Study Guide

Virginia Shreves in The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things

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Virginia Shreves

Face It, I'm Fat

Let's take a look at Virginia's own description of her belly, shall we?

I direct my eyes to my stomach. This'll be the first to go. I grab a fold of my tummy and squeeze. It hurts, but a good pain, like I'm showing my body who's boss. (9.100)

She goes on to tell us that her thighs are "dimpled with cellulite, resembling cottage cheese" (9.101), and her butt is "the opposite of Buns of Steel. Buns of dough. Buns of butter" (9.103). We're big supporters of the idea that all bodies are beautiful, but it doesn't seem like Virginia's on the same page. She hates her body so much, in fact, that she's taken to cutting herself, usually with a straightened paper clip—and when somebody is destructive like that, well, it's safe to say they hates themselves. Which is exactly where Virginia is when we meet her.

As such, she lives by the Fat Girl Code of Conduct, which includes never telling the boy she likes that she likes him. Instead, they just make out in her room in private, because Virginia can't imagine that any boy would ever be proud to be seen with her in public (don't worry—she's in for a surprise).

The Joy of Sex (or Lack Thereof)

Virginia dreams of dating a New York Yankees baseball player, but figures fat chance (pun totally intended) on account of, well, her fatness. Instead she'll settle for getting her first French kiss from Froggy. She tells us, "The only trick was figuring out how to steer him from platonic-friend-who-hangs-out-and-watches-TV to lusty-guy-deflowering-my-virginal-kissing-status" (1.17). She totally pulls this off, though, and these two have what seems to be a standing Monday after-school make-out date.

In fact, they've just gotten to second base when something happens that—bummer for everybody involves—changes Virginia's view of sex completely. As she writes to her best friend, Shannon:

Byron was found guilty of date-raping a girl at Columbia […] He's suspended for the rest of the semester. He's moving home tomorrow. (12.60; 12.62)

Nothing puts the kibosh on Virginia's raging hormones quite like finding out that her beloved older brother is, in fact, a rapist. While it's totally understandable that she needs a break from all things hot and heavy to regroup and process this terrible revelation about Byron, it throws an unfortunate wrench in her burgeoning relationship with Froggy.

Pedestals: Made to Fall Off Of

Finding out Byron did such a horrible thing totally rocks Virginia's world, and she falls apart at first when she realizes the brother she's idolized for so long isn't only not perfect, but actually pretty terrible.

However, Virginia's a tough chick, even if she doesn't know it, and once some Ani DiFranco is thrown into the mix, she basically tells Byron and her family to take a flying leap. As she asks herself:

What if for one second I didn't care what people thought of me? What if I weren't so eager to please Mom and Dad? What if I didn't always try to blend in, go with the flow, be the good obedient girl? (18.54)

This is coming of age on a grand scale—it's more like becoming a totally different person, in some ways. Virginia begins to dare to be herself in the world.

Yeah, What If?

As a result of asking herself this question, Virginia starts to become not just a more interesting person, but a better person, too. Instead of thinking about herself and her own problems all the time, she starts thinking about other people and their problems; specifically, she thinks of Annie Mills, the girl Byron raped.

Though her family tries their darndest to act like nothing's happened, Virginia isn't down to play by their repressed rules anymore, so she summons the courage to go visit Annie at Columbia. And when she does, we realize that Virginia is growing up—following her own moral compass, and taking care of herself regardless of whether her ways of doing so fit neatly in the mold of her family. Her family can do whatever they want; Virginia's not playing their game any longer.

At the end of the book, Virginia's well on her way to enlightenment, or something like it. She wonders:

Does "doing exactly what I want" mean not thinking about other people's feelings? Because that's just not the kind of person I am.

Maybe it can mean whatever I want it to mean, like taking care of myself and not letting people walk all over me. (32.44-45)

By the end, Virginia's figured out how to follow her own path, and importantly, it's a path premised on the belief that she matters as a person. She's not longer living by the Fat Girl Code of Conduct, or tolerating comments about her body from her dad, and she's ready to kiss Froggy (who's clearly liked her all along—she just couldn't see it) in public. So please pardon our French, Mademoiselle Kiefer, because this ending deserves a resounding hell yeah.

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