Shape Me (Melanie Vogltanz)

Shape Me is a novel by Melanie Vogltanz. It has no English translation as far as I am aware.
Finished on: 29.6.2022

Content Note: animal cruelty, (critical treatment of) fatmisia

Thanks to body sharing technology, those who can afford it, can hand off their bodies to be brought into shape by personal trainers, while they can enjoy the trainers’ bodies. Given the potential for abuse of body swapping, it is heavily guarded. Tess Trimm is one of the trainers, and she takes her job very seriously. She doesn’t do it for the unlimited calory supply that trainers get. Unlimited calory supply is something that Nena Jean can only dream of. Recently, it’s been difficult to get enough calories to feed her cats. But that’s only the begining of Nena’s troubles. One day, she wakes up to find that her body isn’t her own anymore. She needs to find out how this could have happened – and how she could get her body back.

Shape Me is a quick read with interesting characters, but I have to admit that I was looking for a bit more in terms of criticism of fatmisia than the book has given me. Still, I found it engaging.

The book cover showing two women standing back to back, one fat, one thin.

Shape Me is not a very long book and it packs rather a lot into this short time. A society that runs on calories as currency, body swapping and the dangers thereof, the general vulnerabilities of such a society and the precarities it creates. Vogltanz has obviously thought a lot about the world she created, and in the author’s note at the end, she even mentions that eating has always been a cotentious subject for her and in her family: Counting calories is something she grew up with.

Given all of this, it was with a growing sense of unease that the, to me central, problem, the underlying issue of fat hate was very little adressed. Tess spews a lot of vitriol against fat people and it is clear that she is horrible for saying it. But the underlying assumption that it is healthier for people to be less fat is never really challenged. There is a half sentence mentioning body positivism once and that’s pretty much it. It is obvious that the system that is built on this assumption is inhuman, cruel and enforced by a bigotted leadership, but there is still space for “but still, it would be good if people weren’t fat, we’d just have to go about it differently.”

Now, it’s entirely possible that this just my anxiety talking. As a fat person in a fat hating society, a certain paranoia is inevitable, and probably called for. But overall, I got the impression that the book is more interested in the body swapping and the ethics/dangers regarding this than the fatshaming and fathating that started it all.

I found the body swapping itself interesting (of course, you have to put aside hard-won ideas of a person being their body and not just inhabiting their body for it to work, but as a thought experiment: why not), and the way Vogltanz navigates it is thoughtful and thought-provoking. Nena is a likeable protagonist (quite contrary to Tess, the second point of view character). Her struggles at the beginning are absolutely harrowing, and I’m still crying about the cats. I was definitely rooting for her, and the book was tense and exciting enough to keep me at the edge of my seat.

In short, it’s an overall well-written book with an interesting premise and even if not everything worked perfectly for me, the book in its entirety did.

Summarizing: worth checking out.

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