Book Review – Women’s Images in a novel

“Size 12 is Not Fat” by Meg Cabot (Amazon)

I enjoyed this book at first which I absorbed one evening. Reading a book an evening is fairly normal for me, but it has to be a good book to grab me that way. The main character is feisty late 20s ex-teen star, Heather Wells, who has been through some major traumatic disasters and so is currently trying to put her life back together by working as an assistant director at a dorm, umm residence hall*, in New York city. She took that job because after six months she can get free tuition and actually go to college. It also allows for a number for the female residents to be murdered. There are some interesting subplots and some interesting characters and the story was gripping.

Unfortunately a day after reading it, I got annoyed. There are some major flaws with the plot. (If you are likely to read the book, this will be a spoiler.) The biggest one of which is that the Hall Director, Heather’s female boss, claims to be a graduate from a chemical engineering program. Which is totally unbelievable as I seriously doubt any chemical engineering major, male or female, would work in a dorm for about $25,000 a year despite free accommodation in the center of New York. Perhaps she hated ChemEng, but the salary disparity between what she is earning and what should could earn is too big.

Another flaw is the obsession with body size. As you can guess from the title, Heather is coming to terms with the fact that she has put on some weight since she was a teen star. Having all these young things to compare herself to all the time does not help. The worst is her boss who sounds positively anorexic. I worry that young women reading this book would get the wrong message – they will not approve of Heather who comes across as not trying while still caring but will see the underlying message is to stay at small size (4 or something obscene) which is totally unnatural for mature women. Ok so the anorexic chem engineering major Hall Director turned out to be unhinged, but that actually made the book worse.

Especially as the author in the notes at the back says about women’s sizes:

Who cares?

And then explains how she was a size 6 and then went up to a 12 and then to 16; finally returning to her original size by stopping eating Dorritos. So the author obviously cares, or she would not mention it. Authors should be more careful as they give the wrong impression as to what is healthy for women.

I am particular down on this because people do not understand that women’s bodies go through several changes. Additionally in my freshman course, all the women want to be thinner and all the men want to have muscle tone. This is a problem. The men will probably get what they want as they mature as long as they keep exercising, but the women are programmed to have curves.

While these curves first develop at puberty, there seems to be a second change in the mid20s. I don’t know how true this is but is based on personal observation. Not just directly personal even though, in the year after graduation, I put on about 20 – 30 lbs. I had been 98 lbs. A lot of the extra weight was muscle because I was doing conservation volunteering working outdoors doing physical labor about five or six days a week. I didn’t change in dress size** at the time, I just firmed out. Another change happened in the last five years, but that is partly health; having had poor health prevented me from staying fit, something that is finally changing; and my professional life turned more sedentary. American portion sizes probably haven’t helped either.

I’m sure if I will read the next Heather Wells adventure (“Size 14 is not fat either”) as it sounds rather gruesome. Heather is a great character but I’m sure if I can face any more of the drama.

*This is a joke because it appeared in the book about every other page.

**Dress sizes are tricky. They deliberately not standardized; if women try something on, they are more likely to buy it; and they are another source of England-USA separation. I still get confused between US and UK sizing. I think US sizing is four sizes smaller – so a UK 10 is a US 6 as according to this converter or it could be that they are two sizes different as according to this chart.

When I graduated I was a size 8-10 (UK) meaning that when I moved to the States I was an 4-8 (US) [?]. I am now a 12-14 (US) and seem to be able to wear 14 (UK) but I haven’t bought many clothes in England recently. I love the fact that I have fairly consistently, over the last 15-20 years, been a large petite, but I think large sizes have got larger and I liked baggy in my 20s.