Backtalk: Toxic Diet Culture Targeting Kids

This week, Dahlia and Amy talk about Kurbo, a weight loss app for children. The app is from Weight Watchers and they claim its purpose is to help children become healthier but experts say that an app like Kurbo can cause children to have an unhealthy relationship with food, promote eating disorders, and cause extra stress. The app feels like a ploy to create future consumers for the $72 billion diet industry and it’s so wrong.

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[FULL TRANSCRIPT]
 
DAHLIA BALCAZAR: Are you trying to do it all flawlessly, and you just end up tired or beating yourself up over little things? Do you have a brilliant idea but fear you might fail? Break away from the cult of perfection with Reshma Saujani by subscribing and listening to the Brave Not Perfect podcast. Reshma’s the incredible founder of Girls Who Code and an international bestselling author. Each week she explores ways we can be a little more brave in our everyday lives. Because bravery isn’t about slaying dragons. It’s a habit you form. She wants to help you build that muscle, so when it really matters, you’re ready to take on the challenges life throws at you. To fear less, fail more, and live bolder, listen and subscribe to the Brave Not Perfect podcast wherever you’re listening right now.
 
[theme music]
 
AMY LAM: Hi. Welcome to Backtalk the feminist response to pop culture podcast. I am Amy Lam.
 
DAHLIA: I’m Dahlia Balcazar.
 
AMY: And we begin each episode by talking about a pop culture moment that we really love. What’s yours, Dahlia?
 
DAHLIA: Oh, I can’t believe this is like the first time that you’ve said it’s a pop culture moment that we really love. Because, in fact, mine is not one that I really love, but an interesting pop culture one, pop culture moment, nonetheless.
 
AMY: Oh! [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: Dancing with the Stars has recently premiered. And Dancing with the Stars, if you haven’t seen it, is a sort of a reality competition show where a quote-unquote star is paired with a professional dancer, and then the two of them compete as a pair in a dancing competition. And I’m saying that I do not like this pop culture moment, though I think everyone should know about it, because Sean Spicer, the former White House press secretary and all-around buffoon, is allegedly a star who is dancing with other stars in this new season.
 
AMY: [Chuckling.]
 
DAHLIA: And it’s almost like, it’s almost like a parody, you know? I feel like I really heard people saying like, “Oh, we’re gonna see Anthony Scaramucci and Sean Spicer on Dancing with the Stars two years from now.” And it’s true! And they really, really are.
 
AMY: Yeah.
 
DAHLIA: And there’s a really great article over at The Cut by Rhonda Garelik about sort of the uncanniness and upsetting-ness of Sean Spicer on Dancing with the Stars. And I just wanna read her final paragraph because it’s a punch in the gut. “It’s fun to watch Dancing with the Stars, but you wouldn’t fire the entire New York City Ballet Company and replace it with the cast of Worldwide Wrestling.”
 
AMY: [Quietly laughing.]
 
DAHLIA: “Yet, in a sense that is what we have done with our democracy. The American citizenry is now watching our country’s reputation disintegrate and its moral compass collapse while our non-dancer president tries vainly to convince us he is Fred Astaire. Watching the hapless Spicer Cha-Cha will be far too close a reminder of this other terrible scenario unfolding in our government. Spicer’s dance gig, that is, creates a microcosm of a far greater casting error devolving on a far vaster scale. No wonder we’re all so upset.” So I recommend this article. It’s really interesting, kind of sad. But just this idea that where are all the experts? Where are all the professionals? Oh, there are none! There are just stars, quote-unquote stars. Yeah, Dancing with— I used to kind of like that show, and now just so embarrassing. And let’s hope that Sean Spicer gets kicked off real fast.
 
AMY: Wow. You’re [laughing] your favorite pop culture moment was so shady. I really love it though.
 
DAHLIA: Sorry. [Laughs.] This is the first time that we’ve ever said it had to be something we loved. I wasn’t prepared!
 
