Monday, May 7, 2018

YA Review: Fat Girl on a Plane

Warning: I did not like this book, and worse than that, I thought this was a very harmful book, and this will not be a positive review. If that bothers you, move on now. I am also putting a major trigger warning if you have any kind of sensitivity about fatmisia or dieting, because this review has to talk about those a lot as that's all the book is about. Fair warning, I will also not hesitate to delete comments I find offensive.

Also this review will not be my usual formatting as I have too much to talk about. I will also be quoting the eARC quite a bit, so you know, all material subject to change etc.

Let's do this.

Fat Girl on a Plane by Kelly Devos

Published: June 5th, 2018 by Harlequin Teen
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: eARC
Page Count: Goodreads says 304
Part of a series? I dearly hope not.
Got via: Edelweiss.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): FAT.

High school senior Cookie Vonn’s post-graduation dreams include getting out of Phoenix, attending Parsons and becoming the next great fashion designer. But in the world of fashion, being fat is a cardinal sin. It doesn’t help that she’s constantly compared to her supermodel mother—and named after a dessert.

Thanks to her job at a fashion blog, Cookie scores a trip to New York to pitch her portfolio and appeal for a scholarship, but her plans are put on standby when she’s declared too fat too fly. Forced to turn to her BFF for cash, Cookie buys a second seat on the plane. She arrives in the city to find that she’s been replaced by the boss’s daughter, a girl who’s everything she’s not—ultrathin and superrich. Bowing to society’s pressure, she vows to lose weight, get out of the friend zone with her crush, and put her life on track.

SKINNY.

Cookie expected sunshine and rainbows, but nothing about her new life is turning out like she planned. When the fashion designer of the moment offers her what she’s always wanted—an opportunity to live and study in New York—she finds herself in a world full of people more interested in putting women down than dressing them up. Her designs make waves, but her real dream of creating great clothes for people of all sizes seems to grow more distant by the day.

Will she realize that she’s always had the power to make her own dreams come true?

Review: Just to get this out of the way, the author is fat and this is ownvoices. It just seems the author and I have very different views on fatness and dieting.

I think my first clue I was going to be irked at this book was actually a line in the author's note before the book even started, when it says, "I don't know if I will decide to lose weight in the future, but if I do, my efforts will be wellness focused". I object to the idea that intentional weight loss (i.e., dieting) is healthy. Did you know that intentional weight loss increases the risk of mortality in fat people with type 2 diabetes? Did you know that intentional weight loss is considered so unhealthy for children and adolescents that the American Acedemy of Pediactrics explicitly tells parents and doctors not to do talk negatively about weight? I wholely and sincerely disagree with this framing of intentional weight loss as a measure of "health" or as something that will make you healthier.

My second was the second line of the book is actually wrong. The first and second lines of the book are, "No. You can't just buy two seats in advance." This is talking about airline seats specifically (and goes on to blame "global terrorism"). This is wrong, and has been for probably the last decade. In fact, many airlines specifically require it. Now, bear in mind, that the person whose blog I'm linking to in two of those links is at least sixty pounds heavier than Cookie. (I don't know their exact weight, but it's over 400 pounds - it's kind of in the blog name - and Cookie is specifically stated as being 330 to 337 pounds.) I have a majorly hard time believing that someone who is as self-conscious about their weight as Cookie is didn't bother to google "Flying while fat". (Which is also the title of a short six minute documentary you should watch.) So I have serious disbelief in general that she had no clue that this was something that happened, when half her character is talking about fatmisia, and then to say something I know isn't true in the second line of the book? That's not a good start.

Where do I even go from here? I guess let's talk about the storytelling a bit. This is told in two storylines - past and present. The past is denoted by "FAT - (number) days until NutriNation" at first, and later "FAT - Day (number) on NutriNation" and the present is denoted by "SKINNY - Day (number) of NutriNation", with the past slowly catching up to the present, but still leaving about a year's gap between them. First of all, the fact that both the past and the present are told in first person present tense is a little weird. I dunno, that's just a weird stylistic choice that I wasn't into. Second, wow, that's kind of obnoxious! The very first thing you read in each chapter is about her weight.

I'm going to try and knock out my other complaints before getting into the meat of the weight stuff, so let's skip to - the romances in this are obnoxious and I didn't like either of them. First of all, let's talk about the fashion designer Gareth she gets in a relationship in. He hates fat people. She doesn't care about that because she's thin now and he's hot. He would not have looked at her twice when she was fat (literally, they were supposed to meet when she was fat and it didn't happen basically because she was fat and the book's buttmonkey) but you know, he's hot, so who cares if he's an awful person?

