The MILF Diet: Why Using the Term MILF to Sell ANYTHING is a Bad Idea


Photo Courtesy: Simon & Schuster Digital Catalog

Update: November 30th – Author Jessica Porter reached out to me to respond to my thoughts in this post and the resulting dialogue.  I have shared her letter in its entirety and my thoughts about it here.

I’m not sure how it happened, but I now live in a world where the likes of Honey Boo Boo outrank and outperform Political Conventions. Where more people fill my Facebook and Twitter stream with their fears about never having a Twinkie again than what is happening in Gaza.  And today, where I can receive an email pitch with the subject, “The MILF Diet”.

 MILF as in “Mom I’d Like to …..”  

I will let you fill in the blank.

As soon as I see the acronym, my brain fills it right in with the appropriate expletive.  And I don’t do it with a smile on my face. So, now there is a diet to help me look like a MILF?  I put MILF in the same category as ‘cougar’.  It’s very likely a term someone younger than me *might* use if they deemed me temporarily suitable for the night. It most certainly isn’t a word used with respect. In fact, Wikipedia actually says it has it’s own version of pornography (awesome!) with the genre  focusing on an age-play dynamic between an older woman and a younger man. If I was compiling a list of words that made me feel strong, motivated, self-reliant and empowered, MILF wouldn’t be on it.

Yes, in this post, I’m tackling that email because ladies and gentlemen, I admit it, I was (and am) offended.  And I’m not easily offended.  I can count on one hand the number of times I have been truly frustrated as I sat here, (specifically that time I was appalled at Abercrombie & Fitch) taking the time to tap out my thoughts…fingers bouncing across the keys, trying to keep up with my brain and mouth.  Yes, occasionally I talk to myself when I write.  Especially when I am trying to make sense of something that doesn’t seem to have a logical conclusion.

Before you begin your Rumpelstiltskin dance, jumping up and down demanding that I simply DON’T BUY THE BOOK if I don’t like it, I will tell you I don’t think that is good enough.  It occasionally isn’t enough to read an email you find unacceptable and click delete.  In this case, the answer was three-fold.  I read the entire press release.  And I went to the book’s promotional site and read that.  Sure, I was making a ‘snap’ judgement based on the title, but I wanted to understand the content.

A true milf is confident, sexy, and radiates natural femininity. By eating whole, plant-based foods, you, too, can find balance and dynamic health, and unleash your inner MILF.  It’s simple: you are what you eat. So, to fulfill your true potential for health, happiness, and MILFiness, it’s best to avoid refined sugars, processed foods, dairy, and meat. But it’s not as scary as it sounds, and you’ll soon discover why. With recipes like Lemony Quinoa Salad; Oven- Roasted Root Vegetables with Garlic, Cumin, and Herbs; Edamame Dip; and Poached Pears with Raspberry Sauce, the MILF Diet is not only easy to follow, it’s delicious and slimming, too.  (The Author) brings her wealth of knowledge to The MILF Diet in the form of holistic philosophy, mouth-watering recipes, and a fun and digestible enumeration of the health benefits of MILFy foods.

The number of things that make me uncomfortable about all of this are vast. To begin with, I diet, don’t diet, eat well or poorly and exercise or don’t FOR ME, most certainly not so that I might be deemed (oh good heavens, I’m doing everything I can NOT TO USE THE LANGUAGE I WANT TO USE!) bed-worthy. When I look in the mirror, when I have a bad hair day, a day when my clothes don’t fit, a day when I’d rather eat glass than put on a bathing suit… those days are about me battling me – not me wishing for a white knight, or in this case, someone who thinks MILFs are ‘hot’, to come riding up to rescue me and my floundering self esteem.  And a diet isn’t going to change that.

Sadly, the diet itself sounds packed with goodness, balanced and probably quite good for me.  And the author, Jessica Porter’s previous book, The Hip Chick’s Guide to Macrobiotics is A modern girl’s guide to the secrets of eating for health, beauty, and peace of mind.  That actually sounds quite helpful – who doesn’t want to feel healthy, beautiful and peaceful?

But for this new book, what in the world are MILFy foods?  Just the phrase sounds dirty.

As I sat musing about these, bothered that what is very likely great, healthy content is masked in a ‘train wreck’ title, I decided to do what I often do when I’m curious: I crowd-sourced.  I put this on Facebook.

Comment after comment, from both women and men mirrored just what I had been thinking….

…..the term is offensive.

…..that being called a MILF is not a compliment and never was

…..that it plays in to a misogynistic society that amplifies women’s shortcomings and insecurities to convince us we need that ‘sexy approval’

…..the ‘shock’ of the title is par for the course – this is the ‘new entertainment’ that sells (see again: Honey Boo Boo)

Here’s the thing: I have a little girl.  And she is growing up fast.  I am not ignorant enough to believe that I can shield her from the world’s fascination with women’s figures, with ‘sexy’ and with train-wreck-tabloidism, but I can tell you this: she will be raised to know self-respect and a healthy body image are priorities. I won’t perpetuate this kind of idiocy, by using MILF as a ‘fun’ term or having books around my home that teach her to think looking beautiful or ‘sexy’ for anyone else is the right thing.