AMY: You were like, you call them a buffoon.
 
DAHLIA: He is!
 
AMY: You called him “alleged star.” [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: That’s all true! This is all true. [Laughs.]
 
AMY: I’m not contesting these facts. I was just highlighting. [Still laughing.]
 
DAHLIA: Thank you.
 
AMY: You’re very welcome. Well, my pop culture moment is something that I saw on Twitter. It is something I love ‘cause it made me laugh. There’s a writer, her name is Alyssa Gabbert, and she tweeted a thing about, I guess she’s reading a book about reading, maybe something pedagogical. Maybe she’s also a teacher. And her tweet says you know, “I really did not expect the first paragraph of a book about reading to go where it did it.” And I’m not sure what this book is, but it looks like an academic book. And it says, “Chapter 1: What is reading? What do we mean by reading?” So it says, “Most of us take reading for granted. It’s only if we’re involved in teaching someone else how to read, for example, that we may realize what a strange and complex process or series of processes it is.” So it goes on and on. And then it says, it talks about how like reading can be frightening, spiritual, emotional, erotic, motivating, entertaining, informative, and enlightening and so much more. And then this is the part that got me. At the end it said, “One person’s idea of the erotic may not always match another’s.”
 
BOTH: [Laugh.]
 
AMY: The sexologist Thomas Lacour goes as far as to argue that “private reading itself made masturbation possible, irrespective of the meaning”—
 
DAHLIA: What?! [Laughs.]
 
AMY: —”irrespective of the reading material.” [Chuckles.] “He also argues that the stimulus of the imagination encourages self-absorption and the feeling of freedom from social constraint.” So…. [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: Wow!
 
AMY: I know. I was like, this isn’t the first paragraph in the [laughing] “What Is Reading” chapter.
 
BOTH: [Laugh.]
 
DAHLIA: What is reading? It’s masturbating.
 
AMY: I know! I was like, wow, this is like, I think if all pedagogical texts like this are connected to humans on this level, maybe we’d have a lot of really amazing progressive teachers. [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: [Chuckles.]
 
AMY: Yeah. So, I don’t, I don’t even, I don’t know how this appeared on my timeline, but I’m so glad it because then I think actually, it’s just a fun way to think about how we process reading. ‘Cause I do think about that sometimes as I’m reading: what do I actually get sucked into, or what am I actually able to interpret very easily? So that was just super-interesting to see about, to read about reading.
 
DAHLIA: [Laughs.]
 
[cutesy bells ring]
 
AMY: And I wanna take this time to thank our listeners for rating and reviewing us on iTunes. Also wanna thank you guys for listening to this episode in particular because I am recording it from my parents’ bathroom.
 
BOTH: [Laugh.]
 
AMY: From one of my parent’s bathrooms at my parents’ house. I’m visiting there right now because, drumroll please [drumroll] … my brother and his wife just had a baby. [“tada” sound effect] So I’m here to visit my little new nephew, and it’s a full house. All of us are here. And so, I tried to explain to my parents that I had to go into the bathroom to record a podcast. They literally don’t even know I do podcasts even though I’ve been doing this podcast for years. But I was like, “I have to go to the bathroom.” I was like holding my microphone as I was saying this.
 
DAHLIA: [Laughs.]
 
AMY: [Laughs.] “I have to go to the bathroom to record a radio show.” And they just looked so puzzled. So, you might actually hear them talking in the background or hear my mom chopping because she’s cooking a day’s worth of food before she goes off to work for all of us to eat, but more importantly, for my sister-in-law to eat ‘cause she has to feed the baby.
 
So, I just wanted to give our listeners a heads up that if you hear a full-on conversation [laughing] in the background, or if you hear a wok going off or just heavy cleaver chopping, it’s my parents. Don’t be alarmed. They’re just really confused about what I do for a living. [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: But Amy, are you are you hogging the only bathroom?
 