Now ignoring all that, he's in at least his mid-thirties, and she's nineteen. He literally says, "I suck at romance and you're an inexperienced nineteen-year-old." So why are you sleeping with her, dude? She's literally idolized him for years. He is on a first name basis with the Dean of her dream school that she couldn't afford to go to, and everyone suggests that he pay her tuition and acts like it's a given he will because they're sleeping together. His company hired her, so he's her boss, and could also ruin her future career. That's totally not an imbalance of power that makes the consent situation sticky at all, is it? He calls himself "Uncle Gary" jokingly when she's upset at one point and I was so grossed out.

On the other hand, you have Tommy. Her best friend who she's had a crush on forever. He is perfectly fine with people bullying her about her weight and thinks that she should just get over it and not take it so seriously. At one point he says stuff about how people have tried diets and they don't work and "some people are happy the way they are", and then almost immediately goes, "My mom's doing NutriNation. You could try that." Like, wow! Sure, you're great, but try this diet that will surely work!

When they talk about his feelings, it's really gross. He goes on about howhe "did everything", and mentions taking her to school dances, spent hours with her grandmothers, was "there" for her, and "waited and waited". And honestly what the frig. Does he think that she should have liked him because he was her friend? Not to mention, he blames her for not knowing she liked him, but he never uses his big boy words to say he likes her. It's so entitled, and gross, and it reflects a lot of the misogyny in the book.

There is a heavy reliance on "mean girls" for conflict, which makes the conflict feels incredibly shallow. "A thin girl was mean to me because I'm fat" is a very shallow take on fat oppression. At one point Cookie seeks out a geek guy to make her blog because she's not capable of Googling how to make a wordpress (seriously), and he says a girl who he asked out and rejected him will be "on a barstool next to me begging for my phone number" in five years, and Cookie basically agrees with him. It's really not cool.

There are no queer people in this. A book focused on the fashion industry has no queer people. Not a one. I also noticed a grand total of one POC in a book set almost entirely in New York, Argentina, and Arizona. 'Cause you know, those places are super white. It is also quite amisic, with gross comments about "just friends" and weird things about "being a virgin forever" being treated like being a leper. There's also a lot of ableism. I'll get into the healthism later, but there's ableism even aside from that. Disabled people just don't exist in this book.

And I suppose it's time to talk about the weight loss arc. The author's note says this isn't a "Cinderella weight loss story", but yeah it kinda is. It's the Fantasy of Being Thin. Every single good thing that happens to her happens because she's thin. She got the NutriWater sponsorship of her blog solely because she ran into an important person from the company at the airport (literally, she dropped her water all over the floor) and he's impressed by her "inspirational" weight loss. Gareth wouldn't have dated her when she was fat, which frankly I think is a small mercy, but certainly helped her get further ahead.

Meanwhile, everything bad that happens to her happens because she is fat, or because she was fat. She pretty much loses her friendship with Tommy because she wouldn't put up with being bullied for her weight and he somehow thought that was all her fault, and even at the end they basically agree to disagree so they can stay friends. People are constantly making weight related comments around her - seriously, no one is just talking about their taxes in public? Every single bad thing that could happen to a fat person ever happens to Cookie while she's fat, because of course it does. She has to buy a second seat on an airplane, a mean girl bullies her about her weight and then turns out to work at her job, no one ever likes her romantically because she's fat, she gets sent to fat camp, and on and on.

There is not a bad thing that happens to her that isn't because she's fat, and there is basically not a good thing that happens to her that isn't because she's thin. It is exhausting to read.

Here's a list of things that the book says fat people can't do: have people be romantically interested in them, be asked to school dances by said romantically interested people, get married, hike up a hill, walk a mile, run five miles, exercise for reasons that aren't based in revenge, wear miniskirts,  wear clothing that isn't "flattering", wear clothing that doesn't "pull off something of a magic act" and "make them look thin", and this one really makes me angry.

This book implies that fat people can't be victims of sexual assault or harassment. To quote a scene where a very creepy dude is oggling her:
"Situations like this have been one of the hardest things about losing weight. My body changed, and suddenly I became a player in this game where people are trying to get sex or approval or whatever from each other."
I'm going to point out this creepy dude is her stepfather. Might be a shocker, Cookie, but fat people aren't immune from abuse. I'd also point out that fat people have plenty of consensual sex, but wow, the implication there that fat people can't be harassed is really freaking gross.

