...[a] raucous and smart new book ... Because these criticisms are, writ large, the same ones flung daily at nonceleb women, the book is a timely and essential read ... Petersen's analytical skills are as vigorous as her prose and reporting are entertaining, and her engagement with writing by fellow critics and thinkers opens up a dialogue about what we talk about when we talk about disruptive women.
Petersen herself can't be called an unruly writer per se. In its cautious accessibility, this collection is less exuberant, less spiky and less strange — less unruly, in short — than it could be. She leaves much of the boundary pushing to her subjects. Petersen's cutting, still-by-still analysis of TV shows and music videos is wrapped in glosses, potted histories and pleasantly readable, if not radical, prose. But if Petersen is dancing on the same line of accessibility and acceptability as her subjects, can we blame her — if she'll reach more people, change more minds? ... Petersen is responsible in the best sense: She doesn't just cite her sources but elevates them. She is deeply but quietly unelitist, incorporating academic theory when necessary but with lucidity and care. She acknowledges her debts and her advantages. And once Petersen has introduced her subjects, her analysis is deeply thoughtful. Sections on Minaj (too slutty) and her unrelenting experimentation with norms are particularly brilliant.
Petersen, fortunately, is supremely thoughtful, both about celebrity culture and about her own work on that subject, and she manages to make the book’s essays snappy and compelling. While each woman is singular, each is included in Petersen’s collection because she also works as a metaphor: Each woman represents a set of regressive expectations, ignored ... While the tone of the appreciations is celebratory—these women are some of the heroines, Petersen suggests, of this moment of contradiction and flux—it is not elegiac. Rather, it is hopeful. Progress, after all, tends to come from the iconoclasts.
Though it's undeniable that each subject has made great gains in her field, Petersen's dedication to overstating the transgressive behaviors of female celebrities in service of the notion of subjectivity as empowerment rings hollow. Her line of inquiry reveals the collective progress lost—or at least plateaued—by mainstreamed claims to feminism, which are couched in a rhetoric of 'unruliness' that is really anything but ... Though these case studies can verge on tedious, they are a reflection of Petersen's Media Studies background, her desire to make theoretical concepts like abjection, intersectionality, and transnormativity easy to understand in the context of her pop-culture subjects ... The overdetermined analysis with which she dissects celebrity behaviors with the utmost gravity stretches the utility of words like radical, subversive, and activist until they hold everything, and mean nothing ... This is the hard fact that Petersen's work, like others of its kind, leaves out: how race, gender identity, sexuality, age, and size are deeply enmeshed in the capitalism we've let run amok with our futures.
There’s a lot to unpack in her heavily annotated writings, but she utilizes the same accessible style that’s helped her readers take in contemporary feminist theory and 19th-century literary criticism in discussions of chick lit. Even those who believe the nation’s clock hasn’t been set back 60 years in the last 150 days will be engrossed by these women’s journeys ... Heading toward the conclusion, Petersen expands her scope for the chapters on Weiner and Dunham to discuss high and low culture (or avant-garde and mass culture), as well as the complicated relationship between the naked and the nude. And while those writings are certainly compelling, her choice of focal points can feel slightly more convenient than inspired. But let’s give the author the benefit of the doubt that, by broadening topics, she’s laying the groundwork for another collection of essays on women who wouldn’t stay in their place or hold their tongues; she’s certainly earned it.
By analyzing her 10 subjects, Petersen is able to make the invisible boundaries of femininity visible and legible ... Petersen gives her subjects all due credit for maintaining their unruliness in the face of public pressure, but Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud is not a hagiography. Petersen is a nuanced enough writer to explore, for instance, the transphobia Caitlyn Jenner ('too queer') has faced as one of the most famous trans women in America, and to acknowledge that Jenner transitioned from a place of enormous privilege and has consistently championed policies that hurt the rest of the trans community. Petersen recognizes that all your faves are problematic, but that doesn’t stop her from analyzing what makes them your faves in the first place. Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud is the best kind of celebrity gossip book: it’s a book that shows us what celebrity gossip says about us.
Petersen has compiled exhaustive notes on each of the women she profiles, pulling from interviews, tabloids, cable news and the Internet. Each essay delivers a tight weave of smart criticism, cultural history and biography, held together by Petersen’s own critical analysis. Each piece stands alone, but when taken together, they form a fascinating—and infuriating—look at the public gaze’s double standards and unreasonable demands on women’s bodies and personalities. Some essays prove stronger than others. The chapter on Hillary Clinton is particularly powerful...Petersen’s analysis of Melissa McCarthy—'too fat'—is less effective than others due in part to McCarthy’s own public persona, which is largely non-confrontational even as she pushes back against shallow criticism ... Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud is nonetheless a thorough examination of unruly women who exist in the public eye. By taking pop culture seriously, Petersen illuminates individuals who work incredibly hard to create and sustain their public images, often in the face of extreme backlash.
Petersen has encapsulated something so profound, so elemental, so obvious that I almost felt like I’d known it intrinsically, but had heretofore lacked the language and theoretical context to truly articulate it … Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud more than supports its thesis that the future belongs to women who claim space as subjects in their own lives, rather than objects in the lives of men. Petersen’s examples of this are stark and powerful: She thoughtfully deconstructs Williams’ refusal to apologize for her body, her Blackness, or her strength; Minaj’s insistence on her place in the upper echelon of hip-hop and her willingness to adopt personae that are ugly or angry, trading likeability in order to be the boss; and Clinton’s unkillable ambition in a political arena that’s tried to destroy her time and again … Here is a book whose delight in its own wonkiness is infectious, and whose deep empathy for its subjects is also matched with fair-minded critique.
Petersen offers thought-provoking profiles of controversial women ... Through incisive analysis of the ways in which contemporary society polices femininity, Petersen reveals the fraught relationship between women and celebrity ... A sharp, compelling collection of social and cultural criticism.