Whoa, you know a book is **edgy** when you lose a few friends every time you post a status update for it.
TOO FAT, TOO SLUTTY, TOO LOUD; THE RISE AND REIGN OF THE UNRULY WOMAN is written by a BuzzFeed writer who also published another work of nonfiction about the scandals of Golden Age Hollywood. TOO FAT also focuses on Hollywood, but Hollywood in the present day: in particular, it is a rather scathing and critical look at how various women are treated by the media when they choose to openly defy various gender roles, and what that means for us, as a society.
I really liked the structure of this book. TOO FAT is divided into segments, with each chapter focusing on a typical gender norm and a famous woman who does not follow it. There are ten chapters, plus an opening and a conclusion.
Chapter One: Too Strong // Serena Williams
This was one of my favorite chapters in the collection because I thought Serena Williams was so cool when I was a young girl. In the 90s, most "cool" female celebrities were very girly, like the Spice Girls and Britney Spears, and while I loved those ladies, too, and happily played their music for hours, I was a tomboy, so it was very cool to see a woman - a young woman - being praised for being strong and athletic and basically the antithesis of the pink bows and sparkly flowers that were being crammed down the throats of girls at the time.
But all was not as rosy as it seemed in my various issues of Preteen Monthly. TOO FAT talks about how Serena had to work every step of the way to become recognized in a sport that was rife with double standards regarding not just her gender but also her ethnicity. Her critics frequently wrote about her with coded language mocking her beaded hair and her temper tantrums, focusing on her with an intensity that simply did not happen for her male (white) colleagues. I thought this was a very thoughtful piece and it reminded me why I admired the Williams sisters so much growing up.
Chapter Two: Too Fat // Melissa McCarthy
This was another favorite chapter of mine, because I love Melissa McCarthy and live for her Sean Spicer sketches on SNL. This was also a very well-written essay that discusses how overweight and plus-sized women are treated by the media (read: mocked) and how the accomplishments of women are recognized differently than the accomplishments of men (read: they aren't - at least not as effusively, nor to the same extent). Women are supposed to deflect and be demure - they aren't supposed to openly acknowledge their accomplishments; it is really amazing to me how quick people are to tear women down when it seems like they're "too confident." I also thought it was interesting how McCarthy's persona on stage is apparently so different from her real-life persona. As someone who's also quite shy in real life, I thought it was kind of sweet that McCarthy sounds like she's soft-spoken and actually super girly off-stage.
Chapter Three: Too Gross // Abbi Jacbson & Ilana Glazer
To be honest, I have no idea who these people are. They're from a show called Broad City, which I don't watch (I don't watch a lot of TV). But the point the essay makes is clear: society has definitive ideas about what women are permitted to joke about, and women are often mocked for or excluded from participating in raunch humor or slacker humor. There was one quote in this book that summed up this idea really nicely: According to this logic, men's bodily functions are funny - but women's bodies are fundamentally obscene (86)
It actually reminded me of the Eat, Pray, Queef episode from South Park, which does a great job of poking fun at the double standards when it comes to bodily humor and gender.
Chapter Four: Too Slutty // Nicki Minaj
This was another good chapter that talks about the catch-22 situation that many women find themselves in when deciding whether or not to show skin: is having a "sexy" image in the public eye merely catering to the male gaze, or is it owning one's sexuality? Can it be both?
Like the "Too Strong" chapter with Serena Williams, Too Slutty also talks about how women of color, specifically black women of color, are hypersexualized and held to different standards than white women when it comes to beauty and sexuality (read: the shortest short end of the stick). This is a topic I've seen mentioned a lot lately, and I was pleased to see the author mention it, and defining why this double standard is so problematic in such clear and precise terms.
Chapter Five: Too Old // Madonna
"Too Old" is one of the weaker chapters in this book, in my opinion. It's about age discrimination with regards to sexuality specifically, and how older women are expected to give up basically all sexual agency and just become celibate, demure, and matronly as they grow older. Using Madonna as an example, Petersen shows how women are shamed and portrayed as pathetic and desperate when still attempting to convey a sexual and youthful image post-middle age.
