A few weeks ago, America’s Drunk Moms (Hoda and Jenna) decided to intermittently fast their way through the holiday season and we’ve been subjected to all manner of diet culture-y banality from them ever since. When I posted about it, most people shared my irritation. But then came the counter-argument: Why am I tearing down TWO WOMEN like this? Shouldn’t a good feminist support other women no matter what, after all they’re just trying to be healthy and happy? Why am I being such a mean girl?
Oh yeah. I’ve been here before. Whenever Amy and I talk about why moms shouldn’t diet on our podcast, someone inevitably tells us we are mom-shaming the moms who love to diet, and we should “respect different choices.” When I reported on fertility clinics turning away women in larger bodies last spring, a bunch of female fertility doctors and naturopaths took to Instagram to tell me I was being anti-woman because hey, didn’t I realize thin women get discriminated against too. And years ago, when I wrote about MLMs, women who love MLMs told me I just didn’t want them to be successful.
So let’s break this down. It is mom-shaming to judge moms who make a perfectly safe and healthy choice (like bottle feeding) just because you made a different but equally safe and healthy choice (like breast feeding). It would also be mom-shaming if I stood in front of a mom while she counted WW points and said, wow, you are pretty stupid for doing that. And it is absolutely woman-shaming to say things like “eat a sandwich already!” to thin women. (Oh and twist! It’s also fat-phobia driving that kind of comment; people mostly get mad about thin women when they are upset about the size of their own bodies.)
What I do is investigate and critique multi-billion dollar industries that profit off women’s insecurities by luring them to invest money and time on products that do not make their lives better. This is not shaming or judging or attacking the individual women who spent that money. Because I get that; it’s why I’m investigating the damn thing. Of course you joined WW or started Paleo or bought some LulaRoe leggings and now want to sell me some. Life is hard, we are all tired and broke and hate our stomachs, and these industries thrive on convincing us that everything will be better if we follow their plan, live by their rules, spend the money they tell us to spend.
All of those industries are dominated by thin white men. But, here’s the thing: All of them also employ women and many of those women have a ton of power. Like Hoda and Jenna. And Gwyneth and Oprah and Jenny Craig and Mary Kay and so many others. These women are in the thrall of diet culture; they are just as vulnerable as any of us to the messages that life will be better when they’re thinner and richer. But they are also choosing to profit off this message, quite directly in some cases. And indirectly but still significantly in the case of Hoda and Jenna who are using their high-paying, high profile jobs to market psuedoscience and body hatred when they’re supposed to be, I don’t know, but maybe some kind of journalists.
So yes, sometimes calling out diet culture looks like calling out women. Because women are woven into the very fabric of this thing and some of them are happily sewing themselves into place. And no, a good feminist does not blindly support any woman if that woman happens to be throwing the rest of us under the bus. But be clear that I’m calling out Hoda and Jenna, not the millions of women who watched them weigh themselves and thought oh shit, maybe I should also start drinking hot water instead of eating breakfast to lose weight and feel better about my body. You deserve to eat breakfast. Because you deserve a version of “feeling good about your body” that doesn’t cost you quite so much.