Mona Awad shakes the body image-obsessed culture that tells women they have no value outside their physical appearance and introduces a young woman whose life is stolen by her struggle to conform in her debut 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl.
Lizzie has never liked the way she looks—even though her friend Mel says she’s the pretty one. She starts dating online, but she doesn’t like to send pictures, she knows no one would want her if they could really see her. And so she decides to lose the weight. She counts almonds consumed, miles logged, and pounds dropped. She grows up and gets thin, receiving validation from her mother, her friends, her husband, and her reflection in the mirror. The novel follows her life in 13 glimpses as she goes from a teenage to an adult, but no matter how much she loses, will she ever see herself as anything other than a fat girl?
Originally I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this book because I heard it had been dubbed as literary fiction, and I’m not super big on that genre. However, I had to read it because I was doing a mock editorial pitch for it at school a few weeks ago and it had to be a Canadian novel (specifically it had to have gone through a Canadian editorial process), published between 2015 and 2017, and it had to be a fairly new author. This book was a Scotiabank Giller Prize Finalist, so I knew for a fact that it had definitely gone through a Canadian editorial process. Also the content sounded interesting enough, so I decided to give it a try.
To give you an idea of what the content sounds like, here is and excerpt from the first glimpse into Lizzie’s life when she was still a teenager:
The universe is against us, which makes sense. So we get another McFlurry and talk about how fat we are for a while. But it doesn’t matter how long we talk about it or how many times Mel assures me she’s a fucking whale beneath her clothes; I know I’m fatter. Not by a little either. Mel has an ass, I’ll give her that, but that’s all I’ll give her.
If I win the fat argument then Mel will say, so what I’m way prettier than she is, but I think face wise we’re about the same. I haven’t really grown into my nose yet or discovered the arts of starving myself and tweezing. So I’ll be honest with you. In this story, I don’t look that good, except for maybe my skin, which Mel claims she would kill for.
In the end I really ended up liking this novel. There was some really shocking points in the book, and I think what also added to the shock factor was that yes the book is fiction, but this situation is what a lot of women go through throughout their life. I’m thankful to say that I never really went through this as a young adult. I do remember I kind of cut out snacking a few months leading up to High School Prom, but that’s honestly it.
I would definitely recommend this book. I would say the target reader for this book is someone who enjoys contemporary fiction, and has an interest in feminism. The earliest age group that the book is appropriate for is probably young adults, as there is some strong language and sexual references.
I can’t wait to see what issue Mona Awad tackles in her next book!
Have you read the novel? What did you think?