Showing posts with label body image. Show all posts
Showing posts with label body image. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Shrill by Lindy West

Rating: WARTY!

I've read one or two novels about women who might variously be described, depending on who is doing the describing, as fat, overweight, obese, big-boned, chubby. None of these names are any better for people than was this novel as it happens, but I will grant that 'shrill' is a great title for it. With its tone, it ought to have been written in block caps. For reasons which escape me, the novel had some good buzz about it, which is how it came to my attention, but I immediately started to think maybe it was over-hyped when I realized it was first person voice. If you're going to be shrill, then you don't want to write in first person. In fact, very nearly every time you don't want to write in first person, because it doesn't do anything for your novel other than to make it an annoying mantra of "Hey, lookit MEEEE!"

I gave up on this particular one on page nineteen when I read, "I watched my friends become slender and beautiful" which told me in very plain terms that this writer is a part of the problem. In the preceding pages I'd already noted that body-shaming (and its equally despicable counter-part, body-idolizing) was part of this author's technique. She rambled on for several pages about Disney characters and others, when everyone already knows, or ought to know, that Disney is not known for political correctness or for realistic representations of anything, in either its animated oeuvre or its live action efforts. Not that these days, there's any difference between the two with Disney incestuously remaking every animated feature as a live action rinse and repeat. Barf.

Just in passing, I think she author here completely misinterpreted the depiction of King Triton in The Little Mermaid whose muscular frame was meant to imply power, not some ovulating go-to hunky guy - and even if she were correct in her errant assessment, why would it be a problem when it comes to merpeople? To take this character and talk about his disgusting fishiness, like he was trying to appear to humans when he clearly despised humans is completely out of left field and is just as bad of a tirade of body-shaming as anything the author complains about. It turns out she's part of the problem! Not that Triton is real, but it matters because it’s not the reality of the character, but the militant attitude of the author that's in question here. I notice she had not a word to say about how wrong it was that Ariel was not only willing to undergo the equivalent of plastic surgery in order to snag a human, but also to be muted? You see nothing wrong with that Ms West?

But I digress! Now: 'slender and beautiful'? The highest proportion of overweight and obese people in the world live in the USA. We have well over ten percent of the world's total. In a nation where some three-quarters of men and well over half of women are overweight and a third of children are joining them, the character in this novel has only friends who are all slender and beautiful? Not one of them was 'well-rounded' or even 'pleasantly plump'? Not one of them was 'plain' or 'homely'? They were all slender and beautiful?

I call horseshit on that one for two reasons. Firstly, given the statistics, it has all the hallmarks of an outright lie, and second, why is someone who is purposefully writing a book about a weight problem (from one perspective or another) equating slender with beautiful as though no one who isn't slender can possibly be attractive? That just seemed completely wrong-headed to me. Once again the author is a part of the problem, and I could not stand to read any more of this, especially since I was already having problems with it. I can't commend this as a worthy read.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Skinny Me by Charlene Carr

Rating: WARTY!

For a novel which is centered on body image, this one sure objectified and dissed other types of body. It’s not just fat-shaming that's a problem, it’s also male objectification which was rife in this novel as it is in far too many books I've read, too many of which are YA stories that have proved as laughable as they are shameful, and I find it hypocritical in the extreme. How can an author write a novel that features a person resolved to take charge of her life - which is this case she conflates with her body, and perhaps understandably so - and so was focused on body image, while abusing the bodies of others?

At one point I read, "She’s plump, but not fat, still attractive. She’s one of those girls who is clearly somewhat overweight" - like there is some point on a sliding scale of weight gain where a woman becomes downright ugly. The fact that this sliding scale is purely skin deep is evidently irrelevant to this character (or this author who is writing the character). That was one of the problems with Jennifer Carpenter, the main character who tells this story. She's so shallow herself and it seems the more weight she loses, the more ugliness in her it reveals, which is quite the contrary to what she thinks she's achieving.

The book had snide comments like that quite often and they seemed to get worse the more weight Jennifer lost. This includes what might be termed thin-shaming, which is just as nasty as fat-shaming, but which gets nowhere near the same attention. There was also appearance shaming, such as when Jennifer refers to an older man's hair: "though his hair is thinning it’s a full head of hair." like losing one's hair is something debilitating and ugly, or something that diminishes a person. Men have far less control over hair loss than women do over weight loss, and yet this is seen as a fair target? It's somehow fine to make bald jokes, but fat jokes are off limits? I don't think you can have this goose and eat the gander too. Hair is seen as a sign of youth and virility, but the truth is that it’s testosterone which contributes to male pattern baldness!

