a mystery about weight and shame: two weeks under

here’s another book i read recently – two weeks under, by rivka tadjer.

doing these book reviews reminds me a bit of my aunt. she loved buying clothes but she’d often get sick of them real quick, and then she’d ask me if i wanted them. she was 40 years older than i so – well, as you can imagine, as a 22-year-old, i didn’t quite share her taste. but she’d always urge me to try them on anyway (we did wear the same size) and i was often amazed how good her pink polyester set or her brown tweed skirt would look on me.

two weeks under was a little like that. i’m not quite sure what you’d call the genre because i rarely read this sort of book; it did remind me a bit of confessions of a shopaholic (which i managed to read 2/3 through). what would you call that genre? let’s ask amazon. oh yeah, chick lit. two weeks under is also a mystery but not the mystery that i tend to read (i like tough-wounded-but-compassionate-guy stuff, and irresponsible-funny-guy stuff, that kind of thing; robert b. parker is my guy!) perhaps it’s chick lit mystery?

here’s the description from amazon:

elana diamond’s 35th birthday isn’t much to celebrate. she’s still alone and depressed, so this year the make-a-wish-candles can do you-know-what with themselves. and her archrival at work, who thanks to her flawless judgment also happens to be her ex-fiancé, is being groomed to fire her. fighting to keep her job, she can’t afford to pay attention to her non-existent personal life, much less the sudden rash of suicides going on in manhattan. all professional women, all just like her. then someone closely connected to elana becomes the next suicide. she can no longer ignore the dying women, or anything else. an intense, secretive reporter surfaces, claims to be a friend, but he’s a little too knowledgeable, a little too curious. reluctantly, elana tries to figure out why the suicide happened, and if this reporter is involved. she finds herself lured into a consuming world of shame and dieting, where going under a medically induced vanity coma to lose weight makes sense. a kind neurologist tries to help, but when elana finds out what really happened with the suicide, she’s in so deep she might not survive it. anyone who tries to help her won’t either. and no one seems interested in facing the truth. racing against time, and fighting her own demons, elana must try to find enough evidence for the truth to be heard, whether or not she makes it.

what i found interesting was the way tadjer treated the subject of being overweight.

145 pounds, 5-foot-6. disgusted, she studies her lumpy, clearly 35-year-old self in the shower.

honey, that’s not overweight. it’s a woman who, depending on her frame, may have some soft spots on her but overweight is something else. i couldn’t quite decide whether tadjer really believed that numbers like that were overweight, whether she wanted the reader to think that the protagonist thought that was too much when it really wasn’t, or whether she hadn’t done her research (the last option is unlikely – she teaches journalism at SUNY).

now i may be splitting hairs here – but if the target readership is women who are battling with weight, then they will probably ask themselves questions like that, too.

fortunately, rivka tadjer has a blog, so hopefully she’ll read this and help us clear this up. consider yourself tagged, rivka! (does the answer lie, perhaps, in your definition of the term “weightism”?)

tadjer does a good job at bringing out the deep yet only superficially articulated feelings of shame that plague women who are struggling with their weight, as well as the uneasy, disjointed and a lot of other un- and dis- relationships such women have with their mothers:

i spent a lot of time alone when i was a kid, so as horrible as it sounds, being alienated came kind of naturally. i guess you can inherit loneliness. and when you’re alone, you start guessing at what’s right, and you start judging yourself, harshly.

well, my mother was the first to do that. she always wanted me to be more – smarter, neater, better dressed, more doting, better looking. she told me i did things wrong all the time, didn’t show me how to do them properly, and then she’d pepper in that i shouldn’t push myself too hard, success isn’t everything.

on that same page, there’s also an intriguing sentence, “i’ve been the ayn rand of my own body.” i wonder what exactly is meant by that.

how cool, to be able to ask the author these questions. i’m looking forward to your answers, rivka!

if you’re looking for an easy read over the holidays but want something a little different than a mindless romance novel, two weeks under will hit the spot.

4 thoughts on “a mystery about weight and shame: two weeks under

  1. Rivka Tadjer

    Hi there. I’m the author of TWO WEEKS UNDER, and I want to first say thank you for such a thorough and thoughtful analsysis of my story.

    Okay, to answer questions:
    Is 5’6″ and weighing 145 overweight? NO. It’s satiric. The point is that Pam, and then Elana, the heroine, don’t need to lose weight — hence the tragedy that befalls both of them, and Elana’s triumph over her demons at the end.

    Women who battle with weight aren’t always the ones who need to lose weight. That’s one of the psychological consequence of youth-centric, visually obsessed culture. Women who do have serious weight issues–and I come from a family with this issue–are twice as alienated in this culture, and are adversely affected by the fact that there are no boundaries for what’s healthy and normal. It becomes about aesthetics more than health, about judgment, and is extremely demoralizing.

    At the same time, every health club or dieting ad on TV is right next to a SuperSize Pizza Hut ad. We feed our kids sugar to express love. We then use negative reinforcement — if you don’t look 20 you’re worthless — to get women to buy more products.

    And this effects all women regardless of age, or socioeconomic status.

