Sunday, June 19, 2022

Size 12 Is Not Fat by Meg Cabot


So I was a teenager in the aughts, and whenever I revisit chicklit from that era, I am always categorically shocked at how much toxic shit young me devoured in the form of fiction. Like, there was SO much sexism and fatphobia and internalized misogyny, you guys. I talk about this a little bit in my review of another aughts chick-lit called THE NEXT BIG THING, which is a reality TV show where fat women are supposed to lose weight and are basically treated like subhumans. This is another weight-themed chick-lit where, despite the seemingly well-meaning title, actually has some messages in it that are Not The Best.

Heather Wells, our heroine, was a pop singer (think 90s female solo artist, like Jessica Simpson or Britney) until she put on weight and discovered her fiancee and fellow teenybopper idol getting a blowie from her biggest rival. Also, she wanted to go indie and her record label, owned by her now ex-fiancee's dad, was like LOL fuck you Liz Phair, you fucking sadgirl bitch. And when he finished jerking off to his Men's Rights Activist pamphlet, he booted her ass out.

Now she works in a dorm as Assistant to the Regional Director, job duties including: checking pulses in cases of alcohol poisoning, telling those damn kids to stop elevator surfing, and answering Concerned Parental Phone Calls. Unfortunately, it's the elevator surfing that's the real doozy. A girl just fell to her death trying to hang ten on the tenth floor, or whatever. And I'm sure this is A Real Thing That Kids Actually Do Just Like Lipstick Parties and Trading Sex Favors for Jelly Bracelets(TM) and not just something Lifetime made up. Anyway, Heather is convinced that foul play is afoot because "Girls Don't Elevator Surf" (sounds like a Weezer album, tbh). And she beats this Girls Are Way Too Chill to Behave in Life-Threatening Ways drum incessantly, because TikTok hasn't been invented yet.

Also, she will remind you at every opportunity how Size 12 Is NOT Fat(TM) and how annoying skinny people are. No way is anyone naturally skinny, according to nature. The book literally opens with her comparing a girl who is a size two to a chipmunk and being like "lol what's smaller than a size zero, do you, like NOT exist?" First of all, don't dehumanize that girl, Heather, you bitch. Second of all, skinny shaming is a thing. Third of all, for a book that is allegedly supposed to be all 'yo go girl' about the way the MC looks, there is so much obsessing over how fat and disgusting everyone thinks being size twelve is. I think Heather is insulted about her weight at least ten times, and someone says that she's "let herself go" because she went from being a size eight to a size twelve.

I just think this is so toxic. Especially since, according to the MC, size twelve is the size of the average American woman (although this was pubbed almost twenty years ago, and I think the average has moved up to 14). At the time that I read this book, I was a size 12 and I remembered thinking, "Wait, am I fat?" A lot of chick-lit and romance novels do this-- I'm not just singling out Cabot-- but I think it's important to talk about how this cultural mindset was so deeply entrenched that it seeped into the psyches of so many female characters in fiction. I mean, gosh, I just read a Harlequin romance novel from the aughts where there's a throwaway line about how the heroine could stand to lose ten pounds.

Despite all that, I AM giving this book a four-star (rounded up) review because it was a lot of fun to read. I rate purely based on entertainment and sometimes problematic shit is entertaining. That doesn't excuse the fact that it is problematic, nor does it discredit the ratings of people who choose to rate based on how problematic something is, but I personally found the mystery pretty well done (although I have SERIOUS qualms about the motives and treatment of the baddie). I loved the college town vibe, the New York setting, and the author's actual attempt to make New York City diverse. Several of the students are black and Asian, the author talks about racism, several of the employees are Latinx (including her Dominican friend, Magda), and while I'm sure some of these portrayals are-- ahem-- questionable, it's way more than what I remember so many of these other authors doing.

Also, the love interest? He's a hot private detective who loved his gay grandpa and he's good with dogs. Who looks good in a tux. And has black hair and blue eyes. I probably wouldn't rec this to most people now but it's what I grew up reading and it's hard to hate it, even if I probably sort of should. YOLO!

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

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