AMY: No. No, no, no, no, no.
 
DAHLIA: Okay. [Laughs.]
 
AMY: There’s another bathroom, so I don’t feel bad about that. And I did choose the bathroom on the other side of the house. But my dad is a little hard of hearing too right now ‘cause he’s older, so [laughing] I think he also talks extra loud because he’s hard of hearing! So, you know, there’s just a lot going on. So, I just wanted to let listeners know, as the episode goes forward, if you hear any weird sounds, it’s because my parents are around. [Laughs.]
 
So, yeah. So, thank you for listening to this episode. And thank you for rating and reviewing us on iTunes. I wanted to read this really kind review from a listener. Their username is Buppy K, and the subject for the review is “Laughter is release.” And they said, “Recently, I was talking to my therapist about the crushing weight of the world and current events and the feelings of futility. Light stuff, you know?”
 
DAHLIA: [Chuckles.]
 
AMY: “And I told her one of the things that helps me work through these feelings is listening to Backtalk. Your podcast allows me to stay informed while also feeling the release of laughter.” And then they go on to talk about how “it’s just really important to them to be able to laugh during these really horrific and terrifying times.” And then they say, “Anyways, you guys are great, and we have to be able to experience a wide range of emotions. And I appreciate that your podcast gives women permission to process the news and media in a way that fits into our daily lives. Keep going.” Thank you so much for that encouragement and that rating and review. It really helps boost visibility for the podcast. So, if you have a moment, please head over to iTunes to let us know.
 
[cutesy bells ring]
 
DAHLIA: One of our favorite parts of hosting Backtalk is getting to share pop culture recommendations with you, our audience. One book I can’t stop recommending is Trust Exercise by Susan Choi in an American suburb in the early 1980s, students at a highly-competitive performing arts high school ambitiously pursue music, movement, and acting. When two freshmen, David and Sarah, fall in love, their passion does not go unnoticed by their charismatic and manipulative acting teacher, Mr. Kingsley. In a shocking spiral of events, the action is catapulted forward in time and then flipped upside down by the book’s conclusion. And I can’t stop thinking about it. Find your next great read at Powells.com.
 
[cutesy bells ring]
 
AMY: Before we dive in to today’s discussion, I wanted to start with asking what is Weight Watchers? So, colloquially, we think of it as a company who helps their customers lose weight cloaked under the guise of healthy eating habits. They’re most well-known for offering coaching services for people who go into their centers looking to lose weight. They also sell prepackaged frozen meals and supplement bars, and they’re a big part of diet culture in the U.S. So, the reason why we’re talking about Weight Watchers is because in August, they released a weight loss app targeted at children ages 8 to 17. And of course, there was immediate backlash to the app, and the app is called Kurbo with a K. And the pushback against the weight loss app that’s aimed at children was that it can promote unhealthy relationships with food, eating disorders, and undue psychological and physical stress on children.
 
Weight Watchers says that the app, “Helps kids and teens to reach a healthier weight.” And it turns out that Weight Watchers had acquired Kurbo from a digital health startup that was based on a Stanford University pediatric obesity program. So, because it began as a digital health startup from a very highly respected university, it’s being marketed as a safe way to help children lose weight, which feels highly illogical because I think this specific focus on weight loss feels so harmful, especially in our culture that’s so obsessed with looks and thinness, and especially in this culture that’s very, very fatphobic. So, with all the stresses that children must deal with, ‘cause I was thinking about all the things that kids nowadays must deal with in this day and age like cyberbullying, like having active shooter drills in schools, hyper-connectedness, and so much more, putting kids on a weight loss app feels so cruel. And it’s actually the opposite of healthy behavior.
 
DAHLIA: Before we recorded this episode, I actually downloaded the app, Kurbo, which what a little cute play on word: Kurbo, like curb your appetite.
 
AMY: Ugh.
 
