Thursday, February 4, 2016

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl

Title:  13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl
Author:  Mona Awad
Publication Information:  Penguin Books. 2016. 224 pages.
ISBN:  0143128485 / 978-0143128489

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "We went against the universe at the McDonald's on the corner of Wolfed and Mavis."

Favorite Quote:  "... she says she still feels 'like a stranger in my own body.'"

Distressing. Disheartening. Depressing. Three ways of looking at this book. The "13 ways" of this book are the thirteen different points in time in which the reader meets Lizzie/Beth/Liz/Elizabeth. At the beginning of the book, Lizzie sounds to be in her early teens and impossibly young to be contemplating the actions she is contemplating. By the end, she seems middle-aged. At each point, Lizzie/Beth/Liz/Elizabeth struggles with her vision of herself as the "fat girl;" her body is at the center of her thoughts at all times.

The issue of being comfortable in your skin and of body image versus body reality is at the heart of this book. The fact that the book begins with such a young main character is a definite statement as to society today and the pressure on young women to look a certain way. Sad but unfortunately true. This book takes a serious look at how images established at a young age can follow a woman all her life.

The evolution of the main character's name throughout the book is an interesting technique to convey the evolution of the character. Lizzie, Beth, Liz, and Elizabeth are all one person. Sometimes, such name changes come with growth and maturity. In this case, the changes seem to accompany how unhappy she is with herself and her seemingly constant desire to be something else - to reinvent herself to be someone else.

At times, Lizzie/Beth/Liz/Elizabeth is not a very likable character, but even that makes sense in the context of the message. She does not even like herself; so, it seems to follow that the reader would the mirror that reflects that back. My reaction wavers between pity and sadness for her and an urge to talk some sense into her. At many times in her life, she has friendship and love and support; yet, her own views of herself keep her from it. No joy seems to ever find its way into her life.

What I also find interesting is that the book blurb describes this book as "hilarious" and "caustically funny" as well as being a journey of a young woman looking to be comfortable in her own skin. For me, the book is just sad and distressing. At no point does Lizzie/Liz/Beth/Elizabeth seem to find joy - not in her relationships, not in her work, not in her life. Understandably, the point of the book is the reach of a negative body image and its ability to cloud every aspect of a person's life. However, a little tempering - something that pulls you out of that image and allows you to experience other things only to then be sucked back into that image - would add a greater sense of reality to this young woman's experience.

What I find even more interesting about this book is that it is a book essentially about body image but it contains virtually no physical descriptions. Having read the entire book, I really have no idea what Lizzie/Beth/Liz/Elizabeth looks like. To me, that fact strongly reinforces the point that body image has little, if anything, to do with actual physical appearance. Body image is not about what a person truly looks like; it's what he or she thinks they look like. It is a perception, and perceptions are so much harder to change than reality. Even though the book describes a journey of weight loss, weight gain, and a changing physical body, the image of the "fat girl" never changes. A sad fiction that points at certain sad but very real, very true facets of our society.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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