Colorado Author’s ‘Fat Girl’ Takes On A Touchy Subject

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Author Mona Awad
Mona Awad's debut novel is "13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl."

Mona Awad's debut novel "13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl" takes on a touchy subject -- women and their weight.

Awad is a doctoral candidate in creative writing and English literature at the University of Denver. She spoke with Andrea Dukakis.

On using the word "fat" in the title of her novel:

"I knew from the very beginning that I was going to be using that word. It's a very charged word. I think that it inspires a lot of very charged emotions and it's provocative, but it also brings to mind a lot of fixed ideas and notions and assumptions and I wanted to complicate those in the book. I want to explore those. Why do we have those? So it was very important to me to put that on the cover."

On what assumptions people associate with the word "fat":

"It's got far more psychological implications than I think we allow for. I think we see something very physical when we think of the word 'fat.' But to me it's always been more of an interior thing as well. And that's what I wanted to explore in the book was how it feels on the inside to feel that way on the outside."

On Awad's own experience with weight:

"I myself have struggled with weight. Frankly I don't know a woman who hasn't to some degree, but she's (the main character) drawn from what I observed as somebody who's gone through this and what I've seen, you know, a lot of people I care about have also gone through this."

On whether weight loss makes people happier:

"When we change our bodies, do we really change ourselves or is something else lost in the losing of flesh?"

On how Awad characterizes Lizzie's weight:

"A lot of women thanked me for not making Lizzie a specific size and that was a very intentional choice on my part because I do think this is a very universal kind of feeling -- just not feeling at ease with your skin."

Read an excerpt:

When We Went Against the Universe

We went against the universe at the McDonald’s on the corner of Wolfedale and Mavis. On a sunny afternoon. Mel and I hate sunny afternoons. Especially here in Misery Saga, which is what you’re allowed to call Mississauga if you live there. In Misery Saga, there is nothing to do with sunny afternoons but all the things we have already done a thousand times. We’ve lain on our backs in the grass, listening to the same Discman, one earphone each, watching  the same clouds pass. We’ve walked in the woodlot pretending to pretend that it is Wonder‑ land, even though when you stand in the heart of it, you can still hear cars going by. We’ve eaten dry cupcakes at that des‑ sert place down the road where all the other kids go. We don’t like other kids but we go anyway, just for the bustle. We’ve sat behind the bleachers sharing Blizzards from Dairy Queen, the wind making our Catholic school kilts flap against our stubbly knees. Our favorite was the one with the pulverized brownies and nuts and chocolate sauce, but they don’t make it anymore for some reason. So we’re at the McDonald’s on the corner eating McFlurries, which everyone knows aren’t as good as Blizzards, even when you tell them to mix more things in.

We’re bored out of our minds as usual, having exhausted every topic of conversation. There is only so much Mel and I can say about the girls we hate or the bands and books and boys we love on a scale of one to ten. There is only so much we can play of The Human Race Game, which is when we eliminate the whole human race and only put back in the people we can stand and only if we both agree. There is only so much we can talk about how we’d give it up and what we’d be wearing and with which boy and what he’d be wearing and what album might be playing in the background. We’ve established, for the second time today, that for Mel it would be a red velvet dress, the drum‑ mer from London After Midnight, Renaissance wear, and Viola‑ tor. For me: a purple velvet dress, Vince Merino, a vintage suit, and Let Love In, but it changes.

So we decide to do the Fate Papers. The Fate Papers is Mel’s name for when you tear off two small bits of paper and write No on one piece and Yes on the other. You shake the two balled‑up pieces in your hands while you close your eyes and ask the uni‑ verse your question. You can ask aloud or in your mind. Mel and I both prefer in your mind but sometimes, if it is an urgent mat‑ ter, like now, we ask aloud. The first paper that drops is the answer. Now we are asking if Mel should call Eric to see if he likes the CD she made him of her favorite Lee Hazlewood songs. The Fate Papers already said No, but we’re doing two out of three because that can’t be right even though the Fate Papers are never wrong. Next, we are going to ask if I should try talking to Vince Merino again after yesterday’s fiasco attempt.

The Fate Papers say No to Mel again, then No to me.

The universe is against us, which makes sense. So we get another McFlurry and talk about how fat we are for a while. But it doesn’t matter how long we talk about it or how many times Mel assures me she’s a fucking whale beneath her clothes; I know I’m fatter. Not by a little either. Mel has an ass, I’ll give her that, but that’s all I’ll give her.

If I win the fat argument then Mel will say, so what I’m way prettier than she is, but I think face‑wise we’re about the same. I haven’t really grown into my nose yet or discovered the arts of starving myself and tweezing. So I’ll be honest with you. In this story, I don’t look that good, except for maybe my skin, which Mel claims she would kill for. Also my tits. Mel says they’re huge and she assures me it’s a good thing. Maybe even too much of a good thing, she says. It’s Mel who got me using the word tits. I have trouble calling them anything even in my thoughts. They embar‑ rass me and all the words for them embarrass me, but I’m trying, for Mel’s sake, to name my assets. Even with my skin and tits, though, it’s still Mel who looks better. She’s got psoriasis and a mustache she has to bleach and still. It’s definitely Mel who has any hope in hell with any of the boys we like. Which is I guess why she claims the men at the next table were looking at her first.

I hadn’t even noticed them. I was busy eating my Oreo Mc‑ Flurry, hunting for the larger pieces of Oreo that sometimes get trapped at the bottom,  which I hate. It’s Mel who points the men out, saying three o’clock to me without moving her lips or making much noise. I turn and see three businessmen sitting in the booth next to us, eating Big Macs. I assume they are business‑ men because they are wearing business suits, but they could just as easily be suit salesmen or bank tellers. At any rate, they are men, their hands full of veins and hairs, each pair of hands grip‑ ping a bit‑into Big Mac.

Mel says they are totally checking her out. I look at them again and none of them seem to be looking at us. They don’t even seem to be looking at each other. They’re looking at their burgers or into space.

“No,” Mel says. They were looking at her tits. Mel is exceed‑ ingly proud of her tits. What she loves most is the mole on the top of her left breast. She wears Wonderbras and low‑cut tops to show it off.

“I want a boob guy,” she always tells me. “I wouldn’t want a butt guy because I hate my butt.”

“Yeah,” I say in sympathy.

“I hate it,” she clarifies.  “But boys love it. They always give me compliments. Still, I wouldn’t want a butt guy. He’d always want to do it from behind.”

“Yeah,” I say in sympathy again. We both agree we’d never want a leg guy.

From 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl  by Mona Awad, published on February 23, 2016 by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright by Mona Awad, 2016.