    That’s why the satiric comment and unreliable narrators. We all are trapped in wondering whether that weight really is too much or not. Killing off certain people was my way of saying no, it’s not too much 🙂

    Other questions: The Ayn Rand comment: Ayn Rand’s own satiric novels, particularly Fountainhead, represents a perfectionist whose very notion of perfection renders something lifeless. When we are perfect, we’re perfectly dead.

    In the architectural metaphor of Ayn Rand’s story, the obsession with perfect structure is the undoing.

    Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism (Outside of her novel writing), addresses the issue of whether true object beauty, for example, exists, or whether an individual’s right to happiness has a place (also a huge theme in both Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged).

    So being the Ayn Rand of my body means to be our own worst critics. And we are. Ever have a day where you’re bopping along, feeling perfectly happy, until you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror — maybe even in the bathroom at work? Or have you ever loved the way you look in a new outfit, until you start comparing yourself to other women you see on the street?

    One of the themes in TWO WEEKS UNDER, is that women often turn on themselves, and each other, more even than men objectify us. The Libra character in the story, and Elana’s relationship to her throughout the story, represents this. As does Deja’s betrayal of Pam in the beginning.

    You know the old saying “Women may put on perfume for men, but they dress for other women.”?

    Oh my. I could go on forever. I’ll stop now, at the risk of doing the cyber equivalent of overstaying my welcome. Thank you for asking such thoughtful questions. And if anyone else has any, I’m more than happy to answer. I’m not thin-skinned about criticism, either. Please be honest.

    I wrote the book to start discussions among women. I love that blogs enable writers to bring work to life. I write to connect with people and communicate.

    Also, for book clubs that read Two Weeks Under, I will happily participate in any discussions, either online or on the phone, if you’d like. I’ve called in to book clubs that meet in one place. I’m honored to do so. And if anyone wants, we could do a webcast of a book club discussion.

    Take care,
    Rivka Tadjer

    Rivka Tadjer’s last blog post..As the Dow Plunges, Comfort Foodies Corner the (Grocery) Market

  2. isabella mori

    hi rivka, and thanks for the reply!

    so – yeah, i guess i didn’t catch the satire 🙁

    the irony of a health club sitting beside a pizza place – yeah, crazy, crazy. same thing with articles in a women’s magazine about inner beauty, surrounded by cosmetics ads.

    so … do you expect a lot of your readers are well acquainted with ayn rand? (i could never get into her)

    i like the word “weightism” that you use on your blog. how would you say that concept is different from sizeism?

  3. Rivka Tadjer

    Hello again…

    Inner beauty juxtaposed with cosmetic ads — that says it all!

    The whole Two Weeks Under story is a satire — and I didn’t want the reader to know Pam and Elana were satiric at the outset. You need to relate to them, read them as earnest—they are earnest, and they haven’t gone through their journey yet. You don’t want to be ahead of them in the story. When Elana has her defiant life transformation by the end, she then understands that at the beginning she was emotionally unhealthy. I think that’s how we humans work.

    Pam and Elana live urban lives that many women live. Their struggle to have some semblance of a natural life in our YouTube culture is a collective societal dilemma.

    Self loathing, shame, and alienation are about self-perception and your own demand for yourself to be perfect. The point that they’re not fat but they hate their bodies and see themselves as fat reflects what I consider a serious problem in our society.

    That sense of self permeates all socio-economic and education levels, too–all regions of the country. Even, or perhaps especially, the most feminist in us all! There’s some irony for you….

    As to your Ayn Rand question: I don’t know if readers know about Ayn Rand or not. I encourage them to look her up. Some like her work, some don’t, but she was an important cultural influence and historical figure. She brought issues of perfectionism and objective beauty to the forefront of discussion in the 20th century. So if we want to know how we got so obsessed with youth and visual perfection, knowing about Ayn Rand is having some historical background. I think historical perspective helps us see things in a richer light. She’s fun to google, too.

    Weightism versus sizeism: Sizeism is too broad. It can mean discrimination against a dwarf. Weightism is specifically about people thinking less of you because of your weight. Further, it can mean people thinking less of you even if you’re not really overweight, but there’s someone gold-standard, model-thin that you’re being compared to. This has impact on people’s jobs in many industries.

    Here’s a question I’d like to ask your readers that reflects this point: Check out newscasters/anchors on CNN. Which ones were chosen on the basis of their looks versus their journalistic credentials?

    So fun talking with you! You have an intriguing web site, too.

    From your point of view, what do you think are the thorniest issues of self esteem facing women today?

    Happy New Year, I think it’s going to be a surprisingly great one!
    Rivka

    Rivka Tadjer’s last blog post..As the Dow Plunges, Comfort Foodies Corner the (Grocery) Market

  4. Caine (Easy Diets)

    Regardless of what way you want to lose weight, make sure it incorporates things you like. So if you like to eat fast food or something similar to that, divide the food into 3 or 6 parts – don’t eat it all at once. Make exercise a priority while you’re at it, because it’s the most consistent way to lose weight. If you loathe running, try jump rope or air boxing, something to mold to your needs.
    .-= Caine (Easy Diets)´s last blog ..Easy to Follow Diet =-.

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