13 Ways of Looking At A Fat Girl is like no other book I’ve ever read. Through thirteen chapters you are taken on a journey with Elizabeth getting glimpses into her life as she struggles with body image and weight. It took me a while to figure out that all of these vignettes, written like short stories, are all of the same person – which is the real beauty of this novel. It surprises you.
Referred to as Lizze, another time Beth and ultimately, Elizabeth, Awad’s protagonist, like too many women, moves through life with weight almost constantly on her mind. From high school strife in Misery Sauga (Lizzie’s not so affectionate namer for her hometown of Mississauga) to her eventual triumphs over weight and into the sadness that is found when reaching and maintaining her goal. The torture of the ‘plateau’ and how achieving her weight loss goals does nothing for her actual happiness.
There are so many poignant moments – both hilarious and incredibly sad – that happen chapter after chapter in this book. Like this one, where Elizabeth has moved into a gated community called, Beyond The Sea, and is headed to the gym named the Malibu (that is neither in California nor have any real references to the State) and is waiting for a Lifecycle machine which is being used on her scheduled time by her nemesis and she passive aggressively tries to make it known.
“She’s taking it all in, my whole fat-to-muscle ratio, and I know it’s making me less credible in her eyes, which says she has named me. Probably something like Inconsistent Gym User. Or Fat Ass.
“Are you on here next? she asks me. As if she didn’t already know that in her soy milk-fed soul.
“Yes,” I say, like it’s news to both of us. Unfortunate news that I’m sorry to be the bearer of. Like it’s going to rain frogs today, I’m afraid. Storm them. So sorry.
She looks from me to the clock and shakes her head like we are both her enemy. Like the clock and I are in cahoots. According to Ruth, she’s written notes to management about that clock on the Comment Sheet, complaining that it is three minutes fast.”
From beginning to end, chapter to chapter, I found myself not only emotionally connected to Elizabeth, but found far too many emotions familiar. This book is the perfect piece of literature to expose the pressure put on women surrounding the beauty ideal. She displays not only how we internalize these struggles but how we then take them out on each other by showing various relationships between women that are judgemental and hurtful because of our collective obsession with these ideals.
At moments I laughed and at many moments I felt terribly sad. This book is a shining example of what great literature should do. It highlights, exposes; it criticizes to correct, it makes you feel something.
Before you feel forced to rip yourself apart and set your ‘goals’ for the New Year, give 13 Ways of Looking At A Fat Girl a read. It was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize (yay! Canadian writers) and it totally deserved to be. I highly recommend it.
Also, Read The North sweater I’m wearing is so cozy and available at Indigo online HERE.
p.s. how cute is this restaurant? It just opened on King West and it’s called Oretta. Check it out for the most delicious pizza, coffee, treats and the most gorgeous decor! Full review coming soon.