People, behold! For I have made a great discovery. I have in my hands this very minute the worst diet book EVER!
Now admittedly, I’ve not read all the other diet books available. In fact, I haven’t read very many at all. I’ve been on loads of diets but tend to go for kamikaze, self-devised ones (I might self-publish a book of them one day). However, I fail to believe that any other diet book can possibly be as bad as Dukan: Love Your Curves.
I started reading this book while waiting in a queue at the post office. My local post office happens to be inside WHSmiths so I decided to grab a random book I had no intention of purchasing to distract me during the wait. Rest assured I was under no illusions that Dukan: Love Your Curves would be a self-esteem boosting tome that would encourage me to adore my own arse. I’ve fallen for this crap before. I’m wise to it. Two years ago I bought Gary Taubes’ The Diet Delusion, thinking it would strengthen my resolve not to buy into this diet nonsense any longer. Turns out The Diet Delusion is merely the belief that any diet other than a low-carb one is the way forward. It’s rather like if Richard Dawkins were to stop midway through The God Delusion and go “aha! But as for fairies, you should totally believe in them! I do, don’t I, Tink?”
Anyhow, Dukan: Love Your Curves. What, you may be wondering, is Dr Pierre Dukan, author of the Middleton-tastic Dukan Diet, doing telling women to love their curves? Well, he’s trying to sell another book, obviously. I didn’t need to tell you that. However, the tactic he’s gone for is mesmerizingly bad. “Lose weight, not shape” is the message. So it’s a bit like an honest Dove advert. Flaunt your “real” beauty, albeit in a strictly circumscribed manner. Have curves – indeed, it’s obligatory to have curves if you’re female – just as long as they’re not fat, unsightly ones.
It takes a lot of nerve for someone who has made a great deal of money advising women to lessen in size to seek to make even more money by telling them not to feel too bad about what little flesh they’ve got left. I mean, seriously, Pierre! This is just total merde! But that’s not the worst of it. In attempting to demonstrate how “natural” a woman’s curves are, Dukan comes out with a whole heap of essentialist, misogynist bullshit. It’s exploitative venality disguised as benevolent sexism. I am surprised this book was published at all. Or am I? Since you can sell everything else, why not a woman’s relationship with her own body? You don’t own it now, ladies; Pierre Dukan’s bought the rights and he’ll drip-feed that all-important knowledge back to you, slowly, and at a price.
So why do women feel under pressure to be thin? I don’t think there’s a straightforward answer to this. If forced to provide one, I’d have a stab, but I don’t think the first things I’d blame would be “our consumer society and feminism”. I might give a passing nod towards consumerism at some point, but only if I hadn’t made a substantial fortune egging women on in their quest to be tiny. But the chutzpah of Pierre Dukan knows no bounds. It may be over 30 years since Susie Orbach wrote Fat Is A Feminist Issue, 20 since Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, but it doesn’t matter. These things were never written. All along it’s been feminists – yes, feminists – who want you to be skinny. Why is this, you might ask. Because we feminists have been involved in “a futile attempt to abolish differences” (yeah, I know, you wouldn’t think it to look at twitter these days).
Since the physical differences between women and men are so striking they risked upsetting the feminists’ whole theory, so they went for the impossible and the impossible was achieved.
That’s right, ladies; the sisterhood doesn’t want you to have tits! The high priestesses of feminism don’t want to see hips and thighs on you, girlfriend! A secret pact between Rosemary Conley and Susie Orbach only seems unlikely because that’s what they want you to think. Indeed, according to Dukan, this is fundamental to the feminist cause, lest our battle can never be won:
Feminist ideologies and society, desperate to erase all differences, summoned to battle their best troops, their biggest advertising budgets and their fiercest and longest-running brainwashing campaign. If these curves had been of so little importance, far less effort would have been expended and the message would not have been hammered out so insistently. If things went so far and at such a pace, this was because women’s curves were the last bastion.
Now at this point you may be sniggering at the very idea of every grass-roots feminist organisation across the world making sure they’ve raised enough funds to contribute to the Special K advertising budget. It is just completely off the wall – and yet there it is, ready to be picked off the shelf in the “health and wellbeing” section of every good bookshop. Just remarkable. When you think of all the people in the world, all the research that is done, all the valuable things that can be said about healthy, gender and body image, how is it that the things that rise to the surface are so worthless?
It has long bothered me that the language and ideals of fat acceptance have been hijacked by, for want of a better word (and I’d appreciate a better word), body fascists. This takes place on a minor scale when cosmetics companies claim to be boosting the self-esteem of “normal” women, but is inflated to ridiculous proportions when you end up with a diet proponent desperately trying to make money from the size acceptance movement. It isn’t just wrong, it’s also confusing. Not hating the body you’re in is no longer your default state before popular culture messes with your head. It’s a state you can only achieve through hard work, work through which you need to be guided by the very people who made you feel terrible in the first place. What’s more, these people have no logical arguments since that would mean self-annihilation. Pierre Dukan has to resort to creating a world in which silly women – all cis, heterosexual, fertile women, with naturally curvy bodies and a natural desire to be attractive to men – keep getting it wrong, poor loves. I said be thin, but not thin thin, dears! And then even the men – all cis, heterosexual, fertile men, who love curvy women but feel pressured to pretend that they don’t – get mixed up, too. The book ends with Dukan writing a series of “open letters” to all the people who are to blame for this widespread neurosis (he doesn’t write to himself, mind). To men – all men, one presumes – he warns that now women are alienated from their own curves “they risk losing a part of themselves which we men are entitled to”. Bloody hell! I don’t know about you, but that’s put me off Krispy Kremes for life (and ending with a preposition, too! There is no limit to the offence this man will cause).
Of course, if you go this far with crass essentialism, where does this leave those of us who aren’t cis, heterosexual, fertile, naturally curvy women? What about trans women, for instance? Well, trans women – actually described by Dukan as “male transvestites” – are “driven by their fantastical desire to take on a gender that nature has not bestowed on them”. This is, by the way, just a random transphobic aside. Dukan’s main point here is to say that trans women sometimes take oestrogen, “oestrogen is the most female hormone you can get”, the bodies of trans women then change as a result ergo curves = womanhood, unless you’re a trans woman, in which case curves = “[your] fantastical desire to take on a gender that nature has not bestowed on [you]”. Just to reiterate, this bigoted crap is available in a diet book – a sodding diet book – released to absolutely no controversy whatsoever (in a similar way, the transphobia in Steve Biddulph’s Raising Boys still astounds me. The phrase “hiding in plain sight” springs to mind, but it’s too obvious even for that).
So Dukan’s work is transphobic, antifeminist and venal . But what does that say about broader, double-edged “accept yourself but only on my terms” advertising? In yesterday’s Guardian, Heather Long argued that we do ourselves no favours by getting too cynical and snarky in the face of Dove “real beauty” promotions. Dove has, if nothing else, identified the falseness of most advertising and “put a crack in that veneer”. I see where Long is coming from and half-agree. I’m too good at being a miserable sod and need to put a check on this. Yet I worry that damage is being inflicted on both sides, and that it’s uneven. The diet and beauty industry don’t appear too undermined by “real beauty” dialogues, yet size acceptance messages really do feel diluted by appropriation. Ultimately we should not have to read books or see adverts to make us believe our bodies are acceptable. We don’t need more words and images, we need fewer.