This wasn’t the best book in the world. The writing wasn’t particularly crisp, some of the characters were one trick ponies, and the plot was all over the place. But the ideas it presented were thought provoking and kept me coming back for more. The pointed discussion of weight and about what that means as far as our fuckability/worth as women was uncomfortable and honest.
Alright, I’ve waited long enough, but have to interject now or I will burst: Holy plot overload. Either write a book about a young woman struggling with a lifetime of weight issues or about how the objectification of women is destroying women. Not both. In one novel. So, I’ll go one further—not only not the best book but not even good. I’ll go with OK.
They’re separate plots, but cause and effect concepts. We have a ton of novels about women struggling with weight issues and books about the objectification of women, but we so rarely let those ideas come together. Dietland isn’t perfect, but I love that Sarai Walker wasn’t afraid to make the connection she did.
Everyone makes good points here. On one hand I agree with Catherine, there was a lot going on in this book. On the other hand, I agree with Shannon, where it’s so rare that an author puts these two subjects together. I too liked that she didn’t shy away from the connections that she made (because they are connected), I just, like Jennifer, wish that the writer had been a little bit crisper.
I fell in love with Plum from page one, but it seemed like some of the secondary characters felt a little undefined, almost to the point that it was difficult to distinguish between them, which was odd considering they had pretty vibrant backgrounds or personalities.
I thought this was a fun read, and I definitely liked how weight issues and the objectification of women came together. And this may sound weird, but the secondary characters not being completely fleshed out totally worked for me. They didn’t feel as much like actual characters, but more like personifications of various attitudes women face, or caricatures of different types of people women have to deal with (or even become themselves). I thought this heightened the satirical nature of the novel in a really cool way.
Again, I fall somewhere in the middle. I certainly adored Plum, but I agree with Monika that the secondary characters weren’t really supposed to be characters. I love the phrase “personifications of various attitudes women face.” I’d even go so far as to say that they are also personifications of various faces women put on, either for themselves or for society.
I want someone to actually write Fuckability Theory and I want to make my own Penis Blacklist.
Well, at least there’s this!
This was one of the problems for me. Yes, I get the fuckability premise but I do not believe that the majority of women care about their weight or their looks to be fuckable. There are plenty of hot, young women out there who are hot because they want to be. Not because anyone else tells them they have to be. And I write that fully believing in the pervasiveness of the objectification of women in our society. That is real, but does every woman buy into it? And if they do, is it because of a man? Or just to look a way they think they should? Maybe it comes down to the word “fuckable.” It’s more aggressive than I would use. I think we all want to fit in and be liked—and weight plays a part in that.
Interesting. I read the fuckability theory in the opposite way, that women who fall outside the societal norm looks-wise are struggling to be “fuckable” and if not fuckable, then just accepted by society. They do so by incessant dieting, lap-bands, anorexia, plastic surgery, etc. I didn’t find the book so concerned with women who already are hot being hot because they want to be—but the opposite. I don’t know if that makes any sense.
I think it takes a ton of self-awareness and confidence to own your body and appearance, to completely ignore societal norms and look the way you want to. I absolutely don’t agree that most American women are at that point, I just think many of us aren’t aware of it. I’m married—I don’t get dressed up to go out to dinner with my girlfriends with the goal of looking “fuckable,” but if you think about the clothing I choose and the makeup I’m wearing and the style of my hair, those things are dictated by societal norms that align with acceptable beauty. We tend to balk at self-acceptance that doesn’t fit within these norms—you can see it clearly in the comments for almost any interview Sarai Walker has done for Dietland.
I don’t think the majority are either, Shannon, and I’m not saying ignoring societal norms. I just don’t think they do it to be “fuckable.” That aside, the most cogent and touching part of the novel to me was Plum’s realization that:
“Because I’m fat, I know how horrible everyone is. If I looked like a normal woman, if I looked like you, then I’d never know how cruel and shallow people are. I see a different side of humanity.”
Plum’s feeling of waiting for her life to begin is one I was surprised to understand so well. I’ve bounced between 5 and maybe 30 pounds from what I’d “ideally” like to weigh, but I feel like I’ve been on a diet my entire life…like a cycle that will never, ever end.
On the surface, it’s a recognizable story of self-acceptance (though the idea of fat acceptance is one many people still struggle with…if you really want to hate the world, just do a Twitter search for HAES—Healthy at Every Size—and read some of the negative reactions), but there is some radical stuff here and that’s what I loved about it. The thought of misogyny being a form of terrorism? I actually cheered out loud when I read that.
“I think it’s a response to terrorism. From the time we’re little girls, we’re taught to fear the bad man who might get us. We’re terrified of being raped, abused, even killed by the bad man, but the problem is, you can’t tell the good ones from the bad ones, so you have to be wary of them all. We’re told not to go out by ourselves late at night, not to dress a certain way, not to talk to male strangers, not to lead men on. We take self-defense classes, keep our doors locked, carry pepper spray and rape whistles. The fear of men is ingrained in us from girlhood. Isn’t that a form of terrorism?”
I loved that quote too. It’s so apt, so concise on so many of the problems that feminism is trying to fight.
This is the second book I’ve read recently that discourages against taking antidepressants. Don’t you think this might perpetuate the stigma against mental illness? It annoys me. Hmph.
That was the one thing that really bothered me about this book. I felt like depression was only portrayed as able to be explained by an “external reason.” The fact that it can be biological was ignored. I didn’t get that sense about Plum’s depression, specifically; it just felt like a sweeping generalization overall.
YES. This was my biggest problem with the book as well. As far as attitudes that I could back and social norms that need changing I felt like Walker did everything else right—but I just can’t condone the broad brush she uses about antidepressants or depression itself.
I didn’t really notice this when I was reading for some reason, maybe because I felt like Plum had been so manipulated her whole life that I fell into the trap of wanting her to be free of “the doctors”, but you’re definitely right. That’s not true for all people, and it’s possible it wasn’t even true for Plum. It would have been nice to see a little more balance there.
I thought it was pretty heavy-handed. Granted I don’t have experience with every antidepressant out there, but that Plum was still struggling with very strong adverse reactions over a month after tapering her dose? That didn’t seem realistic to me.
Maybe that goes back to Shannon’s feeling about Walker’s portrayal of “the doctors” pushing what’s “best” (read: acceptable to) society, rather than what was best for Plum?
Was anyone else in love with the obsession that Walker portrayed Plum having with the Baptist Weight Loss program and its eventual fall from grace (pun totally intended) she subsequently experiences with it? Is the connection with the church ripe with symbolism or am I just an atheist with a grudge?
I definitely picked up on that symbolism and loved the points it suggested. There are Christian subcultures which definitely contribute to unhealthy body image issues. But hey, atheist with a grudge, I’m a progressive Christian with a grudge, nice to meet you. 😉
I thought the concept of Jennifer was introduced really well though the news clips, but I almost wished it played more of a role, particularly toward the end. I think I was expecting something “bigger” to happen, though this really was a story about Plum.
I’d be willing to guess that had the Jennifer concept been better fleshed out, or something more had happened (maybe involving Plum) that the two concepts wouldn’t have felt so disjointed together.
So, dear readers, were there too many scattered themes in this book, or were there enough connections for it feel cohesive? What themes struck you the most? Any thoughts on the Jennifer concept? Is misogyny a form of terrorism? Who would you add to a “Penis Blacklist”?