Moving away from Vegan and Raw Food as a Beauty Formula
February 3, 2012


As usual, you guys blow me away. Thanks for the intelligent and very brave comments on yesterday’s post. Big thanks, too, to the many women who emailed privately to say that the image had made them feel nervous about their looks, their age, or their diet. As JL pointed out, the very purpose of that image is to capitalize on some womens’ worst fears—getting older, or not being perceived as “beautiful,”—and use those fears to deter them from plant based eating. I hope that you all feel a little more empowered to resist that kind of messaging.

So, if you’re not caught up, I posted yesterday about a  meme that’s been going around. It compares photos of Nigella Lawson and Gillian McKeith; the former looks splendid, while McKeith simply looks caught off guard, and perhaps a little tired. The point of the meme is to say that McKeith, who advocates a mostly plant diet, detoxification, and exercise, looks older than Lawson, who loves some butter, meat and cheese. Slow clap.

If you want a recap of my thoughts and those of my readers, you can check out the post here. Today, I wanted to specifically address the conflation of health and beauty, which is of course the theme that this meme (oops, I rhymed) evokes. In this case, the creator of that meme is arguing either a) that health and beauty are not one in the same, or b) that what is “healthy” is not what popular health gurus claim (plant based food and exercise) but rather a good, old-fashioned, meat n’ potatoes diet. I think he or she—I couldn’t confirm who created it—is saying b), but no matter: the point is that the visual is intended to complicate the idea that eating a healthy diet, full of vegetables, will impart glowing complexion and youthful radiance.

Oddly, I kind of agree. Or rather, I agree that it’s unfair to make presumptions about how a healthy diet will affect one’s appearance. Do I think there’s some truth to the idea that healthy lifestyle habits can help to keep one looking trim and youthful? Sure. Do I think there’s any sort of guarantee? No, not really. I’ve met incredibly healthy women and men who did not necessarily emanate youth, and I’ve met many more women and men who have lifestyle habits I’d call pretty unhealthy (processed food, no exercise, alcohol/nicotine/drug addictions) who appear to be the picture of youthful beauty. Healthy habits may offer some promise of youthfulness and beauty (whatever “beauty” means), but there’s certainly no direct cause and effect relationship.

And it gets more complicated. One of my favorite comments yesterday was from my friend Bitt, who lives with an autoimmune disease and chronic pain. She wrote:

“I think it’s unfair to judge someone on how they look. I have had people say to me “you look awful” when I felt fine, and have other people think I look “great” when I feel absolutely terrible. It’s part of the trouble with an invisible illness. A little make up and some sun exposure can make someone look a lot better but does not heal the inside.”

Very true. Some health conditions manifest themselves outwardly, but a good many don’t. And until you walk in somebody’s proverbial shoes, you truly have no idea how he or she feels from day to day. Remarking upon beauty/appearance as a sign of good health can be very frustrating to those who suffer from silent illnesses.

Finally, my friend Sarah, who used to work at a holistic treatment center, had this to say:

“I saw firsthand the intense pressure for holistic health folks to look a certain way so that people would follow their advice and/or buy their products and supplements. The raw vegan medical doctor with whom I worked for several years frequently got weekly facials, acid peels, and other regular “holistic” aesthetic work done. His argument for doing this (according to my spa friend who administered said peels and facials) was that people would judge his work based on his appearance. When my friend let me in on this, I felt kind of sorry for him, a well-intentioned doctor in his silver years constantly walking around with a puffy red face while he was waiting for his weekly acid peel effects to subside, and a nagging fear that if he got wrinkles or looked less than Hollywood-esque people would be less likely to follow his advice. The doctor encouraged his staff to “stay on point” with their diets, as guests would see us as ‘models of the lifestyle’.”

