“We can’t hide it or fake it. We’ll never fit society’s idea for how women should look and behave, but why is that a tragedy? We’re free to live how we want. It’s liberating, if you choose to see it that way.”
Plum Kettle is in hiding. Her day job as a teen magazine advice columnist takes her as far as the coffee shop near her apartment, but she constantly fears being stared at, ridiculed, or even harassed for her weight. So Plum tucks herself away from the world, drowns out the fear with antidepressants and the desperate hope that weight-loss surgery will finally fix the life that she isn’t living – the life that doesn’t even feel like it’s hers.
Then one day Plum notices that she is being followed by a moody girl wearing combat boots. The girl leads Plum to Verena Baptist, the owner of a feminist publishing house and repentant heiress of a weight-loss empire and her collective of women who are trying to dismantle the patriarchy. Meanwhile, a guerilla-activist group (or terrorists, depending on whom you ask) called Jennifer are wreaking havoc on American men. The country is in disarray, the girl with the combat boots is wanted for aiding in the murder of a rapist, and Verena has offered Plum $20,000 to reconsider her weight-loss surgery. Plum is a cannon waiting to be lit, but will the world be ready for when she explodes?
Dietland is ostensibly a novel about being fat. This summer I have read many books about being fat, most notably the fantastic Shrill by Lindy West, which deserves it’s own review at a later time. Unlike West and her humorous personal essays and arguments, author Sarai Walker is angry. There are no personal anecdotes, no humorous essays on childhood fat icons about Miss Piggy, or rehashing of televised arguments with famous comedians, to make being fat seem okay, like in Shrill. Walker is a woman on fire, and in 300 pages her novel instigates and stokes a flame inside her reader that I wouldn’t want to extinguish. It is a call to action, the siren song of fat female anger.
While one should be grateful to the body positivity movement, to Gabi Gregg and the fatkini, to Forever21 Plus, and to the many women who boldly choose to be fat and proud in the face of internet trolls and a general societal aggression towards extra weight, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that the body positivity movement shies away from being angry. You can be fat and dress pretty, you can be fat and show your body off on tumblr, you can be fat and do yoga, you can be fat and be one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood, but can you be fat and angry? Women have been bombarded with the idea that they need to be nice or practice good manners, but Walker doesn’t care about nice. Dietland is not a nice book. Dietland does not care if it offends you. Dietland has a second wave feminist sense of politics with a Fight Club mentality. Dietland will beat you up.
It is a merciless novel, it is flawed, it is unapologetic about revealing how women are treated like shit. From the horrifying advice column letters that Plum receives from teenage girls contemplating cutting themselves, to the destructive hold that the weight-loss industry has held over American women for the last 70 years, to dating, and breast cancer; Walker slashes at the things that are the nucleus of female pain.
This is the novel for the angry girl. It is captivating and staunch and exhilarating to be inside Walker’s flame. Just make sure you don’t walk away scorched.