Arts & Culture

Alum critiques beauty standards in novel

Awad MFA’14 discusses ‘13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl,’ challenges body image standards

Staff Writer
Thursday, March 3, 2016

Mona Awad MFA’14 spoke about her first book at the Brown Bookstore Wednesday. The novel centers on 13 of the protagonist’s experiences.

Mona Awad MFA’14 spoke at the Brown Bookstore Wednesday evening about the debut of her novel “13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl.”

Awad spent six years writing the novel. When she started her MFA, she had only completed half of the first draft. Eventually, the story became her thesis.

“The fat girl is always home … waiting for your call,” Awad read to the small crowd gathered at the bookstore. “She is ridiculously happy to hear from you, as usual. … You could never call the fat girl too late.”

Awad’s novel tells the story of a young girl’s transformation from self-doubt to self-acceptance, as she struggles with the pressure to conform to societal body image standards. Along the way, she grapples with pressure to base her sense of self-worth on her looks.

When asked about how she relates to the character trope of the fat girl, Awad said she has yet to escape these societal pressures entirely and still struggles with her own body image. She added that most women she knows and many men also relate to this concept.  “I’ve just observed both in myself and in others how much it can affect so many different aspects of our lives, and I wanted to explore all those different things.”

Aaron Mayer ’18.5, who attended the event, said body image is often on his mind, too. “Everyone in the world struggles with body image. I struggle with body image. I’m 6’4’’ and I wish I was four inches shorter because I feel like everybody is always looking at me.”

Awad also wanted to challenge the assumptions and images that  “complicate our notion of this term” of fat girl.

The story of the fat girl is constructed around 13 different interactions the heroine experiences revolving around her physique.“I had the notion of ‘13 Ways’ because I really thought that was a good way of approaching a character whose idea of herself is so bound up in how she sees herself and how she imagines she is seen,” Awad said.

On returning to campus, Awad reflected on her positive experience during the MFA program. She said the teachers and the workshops at Brown “facilitated learning how to trust yourself.”

The tone of the book is “fantastic,” said Cole Swensen, department chair and professor of literary arts, adding that body image issues are relatable for a wide range of readers.

“It’s something that is unfortunately pervasive in our society,” Swensen said. She has not read the book but has decided to do so since attending the event.

Awad said her inspiration for the novel came one day when she was in a changing room. “I saw this woman struggling to put clothes on … and I knew at that moment she saw herself as fat.”

Awad said she “just really hopes that people connect to” her book and that “anybody that has a body and has to look in the mirror or take a picture” can feel comfortable in his or her own skin.