Sarah, I can relate to this well. When I first got into raw foods, I was a part of several communities of women who were very wrapped up in the notion of “detox.” There was always talk of glowing skin and better hair, tiny waistlines and taught physiques, comments about one’s jean size. Ostensibly, these were seen as marks of good health, but I often felt that the health talk was really there to validate an incredible strain of vanity. Beyond that, I found the very notion that skin, hair, or weight are the measures of good health to be disturbing. Good diet will not necessarily eliminate every pimple or set of crow’s feet, and even if they did, who cares? Good complexion and bright eyes are nice, but they are hardly the most important benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

There is a ton of pressure for people who eat healthy to also look “the part.” It is assumed that healthy vegans and vegetarians will be slim, clear-skinned, and energetic at all times. The truth is that we come in every shape and size, and that we, just like everyone else, have our token dark circles when we’re tired, pimples when we PMS, and wrinkles as we get older. I’ll admit, I’ve been approached by readers when I was particularly exhausted before, and gotten worried: did I look pale? Did I have bags under my eyes? Obviously, those things indicate nothing more than the fact that I’m a full time pre-med student and blogger who doesn’t sleep enough. But the fear is that people will assume my healthy lifestyle habits are ineffectual, or a hoax.

Let’s all do ourselves a favor, and focus on our lifestyle choices not as a way to reverse aging or “get the glow,” but as a means of feeling vibrant, satisfied, and complete. As Carrie wrote,”

“I’ve had so many compliments on my appearance since I became a healthy vegan, but I always try to communicate to people how much better I feel on the inside. True health to me means feeling energetic, vibrant and balanced. What we see on the outside is only one part of the story.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

On that uplifting and sane note, I have two winners of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Raw Food Detox! They—randomly generated—are #232, Aimee, and #256, Jackie!! I’ll email you both to get your mailing addresses.

Happy Friday to you all!


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  1. I find this article so confusing – you cannot just post photos of Gillian McKeith, who never wears make up and doesn’t retouch her photos, and the photo of Nigella Lawson with tons of make up and retouched. Please google ‘Nigella Lawson without make up’ and you’ll se how tired (nasolabial folds) and grey her skin is. Then google Markus Rothkrantz and see the real skin of a raw foodist. It is all individual, a lot of people can look better cause they eat tons of unhealthy food and their skin is going to look all plumped up, but they’ll be so ill inside. There is no rule, but I found that if going raw, or vegan, you should be very careful about protein intake, fat intake, greens intake etc. And your skin in most cases will be just fine. It is a really wide area of discussion, so posting 2 photos (one of them is unreal) is not gonna make people think that raw food is unhealthy. Use your head people, google raw foodists, vegans etc., and don’t judge based on several fake photos. If this was the case – all meat eaters would look great in their 60’s, without the need of fillers, botox, etc.

  2. I think one of the main reasons so many raw foodists push the superficial angle is not necessarily that *they* are so superficial, themselves…but that they are very CYNICAL about the motivations of 90% of the human race!

    If people can’t be bothered to care about their own health, the welfare of animals, or the planet…well, they can certainly be motivated to care about their LOOKS! It’s sad to think about, but it’s very true. If they cared about those other aspects, they would have already been drawn to a healthier/greener lifestyle.

    As for me, I’ve got to admit, I only found this post because I’m fascinated with the “beauty” angle, myself…I’m a pretty vain person, but I do care about the planet / animals and my own health. In fact, my own health and the health of the planet is part of *why* I haven’t made the leap to a raw vegan lifestyle, yet. I’m not yet entirely convinced that shipping raw super-foods from around the world is less harmful to the environment than simply eating local, some-cooked foods (from farmer’s markets) and I’m also not entirely certain that it’s a good idea to cut out all forms of cholesterol, (perhaps raw, but from local eggs).

    Well, I’m still researching, but I’m just adding my two cents of my impression of the motivations behind the “raw food = beauty” angle pushed by many.

  3. Many years ago I began fascinated with a raw foods cookbook and plunged into eating raw foods for about a month. It was fun; and the concept of eating raw for health is one drumbeat I hear. This is one reason that your blog title drew me–I’ve read a couple of posts. In each I find a refreshing balanced attitude on issues. You have paid attention to not only the internal in terms of health but the internal in terms of emotions and spirit. I find myself agreeing with you a lot. Bless you, and thank you, Anne

  4. You are awesome! You’ve said “the former looks splendid, while McKeith simply looks caught off guard, and perhaps a little tired.”! You are sweet, generous and non-judgemental at all! I love your blog! And I’ve loved this post!

