Fabulous Feminist Friday: Dietland

Posted 12 June, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Fabulous Feminist Friday: DietlandDietland by Sarai Walker
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on May 26th 2015
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, General, Literary
Pages: 272

The diet revolution is here. And it’s armed. Plum Kettle does her best not to be noticed, because when you’re fat, to be noticed is to be judged. Or mocked. Or worse. With her job answering fan mail for a popular teen girls’ magazine, she is biding her time until her weight-loss surgery. Only then can her true life as a thin person finally begin. But when Plum notices she’s being followed by a mysterious woman in colorful tights and combat boots, she finds herself falling down a rabbit hole into the world of Calliope House, a community of women who live life on their own terms. Reluctant but intrigued, Plum agrees to a series of challenges that force her to deal with the real costs of becoming “beautiful.” At the same time, a dangerous guerilla group begins to terrorize a world that mistreats women, and as Plum grapples with her own personal struggles, she becomes entangled in a sinister plot. The consequences are explosive. Part coming-of-age story, part revenge fantasy, Dietland is a bold, original, and funny debut novel that takes on the beauty industry, gender inequality, and our weight loss obsession—from the inside out, and with fists flying.

As the memes say, Dietland was so much win for me. It’s possible that part of the win came from the fact that I almost didn’t read it. Shannon at River City Reading sent me her copy and I wasn’t really arrested by the description, but I am a feminist so I thought I might as well give it a whirl, if for no other reason Shannon spent $4.07 mailing it to me.

Guys. This book will change your life. Or at the very least will have you re-examining so many parts of our culture. This book touched me in a very personal way so,  before I get to the book review we’re going sit down and have a little fireside chat. Move in closer, I’m going to get a little personal.

Growing up, through my twenties, up until the point that I had The Girl four years ago, I was that girl. I was the girl who could eat as much of anything that she wanted and never gain an ounce. I fluctuated between 115 – 120 or so, never exercised until I joined the Air Force and never gained weight. Well, as so often happens once women pop out that first baby they find their bodies inexorably changed forever. I now fluctuate between 160 – 170 and it’s taken me a long time to recognize that this is my new body. Well, this is my new body unless I want to live in Dietland.

Foxy, hot, fuckable. Whatever it was called, that’s what I’d wanted  – to be hot, to elicit desire in men and envy in women. But I realized I didn’t want that anymore. That required living in Dietland, which meant control, constriction – paralysis, even – but above all it meant obedience. I was tired of being obedient.”

I freakin’ love to eat guys. I love it. I’m terrible at exercising regularly, which I should do for health reasons but that’s a different issue. Do you know what this book did for me? It set me free from Dietland. I’m a size 12, I’m going to stay that way, and I am okay with that. Okay seriously, the review now.

Dietland takes on all the issues. Gender inequality, fat shaming being one of the last acceptable prejudices, beauty culture. The writing is good, there are some characters that seem a little underdeveloped, but I almost wonder if this was intentional – if these characters are less characters and more caricatures. For me that worked with the satire and social commentary that Walker was creating.

I enjoyed every facet of this book with the sole exception being the treatment of anti-depressants in the novel. Monika mentions this in her review as well (linked below), and it’s just unclear what statement Walker was trying to make about the use of anti-depressants – but I’m uncomfortable with negativity expressed towards their use, just because the stigma against mental health treatment is so high.

The timing of the publication of this novel is perfect, the novel itself is light and airy while still packing a substantive punch of social commentary that the world needs to hear. This might be the best book I’ve read this year.

Other Opinions:

River City Reading

A Lovely Bookshelf

Books Speak Volumes

A quote for the road:

“On the Nola and Nedra Show, Nola Larson King said: “I’ve been thinking about what you said earlier, Nedra, and I agree with you. I don’t think that this is terrorism or lady terrorism. Do you know what I think it is?”

“I’m dying to know,” said Nedra Feldstein-Delany.

“I think it’s a response to terrorism. From the time we’re little girls, we’re taught to fear the bad men who might get us. We’re terrified of being raped, abused, even killed by the bad man, but the problem is, you can’t tell the good ones from the bad ones, so you have to be wary of them all. We’re told not to go out by ourselves late at night, not to dress in a certain way, not to talk to male strangers, not to lead men on. We take self-defense classes, keep our doors locked, carry pepper spray and rape whistles. The fear of men is ingrained in us from girlhood. Isn’t that a form of terrorism?”

What do you think, Reader? Too subversive? Too weird? Let’s chat! Also – expect to see this broken down completely at The Socratic Salon some day soon!



April @ The Steadfast Reader


  • I mentioned this before, but this premise just doesn’t grab me…but your review does! I just added it to my list of books to at least try before the end of the year.
    And – I’m like you…I love food, I eat a lot and always have. I was a swimmer growing up, so I was supposed to eat a lot. Of course, now I’m not a competitive swimmer and have had 2 kids…so…the need to adjust my eating has now crept up on me. I still work out a ton because I love being in shape and it’s sort of mental catharsis for me…plus, I love to eat and don’t want to cut out a bunch of foods. So, I try to eat mostly healthy, but not as healthy on the weds and I still eat a lot…just better stuff. All a balance I think and figuring out a place that works best for you.

    • …and I think that’s totally awesome. I love people who work out and eat healthy because it makes them feel good – what I love about this book was that it really hit home the perspective that judging people based on their weight, be it 170 pounds, 85 pounds (too skinny!), or 300 pounds is bullshit. 🙂 It goes back to what our acceptable ‘beauty’ standards are and how ridiculous it is.

