Millennial women: Natalie is all of us.
From the beginning of Vow of Celibacy by Erin Judge ’02, it’s clear that her protagonist is different from most of the young women portrayed on the TV shows and movies that are touchstones of our generation—she’s neither straight nor skinny, and she’s certainly not aimless. (Unlike those … Girls.)
Natalie is a plus-sized, bisexual, aspiring fashion designer. And like many of us in this generation, Natalie goes through life jumping hurdles around her career, sex and relationship life, her weight—and her mother’s complicated, often unhelpful, perspective on all those things.
She’s not stereotypical, but being an outsider forces her to constantly reflect on what she wants, what she’s doing, and who she’s doing it with. It’s that increasing self-awareness—or maybe it’s the self-doubt—that leads Natalie to make a vow of celibacy.
Early on there was Tyler, the musician. Later, Alex, the cute girl from the coffee shop, and then there was her longest-running rendezvous, Ben. Each liaison reveals Natalie’s strengths and vulnerabilities in its own way. While Tyler brings out her sense of adventure, he lacks loyalty. Alex seems to connect in a real way, but she is unable to accept Natalie at her own size. Natalie is drawn to Ben over and over, even as he pursues serious relationships with other women. There were others, too. So, taking stock, she swears off all of them to try and better understand herself. Meanwhile, she takes leaps—modeling in a plus-sized fashion show, designing clothes for the big leagues.
Vow is a coming-of-age story for our generation, told with all the honesty we’d expect from Judge, a comedian who has leaned into talking about her own sexuality and weight in her stand-up. So it’s no surprise that Natalie is also a little bit of Judge, too, as she told the Boston Globe.
We won’t give away whether or not Natalie keeps that vow of celibacy; in some ways that’s not really the point anyway. The point is that she lets us fully into her life, a life that seems to be a story of contradictions and counter-culture but that, as it turns out, is actually rather universal.
Kelly is a digital politics editor and producer for NPR.