This post goes out to the gross dude at Starbucks today who was pretending to read the alt weekly in front of him but who was actually eye-diddling the picture of a woman in a porny ad tucked just underneath. Because he should totally read Dietland, a kick-ass feminist revenge novel that comes out in paperback next week and was recently optioned as a TV series. (By the same woman who brought us the amazing Lifetime show UnReal!)
You know who else should read Dietland? Every woman ever—especially if you have ever felt body shamed, sexually objectified, or like you have to be thin to be worth something in this culture.
The main character a woman named Plum. She's fat, miserable, and working for an editor of a teen magazine who doesn't respect her. Things slowly get weirder and more exhilirating when she starts being followed by a girl in bright tights and combat boots. You find out that there's a secret feminist underground being operated out of the magazine's beauty closet and a Manhattan townhouse where you can detox from dieting and society's obsession with women's bodies.
Oh, and there's also a group of female vigilantes/terrorists that does things like drop rapists out of helicopters. You could describe it as The Devil Wears Prada meets Fight Club, with a solid dash of Our Bodies, Ourselves (which makes sense since the author worked as an editor and writer on the 2005 edition of the best-selling feminist guide to women's health).
Dietland is a full-on woman power revenge fantasy that will make you think and make you feel better about who you are right now—not two sizes, a new job, or 20 pounds from now. I came away from reading it with not only that rousing feeling you get after reading a really good book or seeing a great movie, but also a major fan of the author.
So guess what? I asked her if we could chat a bit about the book and what it’s been like since she became the (unwilling) spokesperson for today’s intersection of fatness and feminism:
Q: First, let me be honest: I avoided this book for a long time. I read novels for pleasure and as a body image/eating disorders advocate-type, I assumed this one would be more like homework! But then your writing was so fun and the plot was so juicy—it was amazing, and I was so mad at myself for not reading it sooner. What are you most proud of about this book? That it says something important or that it's a freaking good read?
A: Somebody asked me once how I did that—have the book look at all these important issues about women but also make it fun. I don't really know to be honest! I didn't anticipate that people would see it this way and to this extent. It was very difficult to write. There were moments of exhilaration, but when you're writing a novel, it's going into this other world and being enveloped by it, and I resisted that pretty much every day I worked on it.
Q: I read your Facebook post where you tell the story of submitting a chunk of Dietland as part of the dissertation for your Ph.D. and how one of the douchebags grading you basically told you the book was crap. I'm so glad you didn't scrap it!
A: It took me 18 months to find an agent [to help me get it published] too. There's a really strong bias in publishing against any type of writing that's overtly political. Writing about fat and women's bodies is always a political issue. A lot of agents told me they liked the writing and they liked Plum, but they didn't like that the book didn't fit into a box. Dietland doesn't fit into an existing category, and it's been hard to market because it doesn't fit into a familiar framework.
Q: You wrote in a recent New York Times Op-Ed that you never expected to get so many questions about your personal experience as fat, about yourself and your own history, and the state of obesity in the world and weight stigma. And that you never wanted to be some kind of spokesperson for fat women or fat people in society. What do you want to be?
A: Because I'm a novelist, I wasn't expecting all of that to happen. If you write a memoir, it's like, OK, this is your real life, and you're putting it out there for people. But this is a novel so you don't necessarily expect that. I've learned that it takes so much courage to speak publicly as a fat woman. There's so much negativity and hostility. It makes me appreciate people who do this work and have been doing it for years.
Q: I miss Plum! Are you working on another book?
A: I am writing another book. It's not a sequel, though, sorry. But people will get more Plum since Dietland was optioned for TV. She'll continue on that way.
There you have it. If you're looking for a summer beach read that's a wild ride, but also has the potential leave you and the world a little bit better off than you were before you read it, you know what to do.
Sunny Sea Gold is Greatist's body image columnist and the author of Food: The Good Girl's Drug—How to Stop Using Food to Control Your Feelings (Berkley Books, 2011). The views expressed herein are hers. A health journalist by trade and training and a mom of two little girls, she's also an advocate and educator focused on reducing the rates childhood obesity and eating disorders by building Body-Positive Families. Reach out to her @sunnyseagold.