I was wondering where you got your voice, because one thing that really came across in your book is: This is a funny person, this is a charismatic person. Where does that come from for you?I think that trying to make people laugh comes from a coping mechanism of being gay as a child, always trying to make people laugh so they didn’t laugh at you. But as an adult, I just have always been quick and witty with my commentary. I’ve always been this very upfront and brash person when it comes to giving advice to my friends or giving feedback. I’m not afraid to tell them like it is. In the book, I call it tactful pettiness. You might be trying to get a point across because you want someone to do better or change, but it comes with a little bit of humor so it doesn’t hurt so hard.Another thing I get from your book is that you’re trying to encourage people to feel more confident. Where do you put your confidence on a daily basis?I really think it varies on the day and with what I’m taking on. When we’re in familiar spaces, when we’re doing the routine, when taking on things that we’ve had a few goes at, I feel super confident with that. With this book launch, there’s a lot of news. There are photo shoots, there’s live television, there’s bearing my soul in 220 or so pages. It’s all new, and that level of confidence isn’t always there. But I always stick to my foundations of knowing that what I’ve done in life is going to prepare me for new scary chapters. I have lived 36 years of my life and, no matter what, I’ve always figured it out, even if it’s scary or has me on the edge of the seat. And I hope that people also realize that in themselves.This book has some very vulnerable moments for you. You go really deep into some things that might surprise someone who only knows you as a Peloton instructor. What was it like sharing those vulnerable moments and memories?Well, I think we all have a lot of dimensions to us. With Peloton and maybe social media, it’s kind of curated and we get to put a filter on what we share. Typically, I try to make those spaces very happy and upbeat. I share a lot of the good or the funny, but working out can be really vulnerable. I think sharing some of my stories inspires people, but I’ve only been able to really share them in little clips or little bits. And so to share this stuff…I don’t want to say it was challenging. It was actually really therapeutic for me. Fortunately, I have taken some time to process the passing of my father, the passing of my best friend, growing up very poor, dealing with a mother who faced addiction and mental health issues. And I’ve been able to really process the resentment and pain that I’ve had and let that go through therapy and through meditation.The most powerful part of your book for me is when you talk about your mom, Cindy. When you talk about how she’s influenced the humor you use in your classes, I thought that was so interesting. Could you talk a bit about what that relationship has looked like for you?I think everybody has a complicated relationship with their parents. No matter how well they provided for you, no matter how good they were at X, Y, and Z, there’s always going to be a level of complication. And I think that really comes down to a little bit of generational trauma. I think we all inherit something from our parents, and if we decide to have kids, I think it’s our responsibility to unpack and process as much of that as we can in hopes that we don’t pass that on to future generations. And I think that’s a big reason why I’m unsure if I want kids. Like, have I done enough work yet?
Few genres of literature so clearly communicate the anxieties of their epoch like diet books, a form that combines science-flavored woo with instructions on how to become a living embodiment of a society’s values and aspirations. In this new SELF series, JP Brammer will be revisiting popular diet books and unpacking what they tell us about a particular time in American culture. For his debut installment, he’s tackling Skinny Bitch, a vegan manifesto masquerading as a weight-loss manual.The year is 2005. Our great country has been beset by calamities. The Iraq War is in full swing under President George W. Bush. Hurricane Katrina has devastated much of the Gulf Coast. Maroon 5. Facing debacle after debacle, a weary, traumatized nation has but one thing on its mind: becoming a skinny bitch.I was a mere child the year Skinny Bitch, a “no-nonsense, tough-love guide for savvy girls who want to stop eating crap and start looking fabulous” was published. But I was already an aspiring cultural commentator, regularly watching America’s Next Top Model, Project Runway, and Fashion Police, among other classic staples of television, while offering searing insights to my mom on our couch. I did not have friends and we lived on a ranch.This is all to say that I am a student of the cartoonish made-for-TV cruelty of early-to-mid 2000s pop culture ephemera, an era defined by Tyra Banks performing Jigsaw-esque torture scenarios on aspiring models. Yes, with the United States facing threats both within and without, our tastemakers decided to focus on body aesthetics or, more specifically, on pursuing a brutal thinness that all but demanded asceticism from its adherents. The diet books of the time reflect this.Written by former models Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, Skinny Bitch is a slim, bitchy volume that promises to bully you into being thin. Despite lackluster initial sales, it eventually became a bestseller in England and then in the US in 2007, after Victoria Beckham was spotted carrying it in Los Angeles. Reading it now, it’s easy to see why: It captures its time in amber, perfectly encapsulating the goal set for women in that era. In 2005, the aspirational woman was fun, flirty, fashionable, and, above all, skinny.She was also unabashedly mean. If the 2010s were dominated by “le epic bacon” humor and BuzzFeed-esque “so I did a thing” voice, then Skinny Bitch captures the voice of the mid-2000s, which sounds like a drill sergeant wearing Juicy Couture screaming at you to go ahead and jump off a cliff because you put dressing on your salad. (Indeed, that is the entire concept of The Biggest Loser, a show that came out around the same time.)But Skinny Bitch is not a television show. It has been granted the freedom of imagination that the blank page provides, meaning it can be as utterly ridiculous as it wants to be. And, make no mistake, it wants to be. This book all but accuses fat people of being the Taliban. The only road to redemption, it says, is veganism, because this whole affair is really about promoting the vegan lifestyle. Weirdly, though, it doesn’t say that upfront. Rather, it slowly cuts everything out of your kitchen that isn’t vegan, including coffee, meat, cheese, and even aspirin. Aside from “vegan cookies” and “vegan pizza,” the word vegan is not uttered as an identity until chapter six. For all its bluster, Skinny Bitch is on a covert mission.