If the Dress Fits is a body-positive romance set in the Philippines. I loved the cultural elements, the food, and the body positivity. However, I was often exasperated by the heroine, who hurts a lot of people by believing that she cannot be loved in the romantic sense. Although this book is body-positive overall, TW for some discussion of fat shaming and internalized fatphobia.
Our heroine, Martha Aguas, is an accountant who travels a lot and works for her father’s company. She lives in Manila, as do most of her relatives. In addition to working for her father, she helps her wealthy aunts plan charity events. Martha has never had a boyfriend but she does have a best friend who is male (Max). She wears a size 24 and most of the time she is not bothered by her weight.
Martha’s confidence is weakened when she finds out that her cousin Regina is getting married to Enzo. Enzo was Martha’s first love and the only man with whom she has ever had sex. Martha still carries a torch for him. Meanwhile, “perfect” Regina used to bully Martha when they were kids. The combination of the ex and the cousin who the family calls “Our beauty queen” rattles Martha, who tells the family that Max is her boyfriend. Enter wedding preparations, drama from an Auntie, fantastic food, and romantic confusion.
I come from a large family and I’ve noticed that the basic dynamics of large families in fiction seem to be the same regardless of what country the families are from or in. I am not Filipina, but I certainly identified with the way the Aunties seem to rule over everyone, and the way sibling rivalry can just as easily play out between cousins. I loved the family dynamics, messed up as they often were, and I also loved the sense of place since the story takes us to many beautiful locations in Manila (with what sounds like amazing food).
I would characterize this book as ultimately body-positive, but the heroine does express negative feelings about her body, especially when it comes to romance. Here she is in the first chapter:
Food has always been a part of my life. I ate when I was happy, when I was sad, when I was bored and sometimes when I was sleepy. It’s part of my growing up, and most of my memories are associated and celebrated with it. I didn’t hate that I liked to eat. In fact, I liked that about myself.
What I hated were the little ‘issues’ that came with my size. Strappy shoes were always purchased one or two sizes bigger to accommodate my cankles. Getting underwear was next to impossible too, unless I bought from the US. My usual descriptor was either ‘big-boobed’ or ‘the fat one,’ which, in any tone of voice, is hurtful to hear. Any time I was given a shirt to wear for an event, I needed to get it in advance so I could have panels added to the sides so it actually fit.
They were minor things, but things that annoyed me nonetheless. I try very hard not to let my personality revolve around my size. I wasn’t sure if it was showing.
At no point in the story does Martha even remotely entertain the notion of dieting, and I loved that about her. Martha’s issues with food are entirely about exasperation at people who are rude to her and at situations (not being able to find good underwear, for instance) that are foisted upon her by others. She’s actually quite happy with herself. The exception is in her attitude towards romantic love.
Because Martha narrates the book in first-person past tense, we never know what Max is thinking. However, it’s obvious to the reader from pretty early on that Max is in love with Martha. As the story progresses Martha’s obliviousness becomes less comic and more clearly hurtful to Max. Despite her insistence that she is happy with her body, Martha assumes that no one else could be, so she refuses to believe that anyone would love her in the romantic sense. By the end of the story, her refusal to believe that she can be loved despite words and actions to the contrary from Enzo (in the past) and Max (in the present) has put everyone through an emotional roller coaster.
By the way, the book does not shy away from sex scenes. It was lovely to see a large woman’s body, complete with rolls, cellulite, and arm wobbles, being lavished with both affection and passion without being fetishized or shamed.
Overall, I loved this book. I loved reading about the life of a wealthy family in the Philippines. I loved the celebration of food, flowers, and beautiful clothes (Martha is an excellent dresser). I loved the cousins’ rivalry turned friendship. Above all, I love that this is not a makeover story. Martha is happy with her size; she just assumes that the outside world is not. As many microaggressions in the story demonstrate, for the most part she’s right. However, when it comes to true love she sells herself short. Luckily, I fully believed in the HEA.
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