Unfortunately, I suspect, this book may very well have some advice that would have guided women into the lifestyle they want to live and the body they want to have, if only it suggested they should do it for THEMSELVES rather than for how they will be seen by others.

The final thing I did before writing this was respond, respectfully, to the PR rep who had reached out to me.  I did explain to her much of what I have said here: that I am certain the author knows her material and likely has great advice to give, but the title is offensive.  At the time of this publishing, I have not heard back from her, though based on comments on my facebook page, I do understand she has responded to others, including in her comments that the title is intended to empower women.  If and when I do hear back from her, I will update this post.

Updated 11/21 11:40am CST: I did hear back from the PR rep after my email.  Her name is Cristina and she was very kind.  She said, in part:

I am so sorry to hear that you were offended by the title. The title was meant to draw attention and empower women to find their “inner sexy,” if you will. With that said, I TOTALLY understand that it may not translate that way for some people. I have seen a mixed reaction from the title: some people think it’s funny and racy, others are offended by it.

As you noted, the book is actually filled with really wonderful, healthful tips and recipes. I have been cooking from it for almost a month now and I’ve lost a little weight and feel more energetic. I wish the title could please everyone, because the book holds some great content.

More than anything, I do appreciate that she responded.

  • http://twitter.com/SherriLKuhn Sherri Kuhn

    Totally agree, and ever since I saw this on your status I have been thinking of how that term makes me hate it the more I hear it, you know? Totally demeaning…

  • Danielle Smith

    Sherri – it is one of those terms that I say in my head (in full) every time I hear it – and it doesn’t have a musical quality to it. No one ever says with love in their voice or heart…

  • http://selfishmom.com/ Amy

    I agree with everything you’ve written, but the title did its job: got people to write about how the book, while having a good approach to diet, ruins it with the title. And while some people won’t buy it because of the title, others will say “Hmm, I hate the title, but it sounds like it might be a good diet…” There aren’t many people who would have taken notice of the press release if it was just another book about eating whole foods.

  • Danielle Smith

    Amy – I completely agree with you. As is often the case with things like this, the ‘train wreck’ gets the attention. As I mentioned, I usually walk away, but this one hits a new level on the ‘offensive list’ for me, so I bit. But even so, my perspective remains that I fall in to the category of people who will refuse to buy DESPITE what is likely good quality – and that is a shame. No idea how many others fall in to the same bracket with me – I won’t be alone, but I certainly believe this book has more attention coming its way.

  • http://selfishmom.com/ Amy

    I’m sure you’re right on all counts. And the trainwreck issue is something I struggle with every day – sometimes I write entire posts railing against something or other and wishing it would just go away, but then I don’t publish because…I just want it to go away. I wish I could have it both ways: pay attention to me and let me have the last word then nobody else talk about it EVER! :-)

  • Danielle Smith

    Maybe we should just send those posts to each other? I try hard to limit the times when I speak out like this, but this one really bothered me. Maybe because I DESPERATELY wanted to swear throughout the entire post? And yet – family friendly and all?

  • Nicole Brady (SahmReviews.com)

    Eloquently put, Danielle. I was shocked when I read your status update. The author could have used OTHER language to express and convey a sense of empowerment. As I said in your status update – Cougar would have achieved the same effect without the Ewwww factor.

  • Danielle Smith

    Thank you, Nicole. I do have to wonder – who chose the title…. the author or the publishing house? I feel bad for the author if she produced a book with great content that will receive less than beautiful press (or at least some) if she had nothing to do with the title – or was pushed to go in that direction. Her other book wasn’t nearly this blatant.

  • Sarah Maizes

    I actually think being called a Cougar is worse than a MILF by far! Cougar is so aggressive. A Milf can’t help it if she’s desirable! Just my two cents. :)

  • Danielle Smith

    Sarah – in theory, yes – a Cougar would be worse because of the intent. Meaning, if I’m being called a ‘Cougar’ it is because I am behaving in such a way to give the impression that I’m ‘preying’ on younger men – as if I’m on the prowl. However, the intent with this book, in my eyes, is ALSO to create an impression – this isn’t you walking down the street to a whistle and cat-call of ‘MILF’, this is you (or whomever would be reading the book) TRYING to be a ‘MILF’. Framed that way, to me, they are on par with each other.

  • http://twitter.com/SelfishMom_Jail Selfish Mom

    That would be awesome – a “No PR Support Group.” :-)

  • http://www.redheadwriting.com The Redhead

    As someone who uses words (and on a regular basis) that many find offensive, here’s what I find disappointing about the book title. It’s not that the author challenged anyone to look better and clean-up their diet (GUILTY, raises hand). It’s not that she even used the term “MILF” in the title. It’s that she’s changed the definition of the word to suit a marketing whim/gimmick. With my recent book, I’ve been asked frequently if “unpopular” is the new “popular.” And it’s not. My book sought to change the way people perceived being unpopular — and for the better. This title took a word and twisted it to unrecognizable contortions for a shock factor. I have a feeling the book might have been more successful with a gender-neutral “slappy”-style title. MILF? Words are all about context and intention. The word itself doesn’t offend me, though.