  5. I am a vegan, mainly for health reasons; not looking my age is a fringe benefit. In 2002 I was 32, overweight, overmedicated, diabetic and using a walker. Western medicine wasn’t helping, and my body was wheelchair bound, so it was time to think outside of the box. It has taken until this year to finally find what was wrong with me, and what it takes to heal me. Although I had learned about the power of foods and their healing effects, it still had to be put to use. It all started with doing a juice fast, using only fresh veggies and fruit juiced at home. This was done for 22 days.

    After breaking the fast, I realized my Fibro and RA symptoms, which crippled me up, is an allergy to gluten, the sinus problems and migraines are linked to dairy products, and no more diabetes. Although poultry was eaten before the fast, my body does not like it, so that was cut out too.

    My diet is a very balanced; omega 3 from flax seed and different raw nuts, fats from coconut products, avocados etc. I eat very well and still have my desserts (I have a non dairy chocolate shake recipe better than DQ! even my junk food eating teenager loved it!).

    Things were different for people of my generation growing up; our meats, dairy and poultry did not come from factory farming, we did not have corn syrup to sweeten our drinks, and the majority of foods didn’t have ingredients that were almost impossible to pronounce. I am not going to lie and say I do not sometimes miss a big plate of biscuits and sausage gravy, with scrambled eggs and hash browns, or a simple BLT, but the pros far outweigh the cons when it comes to being a vegan 🙂 Thank you for taking the time to read my post, have a great day!

  6. We are a society that worship looks.

    I am losing weight, doing my own version of a Eat to Live diet. I have been a vegetarian 15 +++ years ago and I am returning to it but not full blown this time. I believe everything in balance is ok. Meat, butter and desserts are fine once in a while. Not every day as your main meal!!

    any way, doing this life style for health issues not looks. If I was interested in looks then plastic surgery and make up would have been the route I would take. Also people need to remember that Magellan was probably touched up in real life for the shot and then the photo was touched up to erase all her visible flaws.

    BTW, I am loving your recipes. They are pretty similar to mine. I love to create in the kitchen and try different seasoning and mixing things to see what concoction will come out of it. 🙂 thanks for sharing.

  7. You will probably never see this comment bc I am too late, and that’s okay. 😛 But if you do…

    Does Bitt have a blog by any chance? I have an auto-immune disease (arthritis) and live with crippling pain. Can totally, totally relate to her comment.

    Gena you just HAVE to get on the date syrup train, if you are not already!! I soaked some dates crowded together in a bowl and the soak water made this delicious, healthy SYRUP. Way better than agave!! 🙂

    Your blog is the only one I read regularly lately. Keep up the amazing work and intriguing articles. I have to admit, I’m very vain and love that aspect of veganism. One of my future goals is to also be an esthetician if not a nutritionist or psychologist. Comme ce, comme ca!!

  8. I guess I’m too late for the discussion,I just came to this post through JL goes Vegan.Just wanted to say thank you,I really needed this. 🙂

  9. Just getting caught up after being on the road–thanks for such intelligent leadership in burying this meme, and for having such an intelligent _readership_!

    The conflation of appearance with health is something of a con-man trick that pays no attention to genes, nor to what kind of background someone comes from when they discover healthy eating.

    I had a boyfriend when I lived in HI who scorned all of us rawfoodists, particularly the vegans, and claimed that he could eat absolutely anything because he was a ‘successful mutation’ in terms of human evolution. He further claimed that all the “good and beautiful”–the frat boy and sorority girl undergrads he mostly hung out with back home (he was a grad student in his late 30’s) were also “successful mutations” and were naturally healthier, happier, able to eat “anything” than us sorry lot. You can understand why that relationship didn’t last! But truthfully, he could eat anything and everything, perhaps partly because he was so physically active, and he had a stunning body. On the other hand, his years of partying totally showed on his face, he was clearly beginning to age, and he often got low-level sick.

    What my time with him–and for that matter, my time with my own husband, who is incredibly well-endowed genetically–showed me was that looks, even health, are not synonymous with healthy diet, and _should_not ever be used as an argument against eating healthily.