The diet program that magically works when nothing else, including the nine thousand USD for the length Christmas break fat camp that she's sent to twice, works, is basically Weight Watchers by another name. I'm going to quote Ragen Chastain here, because she says it wonderfully:
One study showed that participants lost around about 10 pounds in six months and kept off half of that for two years. Karen Miller-Kovach, chief scientific officer of Weight Watchers International at the time, said: “It’s nice to see this validation of what we’ve been doing.”
So we're in agreement that Weight Watchers doesn't work, yes? This is also part of the reason why they are bleeding money, leading to things like serial yo-yo-dieter Oprah needing to buy them, co-opting the language of size acceptance and releasing special lightbulbs because having sex as a fat person is just something you shouldn't do with the lights on, and offering their program to teens for free, because why not get the children on the diet culture wagon as early as possible?

Mind you, Cookie thinks there's less support for losing weight than there is for quitting smoking. I guess Cookie didn't know there's a $65 billion diet industry? She also mentions medicaton for quitting smoking, but acts like that doesn't exist for losing weight. I guess the anal leakage wasn't glamorous enough to write about (and to be fair, it doesn't work), but there's a $615 million dollar industry of those, too.

The fact of the matter is long term intentional weight loss doesn't work. If it did, why would there be such a big industry trying to sell it to you? You could just do it, and be done, if it was easy. Diets don't work. It doesn't matter if you call it a "lifestyle change" or "healthy eating" or anything. There is little to no evidence that anyone knows how to make fat people thin permanently. Fifty years of weight loss research says this. The book, however, argues that "people who drop weight faster" (than two pounds a week) "don't usually keep it off", and sometimes people with thyroid conditions might plateau several sizes below what they started at, but they won't gain weight when they stop dieting or anything (see: Piper).

So this book acting like it's as easy to lose weight as going on Weight Watchers for a year really makes me angry. I also think it really enforces a ton of stereotypes about fat people, like that they eat more than thin people (because god forbid someone with a larger body NEED to eat more?), that they're only fat because they overeat, that every fat person emotionally eats (which is not handled with any kind of depth - it's just handled through determination and not!Weight Watchers), that no fat person is physically fit, that fat people binge, that fat people must be made to look thinner by their clothing or it's not "flattering" (f*ck flattering). There's also so much healthism. It's only okay to be fat if you're healthy. A sugary drink is a "diabetic nightmare of a drink", and don't eat too much of this food because you'll have a heart attack at forty.

Okay. I'm going to try and get off this track before I stress out. But I will say - Cookie's obsession with food and calories once she starts is incredibly triggering. And if you read a character who had always been thin with this, you would be saying, "wow, that's disordered eating". At one point she counts the croutons in the salad because she's only allowed to eat five. She talks about eating food that isn't low fat/low calorie as "falling off the wagon". She runs five miles every morning but doesn't eat breakfast. She talks about food like peanut butter cups only in terms of how long it'll take to run them off on the treadmill. (Hey, newsflash, people aren't Bunsen burners, you can't just say how long someone's body uses energy for.) She hasn't eaten Doritos in two years and is proud of this because it means she's being "good" (food morality at play). She talks about not "wasting" calories on alcohol multiple times.

She uses the phrase, and I quote, "There's a hunger stronger than the desire for food. The desire for revenge." This is ridiculously close to the pro-anorexia quote, "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels." Because her "revenge" is losing weight.

She won't eat 15 almonds instead of 12 because that's three "points" instead of two. When she's dieting, she's "hungry every second of every single day". She eats the same lunch, either cubed cheese, almonds, and fruit, or Lean Cuisine spring rolls with fruit, and for dinner she eats Lean Cuisine dinners and steamed vegetables. (Sidenote, I wouldn't have been surprised to find this book was sponsored by Lean Cuisine.) At one point, one of her weight loss companions gives her the advice of "stick with the spring rolls" even if she has to "choke them down".

Because that sounds so much healthier than eating a wide variety of food you enjoy and that makes you feel good, but doing so in a fat body. These are disordered eating patterns, and the idea of them being normalized like this is horrific. Seriously, the summary does not discuss how graphic the dieting talk is, and it's really triggering.

Let's talk her blog and fashion.

