December 12, 2018

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Body image, self-worth struggles make for powerful prose

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/2/2016 (1019 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

With wit, sass and brutal honesty, Mona Awad has written a series of vignettes capturing a young woman’s struggle with self-acceptance.

A PhD student in creative writing and English literature at the University of Denver, Awad delivers an insightful commentary on love and loathing in her first novel. Bitingly original, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl is a stunning work of women’s fiction.

Those interested in an empowering tale of triumph over the perils of insecurity might try reading Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’. This is not that story: it’s shocking, caustic and heartbreaking. There are no morals, no victories and no silver linings for Elizabeth March in 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl.

There is only the protagonist with all her faults, through all her troubles, in all her glories, gazing critically at herself, her loved ones and her sworn enemies.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/2/2016 (1019 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

With wit, sass and brutal honesty, Mona Awad has written a series of vignettes capturing a young woman’s struggle with self-acceptance.

A PhD student in creative writing and English literature at the University of Denver, Awad delivers an insightful commentary on love and loathing in her first novel. Bitingly original, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl is a stunning work of women’s fiction.

Those interested in an empowering tale of triumph over the perils of insecurity might try reading Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’. This is not that story: it’s shocking, caustic and heartbreaking. There are no morals, no victories and no silver linings for Elizabeth March in 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl.

There is only the protagonist with all her faults, through all her troubles, in all her glories, gazing critically at herself, her loved ones and her sworn enemies.

Awad’s penchant for short stories, which has earned her several literary prizes, is unmistakable in this episodic narrative. Though she fails to fully develop characters other than Lizzie, Awad’s establishes powerfully evocative scenes. From a girls’ bathroom in an alternative high school to a Fourth of July barbecue in the desert, her defining moments are more memorable for where she is than who she is with.

The way in which Lizzie interacts with others doesn’t change, because she’s incapable of change — at least in the ways that matter most. She counts calories, sheds pounds and shuffles dress sizes, but she never loses her "fat girl" sense of self.

Her lack of confidence is striking; she longs for everyone’s validation but her own. Perhaps this is the hamartia of someone obsessed with physical appearance, fad diets, and boutique fitness. However, Lizzie is not a sketch; she is more than her archetype suggests.

She is the child bullied mercilessly. She is the girl holding court with the other wallflowers. She is the woman unlucky in love. She is the high-intensity interval cardio enthusiast. She is the nonfat, sugar-free, no-whipped-cream coffee lover.

Keenly delving into cultural observations, Awad writes with a thorough understanding of literary criticism. In fact, Lizzie may be suffering from body dysmorphic disorder, which begs a question of the long-term impact of an image-obsessed society such as ours. These are the ties that bind: beautiful best friends, ailing parents, untrustworthy partners, snooty colleagues and pets that tolerate us.

Who are we without them?

American author Mark Twain wrote, "Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see."

In 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, Awad subtly reminds her readers that kindness is something we are all capable of, and we ought to be kind to ourselves first and foremost. Regardless of calories burned or consumed, pounds lost or gained, or dresses in sizes 2 or 24, looking at ourselves (and others) with kindness is the only way there is. After all, a life without kindness is a lonely one indeed.

Jennifer Pawluk is a Winnipeg communications specialist.

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