Reviewed by Ginger Robinson
By Andrea Rains Waggener
ISBN-13: 978-0553382983, 2005, $14.00, Paperback
The outward appearance and weight of a woman is a huge issue in our society. No pun intended. So much so that in the biography of the author, she makes sure to state that she struggled with weight, stating that she was once a size 26 and now is currently a size 10. No matter the size of a woman, she still tends to struggle with all issues dealing with appearance; height, weight, breast size, etc. Alternate Beauty attacks some of the stereotypes placed on women from even just women themselves in a poignant and thought provoking manner.
The first chapter of the book introduces the events that trigger the change in the main character, Ronnie Tremayne’s life. Apprehensively, size 28 Ronnie attends lunch with her petite, judgmental mother only to find out that her overweight boss has stabbed her in the back. “Cheryl seems to think the smaller, ah large women are discouraged by your size.” This is the news relayed by Ronnie’s mother. There was no empathy or sympathic emotions conveyed in the conversation between Ronnie and her mother whom she’s comfortably called Audrey since childhood. Audrey also continues on to tell Ronnie that she has to lose 80 pounds or else.
This news puts Ronnie in a literal tizzy. Her weight is already something that bothers her immensely and for someone who is also overweight to target it as a problem with her employment at a plus-sized women’s boutique tears at her heart.
“I’ll pray for you Ronnie.” When this statement is made by Ronnie’s boyfriend Gilbert it invokes anger in her. Gilbert is an unsettled issue in this lady’s life as well. Not because he hurts her, but because he refuses to hurt her and loves her unconditionally. In Gilbert’s eyes Ronnie is a beautiful woman with sultry red hair and a vibrant personality. He knows that there is so much more to this woman who battles with her weight and has constant skirmishes with her mother’s viewpoint of her as well. Instead of being able to return that love, Ronnie finds herself hating him because she doesn’t understand how he could love her. His heart-felt proclamation to pray for her only reminds her that she may lose her job if she can’t do the very thing she hasn’t been able to do – lose weight.
Ronnie Tremayne is a beautiful, vivacious, nonjudgmental, caring woman who loves everyone but herself. On the fateful day when she realizes her “weight is disturbing” to the clientele at Luscious Landing, she slips into a depression wishing that fat was at the beautiful and accepted end of society’s vain spectrum. The next morning brings a tingling sensation of change, drastic change.
Ronnie finds that the world she is in is totally different than the one she left. To be overweight is what everyone wants and accepts. She is still a size 28 and one of the most desirable women in Seattle. On this “other side” Ronnie is loved and revered by her mother yet no longer has Gilbert as a lover and steadfast friend. In this world Gilbert’s isn’t her boyfriend because he was already shy when they met in the other world and took time to ask her out, it is even more intimidating now. Her friends are still her friends however they aren’t pleased with the change in her. Despite any thoughts of anyone else, Ronnie loves the change in the world and decides to experience life as never before.
Due to her life being stifled in some ways, Ronnie’s new experiences become shallow and deeply embedded in the same types of people she felt shunned from. She embarks upon numerous meaningless relationships. The people she’s spending her time with are people who strive to be overweight just as they would strive to be thin in this world to fit in. They aren’t the same people she’s accustomed to who were overweight and were fighting it and trying to find some type of peace with their circumstances. These were the same people who in the other world were still self-serving, judgmental, mean and callous.
In the midst of it all, Ronnie finds out what it’s like to be desired only for what can be seen on the outside rather than the reasons she was so desirable to Gilbert and she misses him so. She tries to make him a part of her life but he has seen the people she spends time with and how she appears insincere.
This world is found to be as complicated and superficial as the one she left behind. Mirroring this time that we are living in where fat has a tendency to not be tolerated, skinny is not tolerated by this new society. There are issues that are taken straight from our own headlines. By that I mean the push for all fats to be Trans fat and no fried foods at schools and even some restaurants. Society is pushing for overweight people to stop “troubling” us with their medical costs and what is viewed as an unsightly appearance.
I was able to empathize with Ronnie’s position in both worlds because of the individuals who strive to be a part of everything they think the world finds important. Many times individuals we’re so jealous of don’t really know who they are and are not individuals to be followed or revered, but it happens here as well as in Alternate Beauty.
The author shows how that merely fitting in is so important, important enough to compromise our own views for. The world we live in doesn’t initially look at the inward appearance of an individual, it’s a fault that we all have. Looking for the perfect body, perfect skin, hair, etc. Each of us has had some encounter with what we viewed as the perfect appearance, while many times it reveals a shallow, noncaring person underneath and other times it reveals someone just like ourselves, a soul looking to be accepted for themselves.
Alternate Beauty is a treasure trove of self-realization for more than just the main character; it can be life altering for the reader as well. In her original world Ronnie desires to be a fashion designer. As a youngster, her mother dashed those dreams and although her desire was strong, she let it go to sink her sorrows in food. We all have something we desire to do or have and we let it go due to deep seeded fear. Audrey took the things that Ronnie desired and loved and twisted them in such a way that Ronnie no longer trusted her own viewpoint. She began to believe if she were only skinny, then the world may be her oyster. In her regular world as well as the alternate one, Ronnie’s own friends rebutted that thought pattern.
We may not have someone we trust to anchor our kite strings, however when I was reading I saw how strongly I’d been my own worst enemy. I became my own catalyst for failure by making excuses and not continuing to work hard to achieve my own dreams. Just like Ronnie, I have individuals who are tried and true, encouraging and loving yet I stuck with the negative. Ronnie did what many of us do and that is compromise; get a stable job, pay bills and settle down. That too is accepted by society – stop dreaming and start conforming. As women we even have a tendency to believe women who we think of as looking better than us our having a better looking body as being happy. I haven’t been in an alternate universe, but I have rock skipped many sizes only to find that size doesn’t prompt nor pause the sting of rejection. Change in size most assuredly doesn’t automatically add pleasant demeanor or build self esteem. Ronnie’s dream of being a fashion designer was going to be a challenge irregardless of her weight.
This author managed to talently touch on every woman I know, including myself. She showed that hard protective coating we use to con the world into believing we’re unaffected. Then Mrs. Waggener broke the exterior to reveal that inner marshmallow cream. The alternate universe entered by Ronnie could just as easily been an experiment in a controlled environment that showed how some people no matter their size are still going to be cold and uncaring no matter where you put them. In the experiment it would also be found that some people make the necessary changes to become a better more refined person.
Without realizing it, Ronnie Tremayne becomes a fine work of art. The work of art doesn’t come due to size change, but from self discovery. The changes and constants, like the ripples in a river shown in the alternate world her, makes her realize that real love has been with her all along and she wants to go home. She is not entirely sure what she’ll find at “home” but she knows she is more equipped to handle the challenges that are to be faced in her own world.
About the reviewer: Ginger Robinson writes and lives in Texas with her husband and children. She loves to read, write and be published.