Imperfect: A Story of Body Image
Imperfect: A Story of Body Image is the fourth in a series of graphic novels written by young adults for their peers.
Dounya Awada is a 24-year-old, devout Muslim, happy, healthy, and very much alive. But just a few years before, she nearly starved to death.
Her struggle began when she was six years old.
Little Dounya wanted nothing less than to be perfect, like her mother. She pushed herself hard every day, excelling in schoolwork and at home. She had to be the cutest, prettiest, smartest girl in the room. The slightest hint of imperfection led to meltdowns and uncontrollable tantrums. Her parents loved her fiercely but were unable to understand what was happening to their little girl.
Being perfect all the time was exhausting. In Dounya’s culture, food is nearly synonymous with love. Food is nourishment, nourishment is love, love is life. Dounya began to eat to fill the growing need within her. She grew in size, eventually hitting over 200 pounds at just age 15. Food became her only friend. Her peers mocked her. She felt utterly alone.
As is the case for someone with dysmorphia, Dounya’s obsession with food did a turnabout, and she began rigorous exercising and dieting. But even a substantial weight loss didn’t satisfy her. She looked in the mirror and still saw the fat girl she used to be. She began the ugly cycle of bingeing and purging, eventually hitting a low weight of just 73 pounds.
Dounya’s horrific struggle with eating disorders has led her to advocate for boys and girls facing the same hurdles with which she struggled. She is now studying clinical psychology, and hopes to open an eating and dysmorphia disorder facility in Las Vegas for boys and girls with her disorder. If her story helps just one person to recognize the beauty of their imperfection, then her pain will have been worthwhile.
Zuiker Press is proud to publish stories about important current topics for kids and adolescents, written by their peers, that will help them cope with the challenges they face in today’s troubled world.
An offhanded (and honestly, benign seeming) remark from her aunt on how “big” she’s gotten sends a very young Dounya spiraling into full blown body dysmorphia and binge-eating. The book then traces her unhealthy relationship with food all the way up through high school, where she eventually decides to make a change in her lifestyle habits. But the overly positive reaction of her peers causes her mental health pendulum to swing to the opposite extreme, to the point where she nearly dies of bulimia.
One has to applaud the author’s transparency and willingness to share her story through such a public medium. The intention to offer relatability and help others is clearly there (although, I couldn’t find any listing of helplines at the end of this book. There was a website for Zuiker Press and a 5-point takeaway writeup on recognizing body dysmorphic disorder.) One can certainly see youth mental health advocates utilizing this book as a potential tool.
The artwork is neither disappointing nor exceptional. (Though honestly, the subject matter doesn’t easily lend itