Every day, Plum Kettle sits in a Brooklyn caffe, typing out responses to emails young girls have sent to the founder of the teen magazine she works for. But despite sending frequent emails to the tune of “you’re beautiful just the way you are!” she isn’t able to accept her own body; at almost 30 years old, Plum weighs 300 pounds and is saving up for the weight-loss surgery that she believes will allow her life to finally begin.
However, all of Plum’s well-laid plans begin to unravel the day she realizes she’s being followed by a girl wearing brightly colored tights. This discovery sparks a chain of events that will change Plum — and the world around her — in shocking ways. As she becomes involved with an underground feminist collective, she gets to know the paranoid manager of the magazine’s Beauty Closet, the daughter of a weight-loss magnate, and a former beauty icon, among other colorful characters. And at the same time, the news cycle is dominated by numerous assaults on the patriarchy, culminating in the murder of 12 known sexual assailants and rapists by a mysterious killer known only as Jennifer.
“Before, the covers of the men’s and women’s magazines alike had featured women, but now most of them featured men instead. London was being renovated, and the wallpaper covering every surface of the city was no longer decorated with women. The default Londoner, the implied viewer of everything, was no longer male.
Tourism increased, with women from many countries anxious to see what was happening firsthand, but there were also unforeseen consequences. London was scheduled to host the G8 Summit, but world leaders complained. The French president commented on a British television advert that featured a man washing his hair with a new floral-scented shampoo; the man was so excited by the shampooing experience that he made orgasm sounds as he massaged his head. “I cannot be taken seriously in such an environment,” the French president said.”
Based on the cover and title of Dietland, I was expecting something fluffy and shallow. I mean, an overweight woman working for a NYC magazine? How many times has that been done in chick lit? However, once I picked up this book, I couldn’t put it down. What could have been a predictable novel built on tropes turned out to be a bold, daring book about conventional beauty standards and self-acceptance. I loved the nuanced, honest way it portrays the experience of a woman whose main goal every day is to be invisible — to blend in and not receive any hurtful remarks — because of her socially mandated discomfort with her body.
But beyond that, Dietland is a ridiculously fun novel. As unknown “terrorists” turn the patriarchy upside down, the novel feels like a feminist Fight Club, with its disruption of the status quo. Don’t be fooled by Dietland‘s package; like the cupcake on its cover, it may look sweet, but it’s really a grenade that’s about to blow up.
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