Meet Plum, a three-hundred pound plus woman in her thirties who works for a teen girls' magazine, crafting form advice letters. She advises young women about boys, weight, skin, friends - but she is also called to advise on matters of sexual abuse, self-harm, and disordered eating habits. Her routine dominated by these letters, dieting, and the numbing effects of anti-depressants, Plum has totally isolated herself. Her only solace is the life ahead of her; a scheduled weight-loss surgery will give her the body she's always wanted. Post-surgery, she will take her given name of Alicia. Alicia will have friends and dinner parties. Alicia will be loved. Plum realizes she's being followed by a young woman and finally shows some agency by confronting her stalker. The situation catapults from there, and Plum enters the world of a troupe of feminist activists. These women promise her $20,000 (the price of her weight-loss surgery) if she gives them a chance to change her mind about the surgery through "therapy sessions." Therapy for Plum includes a full-body waxing, blind dates, and weaning off the drugs.
During Plum's transformation a violent feminist revolution is taking place. Rapists are murdered execution-style and dumped from an airplane into the desert. Magazines are blackmailed into showing less female, more male nudity. The absurdity of this subplot is exciting and an important parallel to Plum's life. It's certainly easy to make the metaphorical connection between Plum's personal revolution and the worldwide violent one.
This isn't a makeover story. Plum doesn't "get the guy" in the end, nor is she suddenly beautiful (aka, thin) through some magic of finally seeing her inner beauty. That's cool with me. The whole point of this novel is to push away those stereotypes that dehumanize and oversimplify women.
Yet, why isn't there a single positive male figure in the whole book? Not even a (forgive me) gay best friend. In fact, gender and sexuality are barely present topics. None of the women are married or in relationships, not even same-sex. The men in this novel are two-dimensional and always, always cruel. They are calling Plum fat, they are leaving dates with her based on her appearance, and in the final showdown between Plum and man he tries to trick her into sleeping with him as a joke with his friends. In the novel, doing this to fat women is called "hogging." Really? I would have liked to see this woman who wants so badly to be loved to come to terms with more than just her size, but male friendship as well. That men don't have to exist only to make women feel sexualized or desexualized, to be loving or cruel, with no in between. Perhaps Walker intended to communicate radical independence by cutting out all romantic relationships from the narrative, but I would have preferred a more realistic and less damning approach.
Perhaps a person coming at this novel with a less loaded point of view wouldn't notice these issues, but (as we've seen, with the BODY BODY BODY comic) body issues are a hot topic for me. I did like this novel, though. As an English major I am inclined to declare literature regarding women "problematic," just, like, whenever I want.
But the novel rang true for me. It reflected something innate in all of us: a desire to be perfect and a self-hatred when all the proof is present that we are so far from perfect.
I could go on and on about beauty constructs and the absurdity of having to learn that beauty isn't defined by body size, but that's enough for now.
Stay tuned, beauties, there's more to come.