Book review: Dietland

I’m generally not one to share my opinions on things, because my opinions are about things that are stupid, like which Kratt Brother is better (Martin) or which day of the week is the worst (Tuesday– none of the fun of catching up with your work friends of a Monday, but so far from Friday that you feel like you might die). When I do have opinions on things that might matter, I tend to keep them to myself, because I worry that my opinion isn’t well-researched or thought out enough, and I don’t want to come across as ill-informed (which, in general, I am).

But lately, I’ve been finding myself noticing more and more the slight undercurrent of sexism that exists in every day life. Strangers at the playground always assume that I stay home with my kids, and when I tell them I don’t, their demeanors change, indicating their belief that I am some sort of garbage monster who drops her children into an ill-ventilated hole in my basement each morning before I leave for work, with only a banana peel and some crystal meth to keep them company. (So stupid– I obviously also give them a copy of the Enquirer.) There are tool kits with pink handles and pens with soft pink grips, all the better to be daintily grasped by my weak lady hands.

Ben subscribes to Esquire, which is filled with thought-provoking articles about politics and literature and entertainment, and I subscribe to Real Simple, which exhorts me to update my wardrobe for spring and find the all-in-one concealer/moisturizer/sunscreen that’s right for me. (And yes, I realize I could just stop getting Real Simple, but then how will I find out all the alternate uses there are for bobby pins and tin foil?) There are no Esquire-type magazines for women. Once upon a time, there was Jane, which at least mixed in actual articles of substance with lip gloss road tests, but Jane has been defunct for awhile, and no one has attempted to fill that void.

Which is why I found Dietland by Sarai Walker such a thought-provoking read, even though I was terrified the entire time that it appeared on my Currently Reading list on Goodreads that everyone would assume, based on the title, that I was reading a kooky rom-com set at a fat camp where a size 12 (GASP!) finds love with one of the trainers, who accepts her for who she is on the inside. (NO ONE STEAL THIS IDEA, I COULD TOTALLY WRITE THIS BOOK.)

Instead, two distinct stories unfold within the pages of Dietland– the deeply personal story of Plum Kettle, an obese woman counting the days until her stomach-stapling surgery, when she can finally free the thin woman living inside her and begin her life, and the emergence of Jennifer, a terrorist (or maybe band of terrorists?) bent on righting the wrongs perpetrated against women across the globe. In London, Jennifer coerces a chain of magazine shops to replace their racks of Penthouse and Playboy with hardcore gay pornography; men are suddenly too uncomfortable to enter these stores, while women flock to London from around the world, eager to experience a world in which they are not the objectified, but the objectifiers. In America, Jennifer issues a Penis Black List of 100 men that all women are to avoid sexual contact with or face the consequences. Then, people start dying.

Plum’s journey is influenced by Jennifer, and Jennifer’s story is in turn altered by Plum. And the reader– or, at least, this reader– picks up some valuable perspective and insights from both. Does Plum go too far? Or Jennifer? Or does neither go far enough? It’s left to the reader to decide, and my reaction to the end of the book– which I’m afraid I can’t share, for spoiler’s sake– honestly surprised me.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be a full-blown feminist– I’m certainly not amassing a Penis Black List of my own, and I don’t know how to properly apply black eyeliner. But Dietland has certainly furthered my education, and inspired me to seek out more works like this one.

Right after I let my kids out of the basement.



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