Lizzie March is not thin when we first meet her, but she desperately wants to be. A lonely high school girl with an obese, ill mother and an absent father, she avoids looking at her own body. Instead, she secretly envies female friends who are sexually bold or especially beautiful. Craving acceptance, she meets guys on Internet dating sites, and later, after dropping out of Catholic school, she brings home older men who don’t seem bothered by her weight. Eventually, she begins to diet, hoping that it will bring her the love she’s looking for.
In 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, author Mona Awad tells Lizzie’s story through 13 chapters in her life as she transforms from a chubby teen to a sleekly fit adult. Throughout these often raw, poignant stories, Awad adeptly skewers the culture of fitness and dieting, a constant battle of self-denial. Awad, who received an MFA from Brown University, illustrates the way that women unconsciously size each other up by appearance or even what they choose on a restaurant menu. For example, in one story, “The Girl I Hate,” Lizzie goes to lunch with a skinny friend who joyously eats fattening food while Lizzie—dieting—nibbles on a salad.
Lizzie is a frustrating, funny and sad character. However, her story is a deeply true one. She exemplifies the fact that self-acceptance must come from inside ourselves, always separate from the ever-changing bodies we inhabit. Readers who appreciated last year’s Dietland shouldn’t miss this insightful debut.