Check out the website of any celebrity rag and you’ll see the problem.
Here’s a story about the latest woman to call out a high-profile male colleague for behavior that’s Neanderthal at best and felonious at worst. Right next to it? Twenty-year-old models tell us how to rock Daisy Duke shorts! And here’s where to buy every last bit of a former Spice Girl’s thousand-dollar skincare routine.
Raise your hand if you enjoy being a girl!
The heart of Dietland, Marti Noxon’s new satirical dramedy (based on the critically acclaimed 2015 novel by Sarai Walker), is aspiring journalist Plum Kettle’s coming-of-age reckoning. But its spiky soul is that schizophrenic battle women wage daily — with ourselves, with each other, with unattainable beauty standards and oft-confusing messages about who we’re supposed to be in the workplace and the world in general.
The Rubenesque Plum’s real name is Alicia, but she doesn’t feel she’s earned the right to use it until the lap-band surgery she’s slavishly saving for is complete, rendering her as beautiful on the outside as she feels on the inside. Except she doesn’t feel that great on the inside either.
Plum — played by relative newcomer Joy Nash — whiles away her days ghostwriting responses to letters penned by readers of the Teen Vogue-like Daisy Chain to Plum’s flame-haired boss, Kitty Montgomery (an unrecognizable Julianna Margulies, glorious in the role), who fans call “Wax Dracula” even as they beg her advice on everything from stretch marks to date rape. Plum herself works out of a cafe near her home, because her plus-sized body doesn’t fit the Daisy Chain image. “It’s no accident that she’s a ghostwriter,” Nash muses.
Off the clock, Plum spends her time at humiliating “Waist Watchers” meetings and baking treats she’ll never touch at the cafe where, nonetheless, she feels wholly accepted. And then one day, a mysterious young woman follows her home and sets Plum on the path to her best life ever.
One that has nothing to do with makeup and weigh-ins.
Though she still works for the powerful Kitty — whose perfectly polished facade barely hides her fear of being subjugated by her male colleagues, especially as she marches into a demo more AARP than Allure — Plum acquires a new pair of mentors.
Julia (Tamara Tunie like you’ve never seen her before) catalogs the countless beauty products Daisy Chain features, while not-so-secretly eviscerating what they represent to women. And Verena (Big Little Lies’ Robin Weigert), whose folks invented the fraudulent diet which young Plum espoused, has spent her adult life trying to undo that damage.
“Plum goes through a lot of different evolutions, and it doesn’t mirror each of those women per se,” Nash explains. “She exists in response to each of them. Each of them has things that are important and valuable and change her in huge ways. They’re equally transformative.”
There are some other gals, too. Ones with facemasks and identical “Jennifer” tattoos, who capture and kill rumored rapists in newsmaking ways. While it might seem counterintuitive for a girl-power series to condone murder without legal conviction, Nash makes no apologies. “To see people being held accountable for their actions, I think that’s the shocking part,” she says. “Because abuse has been happening always, but, to see people caring about it and trying to change things, that’s what’s new and different.”
As is the message (augmented by clever animations and sobering facts) that Plum — like the rest of us — has nothing to lose but her insecurities.
“It’s about a fat girl who is looking for her life to change and thinks her body needs to change for that to happen, but it doesn’t,” says Nash, whose body-positive “Fat Rants” went viral in 2007. “I’d never seen a story like that — that wasn’t about a physical transformation.”
And that makes Dietland beautiful.
Dietland premieres Monday June 4 at 9/8c on AMC