  10. I whole heartedly agree, I have listened to people who have no idea about health, get into Raw and Vegan to be super skinny and only be absorbed by that!
    Health first in my life, then looks after…………….I feel it’s a wonderful journey through, youth, 20’s, 30’s and now in my 40’s how I feel and how I treat people is what matters to me….
    This is what I teach, 1st your health, the rest will follow, I would of course be fibbing if I said I did not wish to be slimmer, but after years of depression and sciatic pain that nearly crippled me, my health mentally and physically is the key for me in life*
    Great article and well said on all levels xxxx

  11. Love this Gena! I fight with this every day. I want to look my best physically to be a good example for the plant-based diet and I spend a lot of time and energy doing so. I started a post many moons ago, after the Kathy Freston fest, about where do we draw the line at appealing to peoples’ vanity to get them to go vegan. It’s a slippery slope and I do not have the answers. It’s good to discuss these kinds of things so we can be happy and healthy advocates.

    I do believe that a few key things affect how you look; genetics, diet (or I should say what your diet looks like over time, did you eat a lot of crap growing up, drink excessively, take drugs, eat fast food etc), environment, and mental health. The way you look can be a good indication of what is going on inside. Chinese medicine has used facial diagnosis long before western medicine was the norm.

    This brings me to an approach I’m trying this month that goes against all the raw food/cleansing attitude. And reminds me that we are ALL different, and different things work for different people, and what worked for you last year may or may not work for you today. Over the last year I’ve noticed my dark circles getting more and more noticeable to the point where I have to wear makeup to feel comfortable without my glasses on. Pre-30 I never ever wore makeup. These dark circles could be a sign of kidney weakness and adrenal burnout, often caused by a diet that is too cleansing, cold, with too much raw food, sugar, and baked flour. So I’m going back to a more nourishing, grounding cooked diet without the sugar, smoothies, and raw foods to see if that helps. I want to be in balance on the inside and the outside. I’m willing to experiment to see if these diet changes will help. Yes, partly for vanity’s sake but more for my health 🙂

  12. I’m also really enjoying this discussion. I would offer a few perspectives:

    I’ve been veg since 19 years old, vegan since 22, I’m 33 now. Putting genes aside, and putting superficial qualities aside, I have not been able to help but notice that as a matter of pure health, I am aging “better” than virtually all of my peers, who are struggling with weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, skin issues and other issues. I am not “skinny” – like many of you I once was, in my late 20’s, but it was a very unhealthy borderline ED phase and I am thankful every day that I dug out of that extremely into intoxicating, damaging hole. I will say that maintaining my vegan diet had allowed me more naturally to stay consistently trimmer than many of my peers-while I’ve stayed generally trim virtually all have gained somewhat substantial weight. I attribute this almost virtually exclusively to my diet and exercise.

    In terms of the meme, I think that it is abhorrent. I also think that genes play a huge role for a very long time in notions of “beauty” regardless of lifestyle. Nigella may just be what our society has determined is a more classically beautiful look. This is frustrating, but a reality in our culture.

    Thanks, gena, for the opportunity for this community to comment on these mattes. Thought provoking as always.

  13. I’m thrilled to have won the giveaway. Thanks Gena. I sent you an email with my info.

    We all learn it but often forget to heed the advice of the age old adage to never judge a book by its cover.

  14. How does one exactly make the “shift” from eating vegan/plant-based as a beauty formula to eating vegan/plant-based as an ethical statement?

    • I don’t think there’s anything that needs to be done; it simply happens. I didn’t set out to become an animal rights person; my raw veganism wasn’t about beauty, but it was all about personal health. The shift to caring for animals and the planet just happened to me, while I wasn’t looking. Of course health remains of paramount importance to me, but it’s no longer my daily focus. And I couldn’t have controlled that change; it was organic.

      I would, though, suggest you start visiting animal sanctuaries, as a way of connecting with the creatures we’ve managed to so horribly dissociate from emotionally!

  15. Fantastic discussion as always. I saw an interesting doco last week on the study of twins. Two identical twins living polar lives – one extremely healthy, active and with few vices; the other a heavy drinker, smoker who ate fried food and did no exercise. At 50, both were diagnosed with heart disease and had to have open heart surgery. The ‘healthy’ twin has astounded that genetics had played such a major role in his health. Goes to show that diet and exercise cannot (always) prevent disease and health issues. It actually made me reassess the way I looked at my diet and lifestyle and my reasons behind choosing a plant based diet. That’s not to say I will be be eating burgers and steak any time soon, but I have come to a content acceptance that a 100% raw vegan diet (that I had once – unsuccessfully – aspired to) is not going to make me beautiful, thin, disease-free and happy.

