I'm Over a Year Late, But Read "Dietland"
Somehow I was distracted by finals or binge-watching period piece TV shows, but the novel Dietland, by Sarai Walker came out in May of 2015 and I missed it. If you also missed it, here is your second chance - pick this book up! I happened to read it via Audible and I thought the narration was excellent.
Unlike the other books reviewed on this blog, Dietland is a novel. It follows the life of Plum, an advice letter ghost-writer for a teen magazine, as she saves up to have gastric bypass surgery. Plum is certain that if she just loses the weight, she will attract the man of her dreams, will shun her childhood nickname, and become her true self: Alicia.
Concurrently, a female vigilante group, known only as "Jennifer," has begun capturing and executing known rapists. The group is equally scary and bizarrely hilarious: threatening popular media personalities and insisting all portrayals of alluring women be replaced by equally objectified photos of men.
The lives of Plum and "Jennifer" become tied together in unexpected twists - as Plum takes on a challenge to delay her gastric bypass surgery and become her true self the non-surgical way, and an acquaintance Plum barely knows becomes a person-of-interest for the crimes of "Jennifer." For a scintillating review and teaser of the plot, check out this review at the Guardian (released with timeliness, back when the book actually came out).
No, there isn't any nutrition science in this book. No, there aren't any recipes for increasing fiber intake. But this book should be required reading for people who work in the diet field, for a number of reasons.
1. Descriptions of Dieting - Most people working in nutrition & fitness know the feeling of being "on a diet," whether we still espouse this behavior or not. But Plum's experience going on an extremely low-calorie, Jenny-Craig-meets-Weight-Watchers type as a teenager will ring bells for people who have experienced fad dieting themselves, or have patients and clients who have. How quickly Plum's resolve to become healthy and fit devolves into obsessing over food and calling herself "good" or "bad" based on her intake hits home.
2. Treatment of People who are Overweight - If we aren't overweight or obese ourselves, it is impossible to know what it feels like to be called out in public just for being in a larger body. (I'd encourage people to check out #fatsidestories on Twitter if you haven't - both for the stories and for the self-righteous responses.) Multiple studies have shown that discrimination against people of size, even in the name of "helping," does nothing to improve health outcomes in people with obesity and is certainly harmful.
In the book, Plum never dates and rarely leaves her apartment or the coffee shop where she works. Later, as part of a deal she strikes with a rich patron (you'll need to read to find out!), she goes on multiple blind dates. One of the men shows up, looks at her, and laughs. He thinks the date is a practical joke.
3. Calling Out Objectification Culture - Whether we like it or not (and who likes it?), the value of a woman is based on her presentation. Sarai Walker, the author, never pulls any punches describing the way society uses a woman's appearance to promote her or denigrate her as needed, and often in a horrific and tragic way.
Don't expect this book to be uplifting or sweet. That is not the point. Don't expect everyone to be likable. That is NOT the point. This book is an extremely pointed satire, which I found equally moving and fascinating.
Did you read it? Let me know your thoughts!