  • Nicole Brady (SahmReviews.com)

    Good point, Sarah. Never thought of it that way! Cougar is the result of actions by the woman while the other is actions toward the woman. I was more looking at it in terms of using a shocking title that isn’t vulgar. Ack.

  • Danielle Smith

    Erika – thank you for this, I truly appreciate your perspective. While I’m clearly not a fan of the word, mainly for the context with which it is most often used ( no one lovingly refers to me as a MILF – it is more of a slang term to let me know that I *might* still qualify in the eyes of men younger than me) but what I find most bothersome about the title is its intent. The book doesn’t attempt to motivate me to improve ME for ME, but rather that I should be seeking to improve me so that I impress others (read: men) and FIT that term – a term, dear GOD, I don’t want to fit, as it isn’t a self-respecting one.

  • http://www.redheadwriting.com The Redhead

    What escapes me most is the publisher reaching out to audiences like yours for a potential review. Surely — by just reviewing your style, audience, and content — they’d have known you weren’t a fit! And hell — I’m still working on the whole M part of the acronym. I’ll worry about the other three letters later ;)

  • Nicole Brady (SahmReviews.com)

    Danielle – I’m guessing that it was neither the author nor the publisher. I’m sure it was a publicist or consultant looking to utilize the social media angle. “Any publicity is good.” Agreed… nothing more discouraging than working your butt off only to have someone else make a decision that washed any hopes of success down the drain.

  • Danielle Smith

    Ha! Well…. therein lies a portion of the problem, yes? I’m likely on a list of ‘Moms’ – so reviewing my personal style didn’t happen. (I mean… no matter how many times I said the acronym OUT LOUD and then some as I wrote this post, I wasn’t putting it on the site) It isn’t unusual, but in this case, it might have been helpful. Surely they knew the title was…. how do I say it… controversial I wasn’t alone in receiving the pitch yesterday. As I talked about it on FB, I saw at least two others mention it independently. I’m still waiting to see if they respond to my email. :)

  • http://twitter.com/JohnLusher John Lusher 

    First and foremost, this is a well written post Danielle! My take on it is this; the author, like so many people today, seems to be using the MILF term to raise attention (shock) and garner interest in the book; therefore elevating it and hopefully leading to additional sales. And potentially appealing to an audience that feels like they need to be the best MILF around. That itself makes me shake my head; but then again, we do live in a Honey Boo Boo world.

  • http://twitter.com/MamaDweeb Annie Shultz

    This is one of my favorite posts you have ever written. It is so articulate and says exactly how I feel. Yes, I want to be sexy. I want to be desired. But that is not my entire goal in life. That is a tiny sliver of a goal, actually more the effects of my maturing self-confidence and healthy lifestyle. I want to be admired and respected.

    It surprises and disappoints me that throughout history, women have kept other women from being empowered more effectively than men have. We need to build each other up, not continue the bad cycle.

  • Danielle Smith

    Thank you very much, John. I truly appreciate the compliment. I think you are absolutely correct: the ‘shock’ factor and how the lowest common denominator seems to garner the most attention (Honey Boo Boo) is very likely what motivated the title. I don’t know if it was the author’s decision or the publishing house, but I don’t doubt it was intended to get people talking. Guilty as charged: I’m talking about it. That being said, I won’t be buying it.

  • Danielle Smith

    I so appreciate that, Annie. Yes, I want to feel attractive too, but for ME, not so that some stranger can deem me worthy of locker room blather. I do hesitate to skewer the author or assume that it is ‘her’ behind the title as it may have been out of her hands. Certainly, her name is on the book, but it seems to me, she knows her stuff and is offering what I might have liked to read. Unfortunately, the title and the intent behind it will keep me from buying the book.

  • http://twitter.com/Anne_Hogan Anne Hogan

    This is not about empowering women, this is about using a shocking title to sell more books. Period. And I think that’s shameful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/TIm-Jordan/1327908587 TIm Jordan

    That is seriously gross. Sad but it will sell a lot of books though.

  • http://www.ianmayman.com/ Ian

    I agree with it being a shocking title, but it is also good to see a word in popular culture being used with a more positive association.

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  • Danielle Smith

    Tim – I’m definitely not a fan either. But I’m not sure if it will sell a lot or not…. are there that many women who WANT to look like a ‘MILF’? Maybe there are and they just aren’t my kind of people :)

  • Danielle Smith

    Ian – yes – it is a shocking title – and I appreciate your positive perspective… the author, Jessica Porter, actually wrote me a letter this morning – I wrote a second post to share her thoughts …. I linked to it in this post.

  • http://www.ianmayman.com/ Ian

    Some women take being called “Cougar” like a badge of honour, such as my friend @vancougarmama on Twitter, I think she is an amazing woman, always positive and inspirational, and sexy but not in a pornographic way.

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