  16. Most psychology studies have come up with null results on the hypothesis that we can predict anything about health from a person’s appearance- at least within a sample of young adults (not hospital patients). I agree with the comments suggesting that diet is a small part of appearance- it makes some contribution, but not that much compared with genetics and other factors. I’m often complimented for (usually) having very nice skin, but the truth is that most of my family does. It could be because I was raised with an organic lifestyle (mostly chemical-free household)- or it could just be genes- my mom and her siblings also had nice skin growing up. And try as I might I’ll never have a small waist unless I’m unhealthfully restricting myself. I think our ideas of female beauty are so distorted- how many women on TV, after all, haven’t had botox or plastic surgery? And since when were wrinkles anything but a sign of years and sun?

  17. OKay, just finished catching up on this post, too. Where do I even begin?

    1) I love the discussion, opinions, and ideas from all of the commenters. It’s not just “Oh, great post!” – people actually bring their own thoughts and perspective here, and that is wicked awesome.

    2) I love what you said about there is no direct cause + effect relationship. Whenever we see correlations, we jump and assume that means causation – though from what I have learned in my stats classes, we must be wary of that!

    3) What Bitt said rings true for me, too. People will tell me I look “great” when inside I have chronic pain from working out too much. You really have no idea how someone feels on the inside.

    4) I can completely understand what you and Sarah have said about the detoxing/get the glow raw-foodist circles. It’s said that many people reduce the lifestyle choice down to outward appearances. When I tried “going raw” when I was fifteen, I was doing it for those very ED reasons. I think back when you first started your blog, you mentioned the benefits of glowing skin, etc, and I’m so glad you don’t emphasize that now. It’s so much more than that. This past semester, I wrote a paper about this chase for a youthful, pure lifestyle stemming from detoxing. These attempts to eat as “cleanly” (I hate that word) as possible for the sake of a “pure body” and a glowing, trim physique, seems to come from a place of fear of death/fear of aging. Of course our society makes it worse by saying these things are bad, even though they are inevitable and we all die anyways.

  18. Thanks for writing a follow up – I loved reading this. It’s definitely important to highlight that the way you eat has an effect on the way you look but only up to a certain extent, something I’ve learned from personal experience. I remember having a skin breakout while I was eating raw and being so completely perplexed as to why.

    It also irritates me when people expect healthy eaters to have super health. I may be vegan but I’m also human and when I get the occasional cold or flu it would be nice to not have it be attributed to my “weakened immune system”.

  19. I am LOVING this follow-up blog. Truly inspiring words shared here. Thank you for your courage to shed light on these important topics, Gena!

  20. I didn’t get a chance to comment yesterday, so I’m glad you’re continuing the discussion here! I, too, have been told, “you look great” at times when I never felt worse in my life. And so much depends on when a person finally “gets it” and becomes healthier–when I was younger (and looked “better”), I was eating pure crap pretty much any time I put anything in my mouth. Perhaps someone who hadn’t seen me since my twenties and bumped into me now might think I “look worse,” but I am infintely healthier (even though still not all the way, yet) than I was back then. But the fact is, I’m 30 years older–and time alone makes a difference (at least for those of us, unlike Sarah’s former boss, who don’t take advantage of peels, botox, nipping and tucking, etc.). I agree that the best guage is really how one feels inside, one’s energy, vitality, etc. I always know when I have to reign in my dietary choices and increase the green because I feel a bit more sluggish, tired, etc.

  21. Thank you for another awesome post! And thank you fellow readers for sharing your thoughts too-it’s always a great feeling to know you’re not alone in the world and that we are all bombarded by and struggle with the unrealistic expectation to be and stay beautiful.

  22. Thanks for this. It’s something we all obviously know, technically, but it’s great to hear someone say it. I’ve feeling shamed lately by this rhetoric of “glowing” etc from eating right. I eat great, but I’m still heavy and have dark circles under my eyes. It’s hard to constantly read on the blogosphere that healthy eating is supposed to make you look awesome when I don’t look awesome even though I eat healthfully.