The novel also indulges in precisely the opposite - what might be called Glute Glorification? Beauty Blinging? The number of times Jennifer objectifies her personal trainer, Matt, is laughable. I read things like: "Matt greets me in a black tank that accentuates his perfectly sculpted arms and hints at the pecs." Jennifer's best friend is named Autumn, and she's dating Matt, yet Jennifer has no problem with ogling him and considering him fair game. I read, "I look up at him, he smiles at me and I wonder how happy he and Autumn really are. He seems pretty glad to see me and Autumn doesn’t usually take her relationships very seriously." So her best friend's boyfriend is fair game?

This is made even worse by the fact that Jennifer never tells Autumn that she's training with her boyfriend. This was sad because the author apparently expects us to believe that Matt never mentioned to Autumn that "Hey, guess who I'm training now? Your friend Jennifer!" This was beyond credibility. Neither of them had taken any sort of vow of secrecy to keep this from Autumn (why would they?!), so why expect us to believe Matt never mentioned it?

This is a sign that a writer wants to set a certain train in motion in her story, but is too lazy or thoughtless to do the work to make it seem natural - or at least natural enough that a reader would be ready and willing to let it go. This was the first time this story really pulled me up and told me: hey, you’re reading a story! It was amateurish and unnecessary.

I’d thought it a bit odd that Autumn, as her best friend and also a fitness trainer, wasn't giving Jennifer tips and encouragement in getting fit and losing weight, but maybe Jennifer simply wouldn’t listen? On the other hand, Autumn, even knowing how inexcusably mean Jennifer's brother has been to her, felt no compunction about dictating to Jennifer how she should live her life: "I know you and Billy never got along but he’s still your brother, Jenn. I shouldn’t be the one to tell you this stuff" No, Autumn, you shouldn't! It’s none of your damned business, and you weren't the one her brother shamed and denied and insulted in front of his friends!

I don’t buy into this happy ending and family has to come together horseshit that is so pervasive in novels, movies and TV shows. Families are not always like that and it’s dishonest to pretend otherwise. The author tries to win our sympathy for Billy by having him suffering some malady which goes unspecified for the longest time. It didn't win mine. Billy's behavior was inexcusable and he deserved what he got, whatever it was, for being such a jerk. I’ll bet Autumn never dictated to him that he should reconcile with his sister. Jennifer hasn’t done anything wrong there, yet Autumn is putting it all on her like it’s her fault! Perhaps she deserves Jennifer trying to steal her boyfriend? That doesn't make Jennifer a nice person though.

Most of the writing was technically pretty good, even thought it was worst person voice, but there were some lapses. At one point, after repeatedly hitting the reader with the sixty-two pounds Jennifer had lost, the author refers to the last time Jennifer met these people when she was "almost sixty pounds heavier.” What happened to the sixty-two pounds? Isn’t that over sixty pounds heavier?! But the worst part about it is that Jennifer, who began as an interesting story-teller, seems to be on a downward spiral.

She met this guy Rajeev, who is clearly interested in her - as a friend if nothing else, but when Jennifer goes to a party and meets him for only the second time, he comes over to greet her and she rudely dismisses him as soon as she sees Matt come through the door. At this point I really did not like her at all, which was a one-eighty from how I began this novel in some admiration of her willpower and work ethic in losing weight. It didn’t help that she now, if not before, saw herself only in terms of her worth to a man: "I’ll be worth a guy like him." What a moron!

Her diet doesn't seem to have educated her about food, either. In Chapter nine, I read that she'll "load up my plate with celery, carrots, tomatoes (but only a few—they’re loaded with sugar". Carrots actually have more sugar than tomatoes, if only by a smidgeon. Celery does have very little, but Jennifer is missing the point: these are sugars in whole foods - not like the mounds of sugar added to a cola or to yogurt (which is more sugary in organic form than in other form, believe it or not!).

The point about eating sugar in whole food - like a fresh fruit or a vegetable - is that it’s an integral part of the whole food and your body processes it rather differently from the added mass sugar in all the appallingly bad foods which people eat. It’s not the same threat in other words, so her concern is misplaced at best. You'd think with all the reading she's supposedly done thus far, she'd be a bit better informed. Or the author would be! It took me five minutes to 'research' this. You’d think Jennifer would have bought a good book on the topic and or watched a few documentaries about diet and health, rather than simply rely on Internet sources which can be dubious, but she doesn’t. Neither did the author apparently.

It may well have been that Jennifer improved her outlook later in the story but she was taking so long to wise up that I was sick of her by this point. I couldn't face reading any more about her, and I DNF'd the entire book, glad to be rid of it and have the opportunity to move on to something else. From what I read, the book was awful and I cannot commend it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Becoming Zara by Lillianna Blake, P Seymour

Rating: WARTY!

