Girlhood, Gazing, and Fatness
Towards a Joining of Fat Studies and Girlhood Studies through Gabriella Sköldenberg’s Young Adult Novel Trettonde sommaren
How can the fields of fat studies and girlhood studies inform each other in literary analysis? In this article, we analyse how being a girl means negotiating fat using the Swedish young adult novel Trettonde sommaren (Thirteenth Summer, 2018) by Gabriella Sköldenberg as an example. In the novel, surveillance of the teenage girl’s body weight – which can be seen as a manifestation of fat haunting – is introduced by the mothers of two cousins, Angelica and Sandra, during a summer stay at their grandfather’s home in the countryside. Although the two girls are not described as fat, thin normativity becomes a key issue in the narrative through their mothers’ supervision. This leads to the confrontation with and death of another character who is perceived as fat by the girls and their mothers: the friendly and motherly Rut. The interplay between different gazes is at the core of our analysis and helps us explore how discourses of girlhood and fatness intertwine in the novel. We show how Angelica moves from being influenced by the mothers’ and Sandra’s thin normative gaze, to adopting an oppositional girl gaze which encompasses what we refer to as a fat gaze, a gaze that looks with the fat character rather than at her. Our analysis of gazes demonstrates the benefit of a combined focus on girlhood and fatness in approaching the novel. From a broader perspective, it also shows how the fields of fat studies and girlhood studies can enrich each other and together offer answers to how body size is experienced and conceptualised in relation to girlhood in young adult fiction.
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