A slim volume of thirteen chapters, Awad’s novel 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl was beautifully written and thought-provoking. Told from multiple points of view, we see the protagonist, Elizabeth through different lenses.
Elizabeth, or (Lizzie, or Beth, or Liz) begins the story with her life as a teen. Whether she is or not, she says she’s fat. Do we believe her? Don’t most teenage girls say (and believe) they are fat? The chapters progress chronologically through her life and document her experiences both as a “fat girl” and a “thin girl,” and shows how it affects her relationships with her friends, her parents, with men, and most of all, herself.
I’m not thin. I have never once been called skinny. And while I haven’t been openly mocked for being obese, I still struggle with my weight and what it means in relation to my sense of self. The thing I related to most about Awad’s novel was that no matter her weight, Elizabeth was never satisfied, never happy. Whether she was fat and hating the way she looked, or thin and angry for denying herself the pleasure of food, it was never enough.
I wonder what a male reaction to this novel would be. Would he see it more as a parable? A supremely skewed view of opposite ends of the spectrum? Because it certainly isn’t. When I began reading this book I felt, “well, there’s nothing special or original about this,” because I think it was all too familiar territory for me. But only because I lived it, not because someone articulated it beautifully as Awad. But when Elizabeth becomes thin and her whole world is consumed by her hunger for foods she can’t eat and perfection of form, I realized how brilliant this work is. Every woman alive can relate to it in some way.
Whether we hate ourselves for being fat or deny ourselves to stay thin, body image is something that is so deeply embedded in our self-worth as women. The struggle is to not struggle with it. The fight is to let ourselves be loved for our minds and our hearts and not our waist circumference. It sounds trite when spelled out that way, I think Awad points it out much more poingantly through her novel.
Now I’m going to eat some chocolate. Because I want it.
Favorite line: “In his peripheral vision, he sees Beth’s face darken, becoming an abacus of sugar and carb counting.”