DAHLIA: Is it supposed to be like that? So, I downloaded Kurbo. I told it that I was a 16-year-old girl. So, the way Kurbo works is that you put in your food, you put in what you’ve eaten, and it gives you a green, yellow, or red icon saying, green is like, oh, eat as much as you want. Yellow is like, oh, maybe you should eat less of this. And red is, don’t eat this, essentially. And just to see, I gave it a try. I invented what I ate for breakfast. I told it that I ate avocado and eggs for breakfast and that I had chicken teriyaki and rice for lunch, which I wish that’s what I’d eaten.
 
AMY: [Chuckles.]
 
DAHLIA: What a great, balanced set of meals. It told me both of those things, it told me both of those were yellow and red. So, it told me like, you should not be eating avocado and eggs.
 
AMY: Mm.
 
DAHLIA: Weight Watchers has sort of already responded to some of this criticism and said like, oh, no, no! This is about healthy eating. This isn’t about tracking, or this isn’t about counting calories. In fact, you can’t count calories on this app. This is only about promoting healthy eating habits. And I just frankly, from my short user experience, I don’t see that at all. It’s very much a tracking app. It’s very much you say what you eat, and we tell you that it’s bad. I mean I gave it a totally normal meal, and it told me like, no, no, no. All of that is bad.
 
There’s even a section where you can sort of compare, quote-unquote compare yourself to statistic averages of your BMI. It sort of like shows you how many red foods you’ve been eating.
 
AMY: I love how it’s so adamant about how it’s not unhealthy. And this notion that just because it doesn’t show calories doesn’t mean it’s not a calorie checker. Because kids are not dumb. [Chuckles.] Kids are actually very smart, and they understand what the nutritional info shows them about what calories are. And I’m sure they’ll be able to connect the dots about how perhaps avocado is— Did you say it was a red item?
 
DAHLIA: They gave me yellow for avocado.
 
AMY: Yeah. So, avocado is so like, in moderation, it’s very healthy for you. But it’s theoretically maybe yellow because it’s very calorie-rich, and it has a lot of healthy fats in it for you. But so, on paper, perhaps an avocado is high in calories, and a kid could look that up even though when you buy an avocado, there’s no nutritional info sticker on it. They have Google! They literally have a phone that they’re using the app on. They could just look it up. They’re able to synthesize all this information and understand like, oh, perhaps this actually healthy food item that grows on a tree is bad for you because it’s so calorie rich. I think it’s…no, I just don’t understand. I think that no matter how they spin it, this app, I think that it’s highly probable that it would give children very unhealthy eating habits more than it would give them healthy eating habits.
 
And then I think that there’s the other issue where it’s now framing foods as good or bad.
 
DAHLIA: Mmhmm.
 
AMY: And I think there’s a lot of conversations happening around talking about eating and talking about food and how it’s very unproductive to talk about good and bad foods. All foods are food. It’s a way to put fuel in yourself. It’s a way to have sustenance. But this framing of good and bad foods is just, it doesn’t help anybody to eat better per say because it actually incentivizes sometimes bingeing on quote-unquote bad foods. Or this notion of good foods are good and are clean foods. It’s misguided. So, this app is just so problematic in so many ways. And to think that this corporation is getting away with it, I guess. ‘Cause I think even if parents don’t download this for their children, just the introduction of an app like this into the world, I think, says something about what culture that we live in.
 
Because apps like this don’t just come out of nowhere. Weight Watchers had to pay a lot of money to make this “digital health startup” to buy it and then tweak it so that it works for them. So, a lot of time and energy and thought and funding went into this app. And to think that an app like this exists in the world means to me that it’s sort of like a foreshadowing of more types of technology like this to sort of make children think that they’re unhealthy just for eating!
 
DAHLIA: What’s also messed up is that this is— Weight Watchers has been around since 1963. I remember there’s some episodes of Mad Men where they talk about Weight Watchers or they go to a Weight Watchers class.
 