Chapter Six: Too Pregnant // Kim Kardashian
This was one of my favorite chapters, which surprised me because I'm really not a fan of Kim Kardashian. But this chapter surprised me, and it actually made me like Kim a little more. In this chapter, Petersen talks about Kim's pregnancy with North and how Kim totally went against the "cute pregnancy" standards set by people like Reese Witherspoon or Kate Middleton by wearing tight, unflattering clothes and complaining publicly about her discomfort and ambivalence of being pregnant instead of yapping about how great(!) and amazing(!) pregnancy is.
I liked this chapter because, like the Too Gross chapter, it shows that women can't always be neat and cute and clean all the time. Maintaining such a pristine image is hard work and not everyone has the resources or the will to manage such a time-consuming illusion. Kim Kardashian chose not to buy into that and showed us that even famous people have bad moments - and that's OK.
Chapter Seven: Too Shrill // Hillary Clinton
I think this might have been one of the chapter updates that caused me to lose some friends, because I said that I thought Hillary Clinton should be president instead of certain **other people** and that it was a shame she wasn't given a chance. Well, I stand by that. And Petersen did a great job talking about some of the obstacles female politicians face, being mocked for wanting power and accused of being bitchy, aggressive, and shrill for the same attributes that their male colleagues are praised for.
Chapter Eight: Too Queer // Caitlyn Jenner
"Too Queer" was an interesting chapter. Most of the other chapters have a tone of "praise" or at least "admiration" but in "Too Queer" I felt the tone was more critical. Here, Petersen talks about the subject of heteronormativity (or having heterosexual norms being the de facto standard for a society) and how coming from a position of privilege can color or shape the perception of inequality for someone who is within the marginalized group in question (in this case, not realizing how bad things are for other trans people if you are a rich, gender role-conforming trans person who "passes" easily).
Chapter Nine: Too Loud // Jennifer Weiner
MY FAVORITE CHAPTER IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE BOOK.
Jennifer Weiner novels were the staple of my young adolescence and after Bridge Jones, were basically what got me into the whole "chick lit" genre. I related to everything in this essay so hard. As a reader and writer of romance, I cannot tell you how often I have been denigrated because of my choices of reading and writing material. (One phrase that sticks out is "articulate" - I feel that is the go-to code word for people who want to find a way to tell you that they think you are an idiot if you write intelligently. Like, "Oh, you're articulate, but everything you think and feel is trash.")
I do not think it is a coincidence that the genre that primarily caters to women receives the most criticism from both within and without the industry - especially (although not always by) men.
Honestly, I would read an entire book about this topic (need a future book idea, Ms. Petersen?).
Chapter Ten: Too Naked // Lena Dunham
Ugh, my least favorite chapter. I just don't like Lena Dunham and I don't like Girls and have little interest in seeing Girls (which is a feat in and of itself, given my mad Adam Driver obsession). I thought about skipping this chapter but I wanted to read it anyway just so I could write a well-rounded review of the book...and it wasn't that bad. Basically, Lena Dunham asserts herself by flaunting a body that most people don't find attractive or "worthy." ...Okay? I think this was the least effective chapter because it was basically a combination of the "Too Fat" and "Too Gross" chapters from the beginning of the book, so I didn't really feel like we were covering any new ideas. I think a "Too Confident" or "Too Smart" chapter would have been better, because my God, have you ever noticed how quick people are to tear women down for daring to feel...good about themselves?
Overall, I really enjoyed TOO FAT, TOO SLUTTY, TOO LOUD. It helped that I already liked most of the people the author chose to write about, but the writing stands on its own. This book covers some very important topics about how women are treated by society. Even though we are moving towards true equality, there are still many areas that need improvement, and I would suggest this book to people who insist that society is equal or smugly call themselves "equalists" because TOO FAT does a great job highlighting not just where the last bastions of inequality exist, but also why they exist, and why it's important not to null these groups out.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
4 out of 5 stars