  23. I absolutely love this (and your previous) write up!

    More frequently I see vegetarianism/veganism being touted as a natural, magical prescription for youthfulness. Although I do believe in the health benefits, I wish there was more focus on the ethics of it. I find that knowing one is doing good for animals and the planet allows you to emanate a natural glow from the inside out :).

  24. To those vegan readers who became concerned about their own aging prospects upon viewing the images of the two 51 year old women, I’d like to offer the perspective of a forty-something year old who has been a vegetarian since her early teens: The hard truth is your looks are only somewhat impacted by your current diet; they are also greatly impacted by genetics, events in your childhood, and teenage habits (including health sins of excessiveness, such as under eating, over exercising.) Yet, as I search within my own circle of friends, it seems to me that one’s overall (natural) “glow” wattage is greatly determined by how one feels about herself and her place in this world. To that end, If I could give advice to my younger self, I would have told her to focus all of her effort on leading a full life focused on contribution, thereby building a huge reservoir of self respect, and not waste a single moment on chasing the superficial. In my view, that will be your greatest ally in ensuring you age gracefully and peacefully.

    • This is so beautifully put! Very sage advice. Being young myself I often feel pressured to be an ambitious overachiever in every facet of my life and that unfortunately includes chasing the superficial at times. Nice to get some perspective, thanks for this.

      • Great comment. And great discussion Gena. I really appreciate the deep analysis of what people glance at in the tabloids and take as truth without considering all the factors at play. I agree that our emotional fullfillment is my h more important than a few wrinkles. And we simply cannot judge health from appearance alone. Our lives are more complicated than that.

    • Well said, Karen! I couldn’t agree more. Nice as it is to believe that an uberly healthy diet is going to deliver a brand new shiny appearance, we have to get real! There are so many other factors at play, not least the role of stress/ sun exposure/ past careless substance use and chasing the skinny ideal which sadly I know from experience delivers superficial, external ageing in spades…
      I’m a firm believer that true, lasting beauty is really the projection of one’s inner spirit into the outer world, and this is an inner spirit which blazes contentment, fulfilment and a open, loving heart and sense of compassion and generosity to others, not something based on clarity of complexion, eyes or miraculously wrinkle free skin, which is really only the provenance of air brushed magazine images rather than reality!
      Great post, Gena, as always.

  25. I thought your discussion of Nigella (whose beauty probably has as much to do with her genes as what she does or doesn’t eat – though I doubt she’s eating much in way of processed foods) was intelligent, and thought-provoking. I appreciated the comments even more, as I’m guessing, if your readers are at all representative of the healthy living blogging community, they come from younger women. I do think there’s a connection between lifestyle and looks, even if lifestyle is one determinant among many, and that genes have the upper hand. However, it’s the connection between looks and health that is more dubious. Runners, for example, do not age well on the outside, but are far healthier than their pinned and tucked counterparts. For many of us raised in this culture, however, it’s simply impossible to separate the way we feel from the way we look – it’s just important not to take things too far so that our looks become constitutive of our identity. Because aging is no fun for women accustomed to trading on their looks.
    It’s also worth noting (if not at all your point) that youth is incredibly forgiving, age less so. I looked 16 until I was about 33 and then all of a sudden I looked 40. And turning back the clock was not an option for me, financially or otherwise (my style is characterized by “effortlessness,” or at least the appearance of it, so wearing a ton of makeup, etc. feels like I’m wearing a mask – it’s so not me that I can’t pull it off). So I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I don’t look as good as I’d look if I’d taken better care of myself in my 20s (if I’d pursued health and not skinniness, to put it JL’s words). I say this by way of warning to those who are pursuing skinniness at the expense of their health – one day the bills will come due.
    I liked Sarah’s comment on your last post – I’ve often felt this way not so much about the way I eat, which I don’t make a living from and don’t consider myself an advertisement for – but with regards to Christianity. There’s this whole pressure to “live a life worthy of the calling” – something I’ve never really been able to do – that makes me somewhat shy about expressing my beliefs (there are hosts of other reasons too, like a desire not to be associated with certain varieties of Christianity, etc.), just because my own life is almost never working, and while it doesn’t make me doubt the essential truths of the religion, I always imagine it would lead other people to doubt. It’s probably the main reason I didn’t seek ordination after I got my MDiv. I’d have been in the same predicament as the doctor getting face peels, and it would have felt disingenuous. To be suffering and not to be able to share it. To have to live a lie while proclaiming the truth.