AMY: Ugh.
 
DAHLIA: Weight Watchers recently rebranded in 2018. Now, they’re actually not Weight Watchers. They’re WW.
 
AMY: Mmhmm. [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: And allegedly, that rebranding was to shift away from this attention to weight that’s in the name and to shift toward focusing on health and wellness. And so, that was a recent rebrand. That was just last year. So, we have to imagine that whatever WW is imagining for their future, you know, because they’ve been around for 50 years, Kurbo is part of that, is part of their rebrand and part of the way— And let’s not forget, ‘cause what would a Backtalk episode be if we weren’t complaining about capitalism?
 
AMY: Yes! I was just gonna bring that up!!
 
DAHLIA: [Chuckles.] The app is free, but there is a paid service within the app, which I will tell you is alarmingly easy to sign up for. For $69/month, you get a consultation with a digital coach for 15 minutes, which I don’t know how helpful that would be, but imagine this app is training wheels. This app is slightly free training wheels before you graduate to real Weight Watchers for money to pay for it.
 
AMY: Yeah. That was a very common critique when the app came out was that this is just a way to grow a whole new generation of consumers for WW, Weight Watchers. And you know, I think that this is gonna sound very cynical, but I don’t think that Weight Watchers as a company is seriously about the wellness of their clients. It is sincerely about making money. Like full stop period. I know somebody who’s actually in Weight Watchers right now, and they were explaining to me— ‘cause I actually don’t know that much about it. I just know about it, I think, colloquially and culturally. Like people talk about oh, you go to Weight Watchers, and they help you lose weight. But I don’t actually know the nitty gritty of what the process involves—and one of the things that they told me was that so, you go in, and somebody who works there, I guess, weighs and measures you to tell you where you are on their version of some BMI scale or whatever. I actually have no idea how that works. But in the end, you have to set a goal weight. And what happens is, you’re supposed to go in regularly, I’m guessing like once or twice a month, to get weighed in by your consultant person. And what happens is if you are over your goal weight, they penalize you per pound by making you pay for how much you’re overweight.
 
DAHLIA: Oh no!
 
AMY: Yes! And when this person told me, I was floored. I just thought…I didn’t say anything ‘cause I didn’t wanna be rude about it. But I thought wow, you’re paying this company to abuse you! [Laughs.] I didn’t know. You know, you’re literally paying them to make you feel bad about yourself. Literally, you have to give them money because you didn’t meet your goal. Not even thinking about goal weight, but to meet your goal, now you have to pay into it. And I think that if this company was so successful at what it was doing, it would have, theoretically, it would have a shrinking client base, or they would just be like having such a high turnover of clients ‘cause they’re all so successful they don’t need Weight Watchers anymore. But I don’t think that’s the goal of Weight Watchers. I think the goal of Weight Watchers is to have this facade of like, oh, their clients are working on themselves to be more healthy. But who’s to know if it’ll happen?! But you know what? If you don’t meet your goal weight, here’s your punishment. You have to give us more money.
 
I think that that really told me what this company was about: that it’s not about their clients being healthier. It’s about making money off of their clients’ inability to meet these goals, that who knows if they’re arbitrary or if they’re actually set because they’re, in a way, they know that their clients are unable to meet those goals.
 
DAHLIA: And I think there are, surely there are many interesting and creative ways, apps included, to interest kids and teens in exercise or in learning about food and learning how to cook. I could imagine a lot of creative tech ways to introduce kids, maybe even in the kind of sort of game tracking format that Kurbo is, to introduce kids to information about science and about their bodies and about exercise and things that could be actually beneficial. But the way this works, which is just like a mini version of Weight Watchers, it just seems incredibly dangerous to kids dealing with disordered eating. Because it really reinstills these bad and non-scientific understandings of food. Plus you could be in a spot where you, a young person, you put down everything that you eat like I did, and it tells you no, everything you eat today is yellow and red. And as a young person, what kind of autonomy do you have? Like what kind of autonomy does a 12-year-old have over their diet other than not eating? Not very much. You know, kids aren’t grocery shopping for themselves often.
 
