Don’t let the title 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl scare you. Mona Awad’s debut novel is wonderfully nuanced, examining both our weight-obsessed culture and our often warped sense of self. Awad delicately pairs sharp humor with painfully devastating moments that will linger with you long after you finish the book. 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl is a beautifully raw, fresh look at what it means to be unhappy in your own body.
The title is very fitting as we follow Lizzie through 13 snapshots of her life while she transitions from being an overweight teenager into a thin adult. However, I’m afraid readers might be wary of picking up the book because of the title. Don’t be wary, reader. This is certainly a case where you should not judge the book by your interpretation of the cover. In the novel we observe Lizzie’s view of herself, the subtle way it changes, and a couple of views of her from other people in her life. Although she loses the weight, she still identifies herself as a “fat girl,” and looking at her sometimes warped self-image can be enlightening to the reader’s own view of their self.
How the reader feels about the title is a sharp mirror, self-reflective in the reader’s own view of themselves. Someone who may be uncomfortable with their own self-image most likely will not want to be seen in public reading a book that has the word “fat” in the title — let alone recommend that book to a friend for fear of an accusatory suggestion. Ironically, that fear and discomfort with one’s self-image is precisely the idea this book courageously tackles.
The novel speaks not only to those with issues regarding weight but to anyone who has ever wished they were something that they are not. The longing, desire, and feelings of inadequacy will certainly apply to most. Lizzie speaks not only to those who have had the thought “I wish I were thinner” but also to the “I wish I were, something else” thought. Awad creatively captures that doubt and longing for the hope of “if only” in Lizzie’s story.
Liz, as she prefers to be called later in life, is just as obsessed with her body image after she loses the weight, if not more so. She becomes a paranoid, strict, almond-counting adult, in constant fear of backsliding into the body she had in high school. Her maddening obsession ruins the relationships in her life and leads her to be even unhappier with herself than she was as a teenager.
Awad’s crafting of Liz’s story highlights a clear message. Happiness does not lie in achieving the “if onlys.” Happiness comes from somewhere else. Reaching her goal did not give Liz a higher sense of self-worth. She still felt as inadequate as she had always felt. She still always felt like everyone was judging her, a reflection of her own judgment of others.
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl is a well-crafted, enlightening read that I highly recommend. With the various adult situations impacting the main character’s life, I would recommend this book to mature readers only. This book had a profound effect on me and will stay with me for a very long time.
*A big Thank You to Penguin Random House for providing me with a copy of 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl!