13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad

fat girl

The last time I looked at my teenage diaries — years ago during one of our half-hearted attempts to clean the basement — I was struck by how many times I’d written I feel fat. I’ve always tried to hide my low self esteem and crappy body image (true whether I was “average” or severely underweight) but there it was spelled out over and over in black and white. Despite years of therapy, it’s still true today: most days I look in the mirror and I hate what I see. I’m ashamed that I’m not thinner. Ashamed that I’m not happier. Ashamed that I’m not the social butterfly I always feel I should be. (As if being introverted is somehow less than.) All of which made Mona Awad’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl difficult to read, because I saw myself in it more than I thought I would. It’s the story of Lizzie (later Beth, Elizabeth, then Liz), a fat girl who’s never liked the way she looks. In 13 short stories we see her in various stages of her life, from her teen years growing up in Mississauga (aka Misery Saga) with her unsettlingly promiscuous friend Mel, to her early working and dating years (“Archibald doesn’t take me to dinner, but at least I can be naked with him”), her married life as an anorexic and her (slightly) later years heavy again. 

It’s disturbing to see yourself in someone with such self-loathing, someone whose relationship with her weight has such a profound effect on her relationships with friends, boyfriends, parents and colleagues. Like Elizabeth, I’ve watched cooking shows with my mouth stuffed full of dessert-flavoured sugar-free gum, jotting down the ingredients for recipes I would make but never taste; worn stifling cardigans in the summer because I loathed my arms; and visited a store again and again to wrestle with a dress until (triumphantly!) it fit — if by “fit” you mean something you’d need the jaws of life to get out of. But unlike her, I’ve never harboured rage for people seemingly able to eat anything they wanted (jealously yes, but not RAGE) or had to search through racks of gaudy plus-sized clothes for The Least of All Evils.

Although it’s funny in parts, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl is not the hilarious book I was expecting to read based on the blurbs on the back cover. In many places it felt so personal and raw that I felt like I was invading the characters’ privacy by reading it. Like I had no business knowing Lizzie’s mother smelled heavily of perfume and BO and that this same distinct scent was on the dress Lizzie picked up from the dry cleaner’s to bury her in. Which doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile or interesting or moving read — it’s all of those things! — but it hit awfully close to the bone. There’s also a lot that’s unsavoury (i.e. Lizzie’s sexual encounters) and off-putting and just plain sad. Namely that a woman’s sense of self-worth is too often determined by the number on a scale. I want hope in my stories and I feel like there’s not much here. But truth, well there’s that in spades.

17 thoughts on “13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad

  1. Dear Julie,

    This must have been of the most poignant, if not the most raw and unreserved, posts you’ve written and (notwithstanding the subject) and it was quite an enjoyable read. It drew me in and I took my sweet time in reading every word instead of rushing through blog posts so I can read more and share more like I’m in some goddamn social media marathon.

    As for the topic of self-esteem and body issues itself, I don’t really know which side of the cookie I crumble. Most of the time, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got but do I wish for rounder boobs and deeper cleavage? Do I wish my arms are more defined you can draw lines between my triceps and biceps? Do I wish to be the cool kid on the block? Definitely.

    But I have what I have and I have to work with it. Hence, I peruse Instagram cautiously. It can induce some serious body self image injury, let alone a bad case of MOFO!

    And don’t even get me started with Extrovert vs, Introvert bullshit. It’s nonsense. No one is better than the other, it just is.

    As you are who you are. A lovely, compassionate and gentle woman, mother, daughter, friend and blogger, who is beautiful, both inside and out.

    love,

    ML

    1. Marilou, thank you so much for writing. I’m touched (so touched!) and wish I had the words to reply just as poignantly as you. Thank you. You have such a big, beautiful heart, and I’m lucky to know you.

  2. Julie, based on your honest review, I don’t know that I could read this book! I say this with a great respect for your brutally sincere post! I too harbor terrible self esteem, brought on in my early adolescence when I did not meet the “code” of having no hips and small breasts! I could go on about how being called “fatty” every day does not help one feel good about themselves! When I look in the mirror, I see fat even at 125 pounds soaking wet. It just never goes away, that’s why I cannot bring myself to read this book, as it may bring back feelings I have worked hard to suppress. I like to tell people now that I have birthing hips so screw you! Thanks for your honesty! Dang girl!

    1. Oh Alayne, thank you so much for sharing. Birthing hips at 125 pounds. Ha! I put all of my diaries in the recycling that last time we were cleaning the basement, trying to throw out those feelings. Obviously it didn’t work. 😦 We try to push them down and they just keep coming up. But I do feel a little lighter for being honest about it. You’ve got my support anytime, sister.

  3. Sounds like a great read. I see myself in your post. I’ve always felt fat and inferior. I’ve probably never been either but it feels that way. I am also an introvert and it does make me feel less than all the social butterflies. So introverts unite! We are beautiful.

  4. I have struggled with my weight issues since having my first baby. I hide it well and desperately try to make sure my own daughter never sees my disgust in myself because I need her self-esteem to not be influenced by my own shortcomings. It’s a struggle everyday but I’m getting better and trying harder to love me for me and no one else. My body has given me 4 beautiful babies and I need to respect that. Can I lose a few pounds to be healthier, absolutely but I won’t do it because I think I need to look like someone else. Great honest post Julie!

    1. Thank you Jess — it means a lot to mean that you would share your struggles too. I try to keep it my issue too and dread the day my daughter starts worrying about her weight. I hope I can help her see all of her many great qualities.

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