AMY: And I think that just historically in our culture in the U.S., this hyperfocus on weight, it’s just been around for so long. And I mean I remember being a child and being hyperfocused on that, and it was not good. It was very, very bad. It was very unhealthy. And even then, I was hyper-focused on it not because of family pressure or parental pressure, like my parents. I think that I actually very specifically think back on my childhood and am grateful that there were very few comments made about my body and my weight. I conscientiously think about it ‘cause I think that my minor foray into disordered eating may have been way worse if I had been told I needed to watch my weight. I don’t even know. ‘Cause I think that as a kid, you can be so obsessed with certain things that you can obsess your way into being very unhealthy. And I just don’t see an app like this being helpful in any way or to quote-unquote make children healthy. It just doesn’t make any sense.
 
You know, I had read a piece on NPR about ways in which, if you were really worried about your child’s health, how to talk to them and how to raise them in a healthy household so that you’re not having to rely on apps like this. And one of the tips is, one of the bullet points is, very plainly don’t put your child on a diet. And I think that apps like this encourage that ‘cause then you’re restricting when you eat or telling children what you should and shouldn’t eat. And the experts are saying that if you want to encourage a healthy lifestyle with your kid, raise them and model them with healthy behavior of your own. And so, in this list of explanations, none of it really talks about what foods you should or shouldn’t eat. It’s just really about modeling behavior, theoretic behavior, that you want for your kid if you think that perhaps your kid is leading an unhealthy lifestyle. Like maybe they’re too sedentary, so go on walks with your kid. You know, maybe they do eat a lot of junk food and drink a lot of soda, which I did for a while as a kid, [laughs] then you can bring in other types of snacks.
 
But this piece itself doesn’t really talk about food and how to frame food to your kid. It’s really just about leading a healthy lifestyle on your own and then sort of trying to instill those values in you kid. But not to shame them. And I think that the big part of this piece is don’t tease, and don’t let others tease your children in front of you. And to always just stop it as soon as it happens because it isn’t about physical appearance per se. It’s really about just modeling and encouraging healthy behaviors and a healthy lifestyle outside of being so focused on what your kid is eating.
 
DAHLIA: I’m thinking about Let’s Move, which was Michelle Obama’s public health campaign, which aimed to reduce childhood obesity and encourage a healthy lifestyle in children. One, I’m thinking about all of the promotional materials that I saw of it was kids dancing!
 
AMY: [Chuckles.]
 
DAHLIA: You know, it was like kids moving, exercising, dancing. It was not about food. It was obviously not about dieting. It was about moving your body, which when you think about it, kids definitely don’t do a lot of moving their bodies. They’re sitting in classrooms all day long. And! The other thing about Let’s Move is that so many conservatives were like total—I mean because conservatives complain about everything the Obamas do—but so many conservatives were like, this is ridiculous. This is a waste of time. What a terrible public campaign. This isn’t necessary in this country.
 
I think that there’s this sense that if there isn’t a money aspect to dieting or, I don’t know, health culture, if you’re not buying something to be better at your diet or to have a quote-unquote better body, then you’re not doing anything. I think that like there is such a pull in this country, because of capitalism, to solve so many problems by purchasing something rather than being really simple and be like, “Well, what if we just took a walk?”
 
AMY: Yeah! [Laughs.] I do think that you and I do sound broken records often ‘cause we’re like, “It’s fucking capitalism!”
 
DAHLIA: It’s capitalism’s fault!
 
AMY: But it really is because it’s very much worth mentioning that the weight loss and diet industry in the U.S., the U.S., alone is a $72 billion industry. $72 billion with a B. So, there’s a lot of money being made off of people feeling bad about themselves. Yet, without giving them I guess, holistic ways in which they can feel healthier like going for a fucking walk. Going for a walk doesn’t cost anything, right? And so, I think what you’re saying makes so much sense in that the Let’s Move initiative and other types of things like what people can do in their home without having to download an app and that they can do in their neighborhoods, that they can go do in their parks or whatever, it’s not as encouraged as downloading an app and tracking every little thing that you eat so that they can first of all, gather information on your behaviors and how you eat so they could sell it to other people. And then second of all, with this app, to create a future adult Weight Watchers client. It’s so bad. It’s just so horrible!
 
And I think that at the very end, it just breaks my heart to think that this corporation thought that they could release an app like this and that, I guess, consumers would download it with open arms ‘cause they think that they’re helping their children. That there was no part of them that thought like, ooh. You know, is this bad? Is this harmful to children? And I think that that lack of insight to question their motives because they were so blinded by this notion that they could make so much money, that they weren’t really thinking about kids. And I know that it’s so obvious that that’s what they were doing. But I think it’s just so, it’s also, to me as a person looking at this from where I am, so brazen and bold.
 
And I think that’s what happens with the diet industry is that they just think that they can put these things out into the world and then make money off of it and not think of the serious or real and harmful and toxic—such toxic—consequences that can come out of an app like this when they could have very easily, if they were actually very concerned about childhood obesity, was to encourage something like the Michelle Obama campaign and Let’s Move, you know? They could’ve invested money into campaigns about talking how to encourage your kids to go out and play more. But instead no, they create an app so that kids can be hyper-obsessed with tracking what they put into their bodies. It’s so disingenuous. It’s so disgusting. And I really hope that this doesn’t portend a trend where we put this additional stress onto children.
 
[cutesy bells ring]
 
We end each episode by talking about what we’re reading, watching, and listening to. Dahlia, what are you watching?
 
DAHLIA: This is not new, but I have a double recommendation. First, the film What We Do in the Shadows. If you haven’t seen it— Amy, have you seen it? I think it’s the funnest thing.
 
AMY: No, I haven’t.
 
DAHLIA: Okay. What We Do in the Shadows is a mockumentary about a group of vampires who live together in New Zealand.
 
AMY: [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: It comes from Jemaine Clement, one half of Flight of the Conchords. And it is so funny. I love it so much. And the other part of this recommendation is that, based on that show, sorry, based on that movie, there is now an FX show—the first season is on Hulu. I just recently watched it—also called What We Do in the Shadows. And it’s also a mockumentary, but it’s about different vampires. And at first I was like, no, if it’s not the original vampires, I do not wanna watch. I only want those vampires. But this is also so funny. So just the joke is that they’re all kind of old vampires.
 
AMY: [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: Like they became vampires in the 1600s or the 1500s. And they all live in a house together, and they have like vampire problems.
 
AMY: [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: But the new season or the new series, many of the episodes are written and/or directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, who wrote the film. It’s just hilarious.
 
AMY: [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: Like it’s just like— I love that I’m hearing Amy laughing. I’ve hardly said anything funny at all. But Amy is laughing it up.
 
AMY: [Still laughing.]
 
DAHLIA: It’s just like imagine vampires, but they’re arguing about chores. And it’s so good! It’s so good.
 
AMY: I just, I’m laughing so much because I love the Flight of the Conchords. I loved it so much! So, I think just even picturing Jemaine Clement as a vampire is making me laugh. Just that, based on that information alone. And then I Googled it as you were talking, and I’m looking at the pictures. And just looking at the pictures make me laugh, which makes no sense! [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: No, that’s how good it is. It’s so funny. [Laughs.]
 
AMY: Yeah, and so, it’s like vampires meets Real World, right?
 
DAHLIA: Yeah! Yeah. So, yeah. They have a crew with them, and sometimes they’re like, “Oh, please don’t eat these humans. They’re filming us for our cool reality show.”
 
