Brenna Ehrlich spoke with Sarai Walker about being terrified of matches, giving a voice to the marginalized, the power of female anger and why the body doesn’t exist independently of the self.
It’s impossible to find any kind of peace in life if you hate your body. We are our bodies. Our bodies don’t exist separately from us. If you hate your body, you hate yourself.
Brenna asked Sarai to share a memory associated with four objects.
I’ve probably used an eyelash curler only a handful of times in my life. I don’t really see the point of them. In recent years, I’ve had makeup professionally applied a few times, for a TV appearance and for my author photo, etc. In my author photo I’m actually wearing false eyelashes, which made me feel kind of like a fraud, given that my novel gleefully dissects the beauty industry. And they were pure torture to wear, but I can’t lie; they looked good.
I hate it when people have cellphone cases that don’t seem to reflect their personality or their interests in some way. When I see someone with a dull case that they probably just grabbed at the store without thinking, it’s disappointing. Last Christmas I got a new iPhone, and the pressure to find the right case was intense. I borrowed a case from my sister to get by, because I didn’t want to rush into anything. I spent hours and hours on Etsy trying to find the right case. I knew it had to have flowers on it, because I love flowers, and I knew it needed to have some areas that were clear, since I like to see the back of my phone. I am the pickiest person in the world, so when I finally found my ideal case, it was such a relief.
I used to be terrified of lighting matches. Whenever I needed to light something, I used a lighter or asked someone else to do it. Then a couple years ago, I bought a scented candle and didn’t have a lighter, so I went to buy one at the store, but all they had were matches. My desire to light this pine-scented candle was stronger than my fear of matches, and I did it. I lit the match. It ended up being no big deal. After that, I wasn’t afraid of matches anymore.
I had this gorgeous ring with a large lemon quartz stone that I wore everywhere. The ring was slightly too big, which was the only problem with it, and this ultimately led to its doom. Last autumn, when I was driving from New Mexico to Los Angeles, I stopped at this gross gas station in the middle of nowhere to use the bathroom, and as I reached to flush the toilet, the ring slipped off my finger and went right into the toilet bowl. I was devastated, but there was no way I was putting my hand in the toilet to get it out. So I flushed it away. I still grieve for that ring.
Dietland was immediately familiar to me as someone who has basically been on a diet since age 13. The ways in which my body image has changed my life are immeasurable. I don’t really know what my favorite foods are (I know what my favorite healthy foods are), I’m not sure if I like sweets or not, I’ve gone years without buying new clothes because I was not a certain weight (and at that weight I’d be more myself), etc. etc. How have you managed to break free of those chains — a la Plum in Dietland?
I don’t think anyone can ever really break free completely. We all have to live in this culture, and we’re all socialized in it, and it would take superhuman powers to completely rise above it. I have to constantly navigate how I live in this culture as a fat woman. I think people sometimes assume that those of us who advocate fat acceptance and fat positivity are perfect, that we jump out of bed every morning and feel like a million bucks, and never have negative feelings about our bodies. That would be great, but it’s simply not reality.
At the same time, I truly believe that the fat acceptance and fat positivity movements save lives. Fat stigma not only destroys quality of life, it can kill. These movements give a voice to a marginalized community, and provide us with the critical tools we need to deconstruct the fat-hatred and fat oppression that exist in our culture. They also help us develop a healthier and more loving relationship with our bodies. It’s impossible to find any kind of peace in life if you hate your body. We are our bodies. Our bodies don’t exist separately from us. If you hate your body, you hate yourself.
There’s obviously a parallel between what happens in Dietland and what is happening now with the #MeToo movement — with men having to deal with the consequences of their actions. In your book, dudes were straight-out killed, while Bill Cosby et. al were dealt with… shall we say, more legally? Did you anticipate such an uprising while you were writing the book? It came out in 2015, so it was kind of ahead of its time in that respect.
I wanted to write about female anger in the book. I could see that women were incredibly angry, and that this anger was often suppressed. Women tend to turn their anger inward as self-hatred, which can manifest as hatred of the body. In Dietland, I wanted to explore what would happen if women started to turn their anger outward toward society. What would that look like? Now, three years since the book’s publication, we can see an outpouring of female anger in mass demonstrations, in the #MeToo movement and in many other ways. This anger has always been there, and I knew one day it would explode.
Looking at the TV adaptation of the book, Plum has some romantic interests. How do you feel about that addition to the story? Romance seems a bit beside the point in your novel.
Dietland subverts the traditional “woman’s novel” by eschewing the romance plot. That didn’t interest me. I felt Plum had more important things to worry about. Readers often expect that Plum’s story is building up to a relationship with a man, and I love to disappoint them!
The first season of the show is not really focused on romance, but there’s flirtation and other things. The realities of television are such that, if there are future seasons, I’m sure the show will go in that direction. That’s the nature of the beast.
Everything has to work together in harmony. You need to stay true to yourself. There’s a fine line between expressing yourself artfully and looking like a clown.
What is your earliest memory as a writer? Do you have any samples? Also, what are you working on now?
When I was little, I wrote plays. I’m not sure what drew me to this medium, since I’ve never written plays as an adult. Perhaps I liked the performative nature of it, and could enlist my friends to perform what I had written. I’m not sure if any of my plays survive. They might be in storage somewhere.
Please describe writing using only things one might find in a massive makeup closet.
You start with primer. You need to begin with this preliminary coat before you can add the next layer. It also helps to just get something on the face itself, so it’s no longer naked. A naked face can be intimidating.
Next, you add the foundation. It’s difficult to get this right, and this process will take years, so be prepared. You’ll apply foundation, and then wipe it off, then reapply it again, then notice lots of flaws and try to fix them. You can use some concealer, but not too much.
Experiment with different colors of eyeshadow and lipstick, but everything has to work together in harmony. You need to stay true to yourself. There’s a fine line between expressing yourself artfully and looking like a clown.
Finally, apply a fresh coat of powder. We all need a little polish before we face the world.
Curated by: Brenna Ehrlich
Conducted by: Email
Edited by: Morgan Enos
Published: August 1, 2018
Total questions: 4 + 5
Word count: 1312
Reading time: Five minutes
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About the guest curator
Brenna Ehrlich aspires to write a novel that’s a classic album. She enjoys taking solitary trips to distant locations and scoring the whole experience with the perfect book, record and restaurant. She often dreams (literally, while sleeping) of getting lost in unforgiving locales sans shoes or socks.
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