      Does that make any sense at all? 🙂

      • Absolutely – I think whatever weight you feel healthy and good about yourself is the weight for you. And it’s different for everyone. Plus, you have to be able to maintain that weight over the long run – if you’re starving yourself to get to a certain weight, then you’re likely going to have trouble maintaining that over any length of time.
        However – and I may get blasted for this – I do think if someone is clearly having health issues due to his/her weight, that person shouldn’t sit back and do nothing. I think he/she should put some effort into trying to be healthier. With diet and exercise.

        • Gurl. I’m not going to blast you for that. We all have to take responsibility for our own health – and if weight is a major factor in your health problems (which I think is briefly discussed in this book with the woman in the floral print coming into Baptist Weight Loss wanting to lose a few pounds because her back hurts) then that is an issue of personal responsibility. I have bad genes for cholesterol and at 33 my doctor did a double take because my numbers were that of a woman who weighed far far more than me… I NEED to do diet an exercise, but not because of how I look.

          But I don’t think that any of us can judge (within 30 seconds of a ‘first impression’) whether a person’s weight contributes to their health issues or not. Perhaps the 85 lb girl has cancer or the 300 lb girl has thyroid problems, y’know?

          • True all that! For example, my mother in law is thin, but eats horribly (and doesn’t exercise) and is having trouble with her sodium levels and heart. My husband and I keep trying to get her to eat healthier…or at least more veggies…and she doesn’t understand why we’re talking to her about this because she’s thin.

            And – good for you for taking control of your health! I do think genetics plays a big role.

            And – I agree that you don’t know what could be causing someone’s weight problems (in either direction) on first glance. I think I was more referring to people who have been told by their docs, etc that they need to lose weight for whatever health reason.

  • This book was such a surprising read, even thought I knew going into it that it was more than meets the eye thanks to Shannon’s review. I agree, this book totally worked for me too, and I enjoyed reading about your personal experience with reading the book.

    • Yes! I don’t want to pooh-pooh the marketing, because I don’t have a better idea – but I think something needs to change around it. 🙂

    • Yes! I don’t want to pooh-pooh the marketing, because I don’t have a better idea – but I think something needs to change around it. 🙂

  • So glad you enjoyed this book! This was such an unexpected read for me, but I really loved it! It’s rare that a book that is so much FUN to read can pack such a punch when it comes to social commentary.

    • Absolutely! I felt exactly the same way. I loved your BEA Speed Dating post… I’ll get there to comment one day 😀

  • I love how enthusiastic your review is! I knew I wanted to read this book, but now I went to read it immediately! 🙂

  • Amanda

    I’m so glad to see so much love for this book! I loved and I hope to see so much discussion around the message.

  • YES, you have no idea how happy I was to see you enjoying this one. It hits such a great balance between readability and *serious business* that is so hard to find sometimes. I can’t wait to get down to all the nitty gritty with TSS.

  • Darlene @ Lost in Literature

    Girl, you KNOW I can’t read a high volume of books like the rest of you chicks! I don’t NEED another book on my list, but, thank you, now I want to read this one.

    As someone who has been overweight her entire life, but healthy and happy in every other regard, I disprove the assumption that if you’re overweight your life must be crap and you must really hate yourself on the inside. I don’t. It’s one reason why I don’t obsess about being skinny because I’m smart enough to know being skinny doesn’t equal my happiness.

    But, full disclosure, I am working on losing weight because my daggone clothes don’t feel good and I feel like a slug. I’m doing this because it needs to be done and it has NOTHING to do with the world’s perception of me. But it breaks my heart for those who experience the shame and rejection because of it and I HATE, HATE, HATE that the world considers the size of our bodies to be more important than the size of our brains. (I totally stole that from Jennifer Lawrence.):)

    • Ashley

      I’m doing the weight loss thing now for the same reason, and also because I was getting annoyed with not being able to find good yoga clothes, and it’s so ridiculous to see how people already value me more just knowing that I’m losing weight. Like, you suddenly become a better human being because you’re trying to be more like them. “Hooray, good effort, you’re on the right path now to glorious waistline perfection!”

      I don’t know how people — and, let’s be real here, women in particular — without the outlook we both share deal with this. I laugh off the comments people make, but if I had low self-esteem and suddenly had people telling me that they basically thought I looked like an ogre a few pant sizes ago? I don’t even want to think about what that would do to me and my heart.

      This book is so much more necessary than people realize. I hope the judgmental people who need to read it the most get their hands/eyes on it, maybe through book clubs. Speaking of which, I just realized what I’m picking for my next open month’s selection…

  • I am so, so glad you share my feeling about the underdeveloped characters being kind of like caricatures. I felt way out in left field suggesting that in my review, but now I feel a little less crazy!

    • Not sure if I accidentally plagiarized you or not, but I really did feel that way – the same about the weirdness around anti-depressants. If Walker could have left the meds out of it I would have been 110% on board with her message. 🙂

      • Noooo don’t even worry about that! How many times have you and I chatted about a book and realized we thought the exact.same.thing? TONS!

  • Great review. Always interesting to see different opinions on the same book. I used the word caricatures as well, so I’m glad it’s not just me. 🙂 I linked to your review – http://125pages.com/dietland-sarai-walker/

  • Ashley

    Instead of posting a Goodreads review, I think I might just post a link to this page with the word “ditto.” 🙂 Because you said it way better than I could! (Okay, okay, I’m not really going to do that. But you know what I mean.)

    I love how deliciously cathartic this book has been for everyone. It’s like a tasty literary dessert, which seems fitting.

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