13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl
“’Cute,’ she says. But this means nothing. To Trixie, even the apocalypse is cute. Scorched earth. Galloping black horses foaming at the mouth. The shadow of the scythe-wielding dealer of Fate bearing down on her. All super cute.
But the dress isn’t.”
I am torn about this one. I had heard great things about this book, but when I finally picked it up, I had a really difficult time getting into it. I kept reading thinking I would get invested in the story, but I can’t say that that happened. I will say that Lizzie’s story did grow on me eventually, but, overall it didn’t quite live up to all the hype.
This book follows the life of Lizzie, an overweight girl from Mississauga (affectionately called “Misery Saga”) while she grows up and navigates her complex relationship with food, her mother, her friends and the various men she meets over the course of her life.
This book is somewhere between a novel and a short-story collection that is all based on the same main character. Each of the thirteen chapters focuses on one moment in Lizzie’s life; the book jumps from episode to episode in a fragmented sort of way. At first, I was confused by this style and I actually didn’t know the first few chapters were all about Lizzie – I thought we were switching between several characters. Once I figured out what was happening, it was easier to follow but I found the story pretty disjointed and I wonder if this is one of the reasons I had a hard time really getting interested in this book.
After reflecting on this for a few weeks I think the main reason I had trouble with this book is because it is unflinchingly honest. I think it made me a bit uncomfortable because I didn’t want to believe that Lizzie’s experiences were genuine, but deep down I know that women (and men) experience these things every single day. Lizzie is obsessed with her weight and she constantly compares herself to other women (no matter what her weight is at the time) with envy and anger. After she starts “losing,” she realizes that she isn’t happy at any weight: she either wants to be thinner or larger. A small aside … I thought it was very interesting that Lizzie refers to her weight loss as “losing” rather than “losing weight.” She doesn’t actually specify what she is losing … She also repeatedly bonds with other women over a mutual hatred or jealousy of a different woman. Lizzie has an incredibly complicated relationship with her mother, whose validation (or lack thereof) is very damaging. I think that, to some extent, everyone can relate to one or more of these aspects of Lizzie’s life.
Throughout reading this book I was so irritated by many of the characters that I almost gave up more than once. From Lizzie’s mother, to her friends Mel and China, to Rob and Archibald, I just really didn’t like many of the characters in these stories. The people Lizzie surrounds herself with are just so cruel and annoying and I found this a bit off-putting.
The number of cringe-worthy moments in this book is staggering. The second-hand embarrassment I felt for Lizzie began in the first chapter at that fated McDonalds and did not stop for most of the book. I think Awad does an amazing job of creating this ongoing tension and unease in her readers as they worry about what will happen to this poor girl next. My favourite moments in the entire book are those that take place in dressing rooms. These scenes describe the experience of trying on clothes in a store with incredible accuracy. While visiting a fitting room might not seem like an overly traumatic experience, no matter what size you are I am sure you have had some misfortunate moments in a dressing room. These moments are deeply funny and I have re-read them several times.
At first, I was worried this book was going to be very offensive. I just had this terrible feeling that it would make me feel very uncomfortable. It did, but for reasons that were very different from what I expected. Maybe I am unsettled in my review of this book because Awad got it exactly right. It is uncomfortable to face the truth that body image has a profound impact on everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re a size 4 or a size 24, we have all had days we wish we could just curl up in sweatpants and not leave the house. I think that, by tackling these issues head on with humour and uncompromising honesty, Mona Awad gives us the chance to see these issues through a different set of eyes and gives us a way to start a larger conversation about the implications of the stories in her book.