I’m a true conundrum of millenial female ideologies. I’m feminist, but confused about my personal definition of feminism. I believe all women are beautiful, but I desperately crave posting a before and after insta of myself with hot ab lines and (small) perky behind, singing the praises of balance and wholeness in my pursuit of hotness. I believe all women should be able to chase the career and life they want, but I say judgmental things about women who choose to stay home, and women who choose to work.
Cue Dietland, an outrageous book exploring all of these thoughts and more, through the life and times of main character, Plum. We meet Plum while she is 300 pounds, friendless, hiding behind her job as an anonymous advice ‘columnist’ employed on a remote basis to a hot teenage girl magazine – while Plum is waiting for gastric bypass surgery, and waiting to become the woman she believes she should be and has been waiting for since she was 16.
The first half of the book I deeply empathised with Plum. I felt hard those judgmental looks, comments, thoughts and experiences that coloured Plum’s everyday, and caused her to shut herself inside, physically and mentally. I felt Plum’s desperation for the moment when she would finally become thin, and as a result, finally have the life she dreamed of. I hurt with Plum when she explored her time as a teenager going through the Baptist Program, a weightloss program promising miracles. I was Plum – as a girl, I have struggled with body image issues most of my life. While I have thankfully never developed any serious disorders or disrupted eating patterns, I churn through weight-loss program after program, scroll through miles of instagram photos with #fitspo and secretly eat blocks of chocolate in the car hoping no one will know. I catch myself thinking ‘I’ll be happier when I weigh 60kg’ or ‘when I can fit a size 8…’. I wish I had someone else’s hair, or someone else’s butt – someone else’s eyes, skin colour, smile. And through the first half of the book, Plum wished desperately for all those things.
Things began to shift when Plum was taken on by a feminist collective who helped her accept who she is. To bring future Plum (the one where Plum had her surgery and was thin), and present Plum closer together. To love and accept the Plum she is, not wait around for the Plum who will never exist. And to recognise that the life she is living, she is living now. The leader of the collective is an anti-diet industry crusader, and the inheriter of the fortune coming from the Baptist Program, which was the beginning of the true issues for Plum. Through her character, the deeply manipulative nature of the diet / weight-loss industry is explored, it is a really confronting concept. That in the end, this industry that I let govern many parts of my life, including my self-esteem, is intentionally failing, and intentionally failing me, so it can feed off my insecurities and allow me to continue on a tragic cycle of failure and self-hatred.
Plum’s time with the group coincides with her involvement with a violent feminist terrorist (too strong?) group, attacking men who perform despicable crimes on women. I found this part of the book – both the time with the collective, and the terrorist group, really confronting, and to be honest, unlikeable. But I think that is the point. The book is completely flipping the world as I know it upside down, and I’m forced to feel uncomfortable – to question what I believe is wrong and right, and to ask why. I find Plum to become downright hateful, but I was forced to ask myself if I felt that way because she had the audacity, in the book, to stand up for herself, to find confidence in herself, and reject those who forced their negative world view on to her?
I don’t have the answers to those questions, but I devoured the book on a hungover Saturday morning, and I keep finding myself thinking about it. It wasn’t a book I rave over, but it was a book that challenged me, and challenges me continuously. I would encourage you to pick up a copy if you’ve struggled with body image issues, body weight issues, with being the deliverer (consciously or unconsciously) of fat-shaming (I know I have), with what feminism is and should look like.
Have you read Dietland? I’d love to know what you think.