Follow-up: Is the Ending of The Duff A Cop-Out?

Think of this as Mary’s Book Review: THE CAVEAT.

After posting my review of The Duff yesterday I realized that I left out something important. I had finished the book and quickly wrote down my positive thoughts, ignoring the niggling questions rolling around in the back of my head. Namely, the ending: it was happy, but was it satisfying?

I am going to revise my earlier review and say no. First things first, the good. As I mentioned previously, I like it that Bianca does not change. It would have been easy for her to have decided she should, I don’t know, cut her hair differently or somehow change her appearance after finding out she was “the DUFF.” (She does dress more provocatively at one point, but I’m glossing over that… it didn’t bother me too much because it was a confident move at the time.)

Now, the bad. At one point towards the end, she comes to this magical realization that everyone feels like the Duff at some point. And this helps her come to terms with having been called it? I did not think that followed logically.

More importantly, I think it’s a cop-out. Designated Ugly Fat Friend is a very specific label. Sure, everyone might have insecurities about their appearance. But that doesn’t mean everyone has felt like the Designated Ugly Fat Friend. It’s a relative designation. In a given group, there’s only one. Momentary Duff-feelings do not a Duff make. Her more attractive friends got enough attention from guys that to pretend to feel like the ugly one felt disingenuous. So she shouldn’t forgive Wesley for calling her it. Or accept it. Or whatever it is she does at the end to become okay with having been called “Duffy” for the majority of the book.

Furthermore, let’s say, like Keplinger does, that “Duff” can mean different things. Being the designated-something-that-may-be-criticized in one situation does not automatically translate to being Duff-like or having a Duff-like experience that equates to Bianca’s. At all. Even if we think of the Duff as stemming from how you feel about yourself, I did not think insecurities are necessarily generalizable in the way that Keplinger chose to imply.

But this whole discussion is really just a trip down the rabbit-hole of Keplinger’s making. Because the Duff is an externally-imposed designation, at least in the way in which Wesley uses it. So even if someone feels like the Duff, they may not be the Duff. It’s relative and absolute at the same time. Shared insecurities only get you so far. Among Bianca’s friends, there is only one Duff – it’s not a concept that can be employed as an equalizer. She should have rejected the term and its implications – not rationalized it away.

Building upon that point, even if it is generalizable, just because everyone compares themselves negatively to others doesn’t mean it’s okay. No one should be defining themselves – or in the true context of the story, be defined by others – in this way. As a result, Bianca’s realization was not empowering even if we accept Keplinger’s questionable logic.

I realize all of that may be difficult to follow – my logic is as tortured as Keplinger’s. But I just wanted to pull out what was bothering me after reading that part of the book: even if everyone were the Duff, THAT DOESN’T MAKE IT OKAY. Whew.

This actually reminded me of the scene at the end of a rather terrible movie, Sydney White. She declares in a campus speech that everyone is a dork! And everyone stands up and says they are! Yaaaay! Sororities lose, Amanda Bynes wins, etc. But everyone is not a dork, at least as portrayed through the caricatures of the movie! Everyone has dorkish tendencies. There’s a difference. Shouldn’t we be saying that being a dork is okay, independent of whether everyone has dorky tendencies? Instead, being a dork suddenly becomes acceptable when everyone is doing it, which felt disingenuous to me because you could argue that that is the exact opposite of a dork. In other words, being a dork is acceptable when you cease to be one.

One last point: Friends, do not ever fall in love with, sleep with, or even forgive any guy who treats you like Wesley Rush treated Bianca at the beginning of this book! I liked how we got to watch their relationship evolve, and I even liked the character of Wesley. But this was a relationship that should not have happened in the first place.

So what do y’all think? Do you disagree? Did I even make sense?