This novel is about a purportedly overweight woman and her life, one which frankly seems rather privileged to me. There's a whole series: Single Wide Female, which I admit is a cool title, but I'm not a series fan, and after reading about half of this volume, I'm not at all inspired to read on. The first problem is first person. This is supposed to be a novel which, I assume, character Lilliana Blake wrote to fulfill one of the items on her bucket list (write a novel), but it's not well told and I found I wasn't really liking the character because she felt very fake to me.

She was born Catherine - or rather not - she was born with no name and named Catherine by her parents, but she rejects that name and calls herself Zara (with 'Warrior Princess' added sotto voce). Why she needs a title, I don't know. Why she changed her name at all, I don't know. She never really explained that to my satisfaction. She's constantly going on about accepting herself, yet the first thing she rejects is something which is very basic and central to herself: her name! It wasn't logical, and this seems to be a character flaw of Zara's. But she;s maybe not as flawed as her "Love doctor" who is talking about about Zara projecting sexual energy on first date? How about projecting being a warm and interesting person that some guy would want to hang out with and see again, instead of selling her out as a slut on day one?

She has a well-paid job in a bank, owns her own condo, buys new clothes often, and eats out routinely, so she's hardly strapped for cash, yet she never considers this to be an advantage, or seems grateful that she's so much better off than many other people, overweight or not, who have less than she does. She's been working on fitness and getting along famously with the hot personal trainer, and of course she's oblivious to his attentions, which tells me she's not very smart. Here's an example: "For some reason that I couldn’t explain, I was always a little too happy when Braden told me about his non-love connections." Duhh! Personally I care a lot less about how much a woman weighs than I do about other factors such as how easy-to-get-along-with they are, how good of a sense of humor they have, how trustworthy they are, how intelligent they are (which I don't equate with academic achievements necessarily), and so on.

One thing which struck me about Zara is that she doesn't seem to have a whole heck of a lot of friends and spends a lot of time alone. Her one date with a female friend gets canceled because the friend's fiancée's back in town. Her sister, who once matched Zara's weight, is constantly on her case about how much weight Zara has(n't) lost. It's like the only thing they have in common, which is pretty sad! Her best friend seems to be Bernard, who is her fitness trainer, and it's clear there is something there, yet Zara is oblivious to it or in denial about it.

At the same time, Zara is focused almost solely on dressing-up and thinking about Bernard. She seems to have no thought processes other than these! She and her sister failed the Bechdel test - that is when they got together, all they could talk about is men. The clothes seem to be comfort 'food' for Zara, because if she really is losing weight, they're not going to fit her for long. Oh, and Zara never seems to go to work. She talks about her job quite often but never shows up for it. I'm serious. In the half of this novel I read, never once was she at work. I guess she's too much of a princess - or a warrior - for that.

The curious thing to me about this Zara character is that I never was convinced that she was overweight, or 'fat' or 'obese' as she herself alternately terms it. I don't think she really understands what 'overweight' actually means - and even then it has nothing directly to do with body mass index, which is a better scale of your health For this, I don't blame Zara given that she grew up in the US which is simultaneously one of the most overweight, yet poorly fed (nutritionally speaking) nations on the planet on the one hand, and on the other, which worships impossible 'ideals' of what a woman should be - basically a Barbie figure in real life. Yawn.

The problem here was that it was hard to get intelligent numbers from this novel. From what I can tell, Zara is five feet seven and two hundred pounds, which to me isn't 'fat'. I guess some might call it chubby, or big-boned, or give it some other such euphemism, but to me Zara, were she a real person, would look fine at that, not unhealthy (assuming she ate intelligently and exercised, which she does). Certainly it's a lot more healthy-looking than some anorexic runway model, all of whom look underfed if not diseased to me. What is unhealthy in Zara's life is her super-tight focus on her master plan and her weight (regardless of whether she feels positively or negatively about it), to the exclusion of pretty much everything else.

I get that she's (or the author is) trying to make it clear that while being notably overweight is unhealthy, it's also unhealthy to worry yourself to death if you're not significantly overweight and if you don't have weight-associated health issues going on, which Zara doesn't appear to suffer. It's just that I'm not convinced she's going about this the right way! The character is going on and on about a positive body image, and staying healthy and strong, but she seems to have no interest in anything other than her visits to the gym, and her work-outs with this trainer, and occasionally buying clothes. In short, she's really not very interesting, and comes off as shallow, and that, for me, was the worst problem she exhibited. Consequently I couldn't continue reading, and I can't recommend this novel.