Although it sounds like a Buzzfeed listicle, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad follows Lizzie and her struggles with her weight and self-image from adolescence through adulthood. Each chapter shows us one snippet of Lizzie’s life at a certain time. In one chapter, we see teenage Lizzie comparing herself to her slightly slimmer friend. In another, we see college-aged Lizzie astonished that a man is showing sexual interest in her despite her weight. Each chapter gives us a look at Lizzie’s perception of herself, how much her weight influences this perception, and what society has told her to expect about herself based on her body. When Lizzie finally gets thin after years of extreme diets and workouts, will she finally be able to get rid of her “Fat Girl” psychological baggage?
I’m sure girls/women/people of any size can relate to the way Lizzie views herself based on her weight throughout her life. I know I did. I’ve struggled with my weight since I was 10 and I’ve never managed to lose more than 10 pounds at a time. It’s shaped how I view myself and how I expect others to view me, and these opinions were directly reflected in 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl. We’re always comparing ourselves to our friends from the time we’re young. We feel better about ourselves when someone’s heavier than we are. We feel shittier about ourselves when we’re the fattest person in the room. We’re shocked when someone finds us attractive and sometimes lower our standards because we don’t expect to get the person we actually want, so we had better take what we can get. When we do manage to lose weight, the influx of compliments is a double-edged sword. Getting compliments is great but how many times do you have to hear “You look SO GOOD!” before you wonder, “Exactly how craptacular did I look before? And why am I getting more compliments on how I look than I’ve ever gotten for any other achievement in my life?” You think everyone is analyzing what you’re eating and judging you for it. You slowly turn bitter as these thoughts harass you in every waking moment of every day. We see Lizzie transform from an earnest, overweight teen into cold, stick-thin, angry Elizabeth, whose adolescent insecurities have poisoned her soul.
When society is constantly telling people their worth depends on looking a certain way and they struggle or even fail to match that standard, the effects on their psyches are damaging. Only those with a purely optimistic outlook can rise above it, but it’s safe to say most people have at least minor struggles with their appearance. The body positivity movement has gained traction in the past few years but supporters are still a minority. I have people on my social media feeds, people who I know personally, who still view overweight people with derision and disgust. To them, everyone struggling with weight is lazy. If it were that simple, obesity wouldn’t be an epidemic. There are physical and psychological facets to having weight problems, whether you’re obese or underweight. Their comments are part of the problem. When you make people feel dehumanized, as Lizzie was taught to feel throughout her childhood because she was overweight, you can internalize that shame and act on it by destroying yourself. Lizzie takes it to an extreme, physically transforming herself into the shape she’s always wanted to be in. Once you achieve physical health, does your mental health automatically catch up with you?
How many of your friends have lost a ton of weight and still complain about being fat? I know many people who do. Their internalized image of themselves as “the fat person” takes longer to melt away than the pounds do, and honestly, they’re lucky if that self-hatred ever goes away. This is what 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl is all about. Being fat isn’t just a physical description of weight, it’s a mindset ingrained in a person by outside influences. This is an important book because it brings the reader into that mindset. People who have struggled with weight loss and feelings of low self-esteem due to their weight will find themselves reflected in Lizzie. People who have never had to struggle with weight or self-image might get a better understanding of why weight loss is about much more than working out and eating right. It’s also a mental health issue, and once we accept and address it, we might be able to help people more than we’ve been able to with fad diets and hybrid workout equipment.
Rating: 5 out of 5 loaves of Banana-Rama bread