The Next Chapter

Mona Awad on body image and self-acceptance

Mona Awad talks about her debut novel, an unflinching exploration of how weight and body image affect a teen girl's sense of self.
Mona Awad's debut follows a girl struggling with her weight, examining the many ways that body image issues can affect people for their whole lives. (Penguin Canada)

The pressure to conform to a culturally acceptable size and body shape is a constant for women. And it starts early — according to one statistic, the average age girls start dieting is eight years old. 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, Mona Awad's debut novel, is a blistering and sometimes shocking examination of weight and body-shaming in the life of a teenage girl. 

Why body image issues can intensify in high school

High school is when you're just coming into your skin in a way that's just so palpable. You're so impressionable. It's when you become aware of yourself as an object of desire and as a threat to other women. All of those things are coming into play at the beginning of the book. Girls, and perhaps boys as well, start becoming aware of their "place" at that age.

How her personal struggle informed her novel

I've definitely struggled with my weight, and I've been on both sides of this. I've struggled with being too big and I've struggled with dieting, and I've observed how this kind of struggle can impact other women. It feeds into the way we see ourselves, the way we interact with the world, the way we buy clothing, the way that we engage with our friends. The dynamic can be really intense. When I was struggling with this stuff, I wanted to explore it creatively, but I didn't want to be limited to just looking at it in just one way. I wanted the freedom to be able to look at how it affects all these different aspects of your life — your relationship with your parents, your romantic relationships, your relationships with your friends, yourself, your clothing, your food. And so this title — from Wallace Stevens' poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird and the way he approaches looking at this one thing from all these different angles — allowed me the freedom to do that with the subject.

Mona Awad's comments have been edited and condensed.