    • Thank you so much for sharing these points. It gives me a lot to think about! Judging our essential worth based on external factors seems to be causing a lot of suffering across the board, whether those factors be appearance or actions that others deem “living a life worthy of the calling” as you share. I am inspired by your honesty and vulnerability! If you ever decided to become ordained and go after your MDiv., I think your willingness to be vulnerable could be one of your greatest assets in terms of helping people. I’d be willing to listen to what you had to say, at least! 🙂

      • What a great comment, E. I think that it’s an absolutely compelling parallel, though I’d have to agree with Sarah that I always find it easier to relate to and admire people who have vulnerabilities, nuance, complexity.

        And yes, I know well the price of skinny at the expense of healthy. I am grateful I recovered for the first time (the big time) in my late teens, but a lot of other habits took the place of starving — drinking, smoking. And surely they shall come knocking, sooner or later 😉 To say nothing of osteopenia and other consequences. I hope that the younger women who read CR can be inspired by our stories to realize that self care means not only avoiding unhealthy foods, but also eating adequately and in a nourishing way.

        • I love your comment, Elizabeth. I especially agree with the concept of all of our experiences imprinting themselves on our exterior in some way as we age beyond our mostly-forgiving 30’s. And to Gena’s point, I wanted to further drive home the fact that continuation of any ‘half-life’ behaviors take a tremendous toll on both our spirit and our body, regardless of how innocent they may seem, and thus have great potential for detracting from our appearance, and much more importantly, overall state of our physical health at middle-age.

          • Karen and Elizabeth, it’s exciting to watch you communicate via comments, because you are two of the most insightful and articulate people who comment regularly on this blog, and because you’ve both served as “mentors,” if you will, as I’ve made choices about career and the content of this blog — particularly writing about EDs.

  26. Thanks for this post Gena!

    My husband and I both have invisible disabilities that greatly affect our lives on a day to day. As healthful vegans and previously long term vegetarians, people always comment on our appearances when they find out the way we eat and then if they know about our disabilities, will make comments like “O really, I thought you wouldn’t have a panic disorder eating so well – maybe you should include this or that or take this or that” and it’s always some sort of animal product or fad supplement. I have heard this more than a dozen times and personally find it hurtful. We have both found that our lifestyles have improved our lives greatly and have led to improved mental states on the day to day, but it certainly does not erase mental illness or the years of abuse of my childhood.

  27. Great follow-up post, Gena — this really is a big topic. One of the (many) things I love about your blog is that you offer thoughtful posts on issue and that your readers continue the conversation and illuminations in the comments. I felt really empowered by the discussion; I am a woman nearing 50 who never has, and never will, look like Nigella and I am more than okay with that.

  28. Wow, I never get tired of reading your posts! So well said. As a woman much older than you and most of your readers, I can tell you that I look at people much differently now than I did when I was in my twenties. I don’t know if it’s age or experience (or both), but I don’t make assumptions about someone based on their looks. Being healthy isn’t just about looking good. We have to remember that and do what makes us healthy inside, too.

  29. I agree! There’s this idea out there that if you are a healthy enough eater, you never get sick. What really bothers me about it is that this idea is spurred by some high profile vegans and raw foodists. Giving your body the tools it needs to function properly in the form of diet, exercise, and rest may help it to work more efficiently, but certainly do not make it perfect!

  30. I bet I am not the only vegan who is overweight or having health problems, because of their previous meat-based diet. I became vegan when I was 40 and it’s taking a lot of time and effort to undo the previous damage. So it is more complicated than the idea that simply going vegan will make you healthy. It helps – in my case, it has helped a lot but I still have problems.
    There’s a lot of ageism going on in the McKeith/Lawson meme – looking younger is better than looking older. What’s wrong with looking your age, having a few wrinkles, whatever? Plenty if you buy into this sort of thing.