I detest the idea of a plus size fashion blog being run by a thin person. I would personally unfollow a plus size fashion blog run by a person who was dieting, because I do not support diet culture, but a plus size fashion blog run by someone who's a size six? You are speaking over fat people instead of boosting their voices. Cookie is practically a Thin Savior of fat people, nobly battling for their right to "flattering" clothing. It feels incredibly hypocritical. And if that plus size fashion blog was sponsdered by a diet water company? WOW would I bail. That is predatory.

That also represents something that annoyed me about the book. It acted like Cookie was the only fat person to ever want to make fat size clothing. I'm not big fans of either of them, but you're not gonna mention Tess Holliday or Ashley Graham? You don't mention Beth Ditto ? You're going to talk about Project Runway constantly, but you don't talk about Ashley Nell Tipton who won season season 14 with a collection of plus size clothes that weren't remotely "flattering", but were gorgeous and amazing? Or if you don't want to talk about actual fat people, how about Christian Sirano who won Season Four in 2008, and makes amazing plus sized clothing? (That last link is a youtube video.)

It seems incredibly disrespectful to write a book about plus size fashion and ignore all the people who are doing amazing things that field. Cookie is not the saviour of fat clothes. She is a nineteen year old girl who doesn't seem to have any respect for the amazing people who paved the way for her successes.

Summary: Let's wrap this thing up, because I've probably lost you all by now with my ranting.

Now, I think there will be arguments that says "well the book shows that weight loss doesn't solve everything" and "she decides to stop dieting at the end" and sure, that happens for like one page. But there are three hundred other pages that do the exact opposite. This is not the fat representation that I want. This is not "body positive". There are tiny, tiny attempts at "well maybe being fat is okay", but it is so lost in the flood of diet culture and fat hatred that it's incredibly underwhelming.

I think if you gave this book to someone who believed there was something wrong with their body, it would only reinforce that. It certainly didn't make me feel good about my body. It, in fact, made me not want to exercise/do the yoga I do regularly because I would proving the book right. And I like yoga! I think it could trigger an eating disorder episode in people. I think in general it just sends a terrible message, but for anyone with any kind of sensitivity to dieting or not the best relationship with food, this could be incredibly harmful.

I do not recommend this book, and next time I'm going to trust my instincts, because when I first read the summary of this, I knew it was going to be like this, and I wasn't going to read it. But people I thought I could trust said it was good, so I decided to give it a shot. I regret that. Half a star solely because the writing didn't always make me want to claw my eyes out, and Piper was okay as a character.



Other notes:

- I'm not including this in the review proper, but my eARC was really badly formatted. Every word that had "fl" in it had a weird bug where there'd be a space between those letters. So, like, "f luid", "f light", "conf late". There are a lot of words with "fl" in them. Also, sometimes the page would just turn into spoken word poetry, as it was broken up so badly. Not something I should include in the review, but I can tell you annoyed me extra because I didn't like the book.

- So many of my notes on my Kindle are just groaning or cursing. I cursed at this book a lot.

- At one point, Tommy says that fat camp isn't so bad and is kinda fun. Tommy's not fat. At best, at fifteen, he has a bit of puberty weight gain. Oh, yeah fat camp happens when they're fifteen. He loses thirty pounds and he's thin and never has to worry about weight again.

- Cookie says her weights constantly. Her starting weight, her "goal" weight, which she reaches, the amounts she loses, the weights in between. She doesn't say her height ever, though.

- Seriously is "the rest of your new life" not a Weight Watchers thing? "NutriSystem" is so clearly Weight Watchers.

- Why is she surprised she doesn't get financial aid? Her dad's a doctor and her mom's a millionaire supermodel that her grandmother won't get child support from because of pride.

- Kind of random but there's a misinterpreation of a Bible quote? That "turn the other cheek" thing doesn't really mean what you think it means/what it's said to mean.

- I'm gonna link to someone else's review because I think it's great and they made a much better choice at quitting the book at 25% than I did in finishing it. Good job, Ang, you're awesome. Also, I agree. The Summer of Jordi Perez is better at being this book than this book is.

- Someone gives her blog advice to "tag people with lots of followers" on Instagram/Twitter to make her blog popular. That seems like bad etiquette.

- THE MEAN GIRL RUINED COOKIE'S GRADUATION GOWN AND SHE ALMOST DIDN'T GET TO WALK TO GRADUATE AND SOMEHOW THIS IS COOKIE'S FAULT TO TOMMY AND ALSO HER GRANDMOTHER. Wtf???

- I think that's everything but this was a very hard book for me to get through and I'm sure I'm missing things.

Peace and... I'm gonna go with peanut butter cups or something, I've had enough of cookies for this post.

Laina

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