Review: “I’ll Have What She’s Having: My Adventures in Celebrity Dieting” by Rebecca Harrington

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GOOP knows what's good for you.

Losing weight is big business.

The dieting industry, estimated to be worth $20billion in the USA alone in 2012, is one that inspired equal parts dread and awe. With the vast majority of dieters being women and billions being spent each year on marketing the latest get skinny quick scheme to an increasingly obese nation, it’s not hard to see why Hollywood regulars would want to get involved in that cash cow. They’d be filling some big shoes too, with golden age starlets publicising their odd and often dangerous slimming plans to eager fans for a pretty penny. Gloria Swanson became a health food crusader, Elizabeth Taylor released a diet book and Jane Fonda revitalised her career with a series of fitness videos. This is a field with a long and fascinating history, one that deserves a full socio-analytical discussion.

I’ll Have What She’s Having isn’t trying to be that, nor should it feel an obligation to, but it should have at least tried to be something other than a rush job.

Rebecca Harrington’s New York Magazine columns dedicated to her fleeting and often hilarious experiments into the diets of the rich and famous are perfect lunchtime reading when you’re at your work desk, with one tab open at YouTube and another open at Twitter. They’re quick reads that don’t require much brain power and they also offer a brief insight into a world shut off to most of us mere mortals. I was genuinely excited to hear the news that Harrington had secured a book deal based on these columns because the potential for expansion seemed limitless. More diets, more context, more insight into the industry that praises unrealistic and potentially dangerous beauty standards.

Instead, what we have here is simply Harrington’s columns compiled into a 176 page book, plus illustrations.

The words “rip-off” come to mind, even for this reviewer who received an ARC of the book.

It feels like an insult to the lazy to call this book such, because I question whether any effort when into this at all. This rushed and effortless approach also hammers home the weaknesses of Harrington’s writing. What may have been forgivable for a 5 minute read between bites of your sandwich feel inexcusable when on the printed page. Some diet experiments feel badly thought out or, one again, lacking in any real effort. That’s all fine when you have 500 words to fill out every week, but one expects more when money is put on the table. It becomes even more disappointing as the reader spots multiple moments for potential expansion or even an easy joke. There are a few chuckles present throughout but nothing remotely close to merit the blurb description of “outrageously funny”.

It’s hard to work up the muster to say anything else about I’ll Have What She’s Having given the author’s own inability to give a hoot about her own literary output, but my ultimate opinion is one of heavy disappointment. If nothing else, Harrington’s (lack of) efforts here highlight the issues with publishers plundering the internet for quick and marketable content. Don’t waste your money, just read the articles online.

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