  31. Being tired and getting a zit are one thing but there are physical cues that can show diet deficiencies… overly dry skin, having large fat deposits in your physique, dry brittle hair and nails, chapped lips, red eyes, or rashes can all be signs that something is missing in your diet. I do not think it is unreasonable to believe that if you are truly healthy, you will probably look pretty healthy and if something is off, well, it may show on the outside.

    • Jeanne,

      Yes, some extreme deficiencies will manifest physically. I think the point is simply that something like chapped lips might be a sign of a problem, or might just be wintertime frost and failure to drink enough water that day. Or conversely, many forms of ill health can stealthily hide behind a healthy exterior.


    • I agree, but up to a certain extent. While certain deficiencies definitely show, others do not, or at least not yet. I think it’s fair to assume that most people who eat a healthy diet and live a healthy lifestyle will appear healthier, more radiant, etc; the point here is that veganism and/or raw foodism are not panaceas. They do not ensure that one will suddenly embody the fountain of youth. And to judge movements that go far beyond how we look on expectations of our physical experience is both limiting and unfortunate. The whole commentary from that picture suggests not only that veganism and a clean lifestyle are laughable, but also that all that matters is a woman’s appearance, and that, too, is a tired and sad message.
      All that being said, I do generally agree that a healthy person on the inside appears healthy on the outside; it’s just that the limited way we define healthy (I.e. appearing younger than one is, being wrinkle-free, being thin, having clear, radiant skin) is just that: limited. Looking healthy is also relative to how one looks in the first place, so it’s a relative concept.

  32. Gena, this post is so important and thank you for writing it.

    People need to feel good about themselves on both the inside and outside; and others should just not worry about what Suzy Q is doing and if she “looks” the part if she’s ascribing to a certain dietary path. i.e. raw foodies should have a certain glow.

    It’s that judgment thing again and it’s so uncool for others to judge and speculate because as I said yesterday, you just never know what someone is dealing with behind the scenes.

  33. I’d rather look like myself, vegan, healthy skin, good weight, and no facelift than be a meat-eater holding a cigarette with $100K of plastic surgery (smokers will need it more) and suffer a debilitating stroke and be in a wheelchair from clogged arteries by age 65. You can’t see inside someone’s arteries but my cholesterol is that of a 6 year old child at age 48.

  34. Becoming Vegetarian saved me from a life long struggle with an eating disorder as well…I have never been more in tune with myself, my purpose in life, or others around me…I look great (so I’m told, and so too I finally feel about myself).
    Let’s “face” it Nigella is gorge…and well Gillian might not have the features that some in society deem “attractive”…Nigella also has a great gene pool if you would like to say that – what it boils down to is what my Grandad would say…”There is an ass for everyseat!”
    Vive le difference!

  35. Thanks for not being a superficial raw foodist! We need a few of those in the world. 😉 Just today I got an email newsletter from a well known raw food leader that said she often cares more about how she looks as a motivator to eat well than other factors. Well, it’s a luxury to do that first of all (taking good health for granted), second, this is dangerous I feel to place so much emphasis on looks. Need I mention she is running an eating disorder summit? Disappointing.

    I stand by my other comment and appreciate your posting it. We all want to look good, but feeling good should be the first priority. Although it is not always correlated, I have felt that there were times when I looked good and I was eating well, but I knew it began from feeling good inside to start.

    • Amen, Bitt. I find all of the “go raw, get sexy/skinny/glowy” messaging in the raw foods world to be extremely depressing, and I think that it takes attention away from other and more compelling issues: how to become healthier, more balanced, a better cook, and so on. So many people experiment with raw foods simply for the claims about skin or hair, and while I’m not sorry that they’ll get into raw, vegan food, I do want to take them aside and tell them that those things are really just the tip of the iceberg.

  36. Thanks for printing my comment, Gena. Oddly enough, I wrote a post today about feeling kinda crappy this week. You are so right that a healthy diet is no guarantee that one will look or feel great all the time and it’s certainly no guarantee against the inevitable wrinkles as we age or the occasional under eye black circles after a sleepless night. I love the idea of beauty emanating from within and caring for ourselves by eating a healthy diet is one sure-fire way to achieve this.