AMY: [Sighs.] I mean that’s just like an amalgamation of all these things I love. ‘Cause I love reality TV.
 
DAHLIA: Yes.
 
AMY: You know that I love when you put seven strangers in a house and see what happens, [laughing] you know? To get these people who’ve “seen so much shit in a house together.” I just can’t. Ahh! Yes. That’s such a good rec. Thank you so much for letting me know about it, yeah.
 
DAHLIA: Oh, you’re welcome.
 
AMY: So, my read is actually also kind of weird and quirky too. It is a collection of short stories called The Lonesome Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya. And so, she’s a Japanese writer, and like I said, it’s a collection of short stories. And it’s translated by Asa Yoneda. I wanted to shout out the translator as well ‘cause they did a great job. So, I’ve read a lot of reviews about it, and they often peg it as being surrealist. And yeah. So, there is definitely an element of the surrealness creeping until realist sort of beginnings of stories about just Japanese people living ordinary lives in Japan. And then this weird shit happens to them. But the stories are so fun, and the collection’s pretty short. It’s a quick read. But the premises that happen in the story are so weird and jarring that, I don’t know, it was just a really, it is like literally a fun beach read. When I think of beach reads, if you don’t want sort of like romance novel or what people call, I guess, chick lit, in a derogatory way, which I don’t believe is a thing. But I think that if you wanna read a fun, quirky collection of short stories while you’re just relaxing, I think this is it.
 
I actually had to watch my newborn nephew for a minute while my sister-in-law was doing something, probably just taking a moment to herself. So, I started reading [laughing] one of the short stories to him ‘cause I wanted to read the book.
 
DAHLIA: Ah!
 
AMY: Yeah! I mean he’s only a couple weeks old, so he can barely decipher shapes and sounds, so he wasn’t really sort of taking the story in. But I was reading it to him. I was like I swore he was super into it. And I was reading this story about this 11-year-old waiting at a bus stop, and this weird old man keeps giving him cookies and tells him about like what umbrellas do. So, that’s a premise of a story! [Laughs.] It’s super strange but so fun to read. Definitely check it out. And it also comes out on, a small independent press, Soft Skull Press, so go to your library, check this book out, support a small press. The collection is called The Lonesome Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya.
 
DAHLIA: That is such a good title. Thank you. Thank you for that recommendation, Amy. I really love, that sound so good.
 
My song choice: the song is called “Skin and Bone” by Ambrosia Parsley. Ambrosia Parsley has the greatest name of all time, I think.
 
AMY: Yes.
 
DAHLIA: And if I could have any singing voice, it would be Ambrosia Parsley’s. She used to be in this band called Shivery that is also excellent. But this song is just like such a good moody mix of rock— Her voice, like, oh! Her voice…it’s too much. I love it so much. This song, I think, is the perfect moody, angsty sort of way to start [chuckles] a way to start your day. So, I hope you like it as much as I do. It is called “Skin and Bone” by the excellently-named Ambrosia Parsley.
 
[“Skin and Bone” by Ambrosia Parsley plays]

♪ “Hey mystery, come paint my face/
No laughing, no dancing….” ♪
 
AMY: Thanks for listening.
 
DAHLIA: Thanks for listening.
 
♪ “You can have all the butterflies back/
Listen I’ll volunteer be right back/
Just please leave him alone (la la la la la, la la la la la)….” ♪
 
DAHLIA: Thanks for listening to Backtalk. Bitch Media is a reader- and listener-supported feminist nonprofit. If you wanna support the show and our work, please head over to BitchMedia.org and donate.
 
by Amy Lam
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Amy Lam is Bitch Media’s contributing editor. Find her at @amyadoyzie.

by Dahlia Balcazar
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Dahlia Balcazar was a senior editor at Bitch Media, the co-host of the podcast Backtalk, and the host of the live show Feminist Snack Break. She’s passionate about horror films, ’90s music, girl gangs, and Shirley Jackson. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.