’t picked up Jes Baker’s Things No One Tells Fat Girls two days after reading Rachel Hollis’s Girl, Wash your Face! I may have relapsed back into my eating disorder. And I probably would’ve thanked Rachel for it.

I liked Rachel’s book when I first read it. I didn’t think it was mind blowing, but I felt like it was a cute pep talk that I could learn from. She speaks in a language white women like me are used to, peppering her paragraphs with phrases like “ugly tears,” calling us “sister,” and even starting out the book with a familiar “hey, girl hey!” She tells relatable stories about peeing on herself, openly discusses issues in her sex life, and writes a whole chapter around her celebrity crush. She comes off as caring, and reassures you that she makes mistakes too!

Except, she doesn’t. Not in the present at least. Every single issue Rachel discusses in her book is one she has thoroughly, successfully conquered. She admits to her obsession with diet coke, and how she kicked the habit. She briefly touches on past issues in her sex life, but sandwichs it between paragraphs bragging about how great it was initially, and how much more spectacular it is today. Rachel also fails to acknowledge any privilege or people that may have helped her along the way. While she notes that her husband has a “fancy job,” she doesn’t name it; he’s president of theatrical distribution for Disney. She definitely doesn’t discuss how finding a well-connected, wealthy, successful husband at 19 might have contributed to the success of her lifestyle blog. She details the deliberation of whether she should be a working mom or stay at home, without acknowledging those who don’t have that choice. She complains about her foster children’s biological parents, comparing them to kids and calling them addicts, but never questions why her own children weren’t taken away during a time when she similarly abused alcohol and Xanax. She points to herself as “living, breathing, flourishing” proof that anyone can overcome trauma as if losing your brother, being raped, experiencing war, and surviving domestic abuse are all the same experience that we should react to in a uniform manner. Yet, even with all these substantial flaws, I persisted through the pages, taking in her words.

Rachel’s words aren’t just boastful and privileged, they’re dangerous. At one point Rachel seriously implies people who can’t commit to diets aren’t trustworthy. She describes a coworker, Pam, who can’t stick to the Whole30 diet, who dares to eat pizza at work, and then asks her audience: “Y’all would you respect her? Would you count on Pam?” Rachel continues this fatphobic rhetoric in her chapter on weight despite her own experiences with binge eating and dangerous dieting. “You don’t need to be thin,” she preaches, “You need to be healthy.” While Rachel’s health centered, ‘tough-love’ approach is a small step forward when compared to countless other self-help books, it is apparent the ruler she is using to measure the ‘health’ of those around her is still primarily weight and size. She doesn’t believe in the “severely overweight” and condescendingly depicts what that looks like to her: “you need to be able to run without feeling like you’re going to puke. You need to be able to walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded.”

After finishing the book, Rachel’s assumptions about my body, my food choices and my exercise routine embedded themselves in my brain. I promised myself I would start dieting again, mentally berated myself for only going to the gym three times that week, and picked at my dinner. The self-hatred bubbled as I recalled her begging the overweight to “please stop justifying a crappy existence simply because that’s the way it’s always been.” My eating disorder whispered, See you’re just a lazy, crappy person who lacks discipline and willpower, even this complete stranger knows that. Maybe this book is just what you needed.

But that whisper was wrong. My eating disorder voice may have loved Rachel, but what I desperately needed was Jes Baker.

Jes obviously knew that if she was going to say it’s okay to love your fat self, she was going to need cold, hard evidence. This is not your average self-help book. She includes essays from people of color, members of the LBGTQIA+ community, individuals with disabilities, and different genders. Her book has studies, facts, statistics, and charts. You will find both information from doctors and how to find a doctor in these pages. Jes takes aim at toxic behavior, corrupt industries and harmful misconceptions, and she obliterates them with a combination of personal experience and accurate information, the latter of which you will not find in Rachel’s work. She encourages and inspires her readers to put down the obsession with weight and appearance to go live their lives by including challenges, and urging us to find hobbies and exercise we enjoy without being ashamed.

Jes taught me that equating food to morality is a fatphobic, toxic thought process that fuels disordered eating habits and diet culture. Sorry, Rachel, but that means Pam isn’t an evil person just for eating pizza or failing some diet. For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought I was a ‘bad’ person for being fat, and it has never once helped me. That thought led me to let friends, boyfriends, and strangers treat me poorly because I thought I deserved it. It caused me to hide from fun workout and dance classes. It eventually led me to an eating disorder where I harmed my body in ways I won’t detail here. Failing at a diet does not make you a bad person, an untrustworthy friend, and it certainly doesn’t mean you don’t deserve respect. Diets are designed to fail so consumers will have to come back; that’s what makes dieting a billion dollar industry. They don’t make money by making people healthy.

Which brings me to another lesson from Jes, you can’t tell how healthy someone is by looking at them, or by Rachel’s weird standards. This is something I should’ve already known. I ran six miles a day and I could take the stairs easily at a time in my life when I was dangerously unhealthy.  I have larger friends that I have personally watched power walk through theme parks at speeds I can only dream of. I know thin people that eat their weight in junk food, workout five minutes a year, and need a moment after they get up the stairs. Bottom Line: Rachel is not a doctor, nor does she include any facts, evidence or science in her book. She doesn’t know what you eat or if you workout or what your blood pressure is. She doesn’t know a thing about your health. Besides, what people “need” is to be respected, regardless of size, weight or even health. That’s right, unhealthy people still deserve respect. Girl, mind your body!

Jes’s commitment to inclusivity only further highlights Rachel’s thoughtlessness. Jes makes sure to provide information that helps a variety of people by using research and making space for those of different experiences in her book. Her book isn’t just for fat bodies; it’s for ALL bodies. Meanwhile Rachel’s outlined health “needs” leave out several groups such as those that can’t afford or don’t have access to healthy food, individuals with disabilities, and the elderly. Time and time again, Rachel speaks without considering those different from her. She constructs all her advice around her personal experiences. Unless you’re living her exact life, I doubt her book will help you much.

Jes’s self-help book is the first one to actually help me. Her book hasn’t made its way back to my shelves since I finished it. I am constantly reopening it to highlight quotes, reread stats, and remind myself of all the useful coping strategies she shares within its pages. As someone focused on maintaining recovery from my eating disorder, I make sure to keep it close by, ready to arm myself against whatever hateful comments or anxious thoughts come my way. Not only did Jes Baker change my life, she also saved me from another miserable, sad diet that I might have been ‘inspired’ to start by Rachel.

To be fair, Rachel notes in her own words that she didn’t want to write a body-positive book and she didn’t. But still, I hope one day she’ll pick up Jes’s masterpiece, give it a read, and consider dispelling some different lies in her next book such as “health and weight are the same thing,” “only healthy people deserve respect,” or “one white, straight, able, christian woman’s advice based solely off her own personal anecdotes will help every person of every race, religion, sexuality, gender, and disability.” I’ve found that last one to be particularly heinous.

Rachel gets 1/5 peaches for her writing, and 0/5 for body-positivity/inclusivity Jes earns a 5/5 across the board; I could not thank her enough if had her undivided attention until the end of time.

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Kayla Manley

Kayla Manley is Georgia born, but currently lives in Louisiana with her husband and two dogs—she’d be more specific, but doesn’t want Rachel Hollis to find her. For more content, you can follow her on instagram and twitter at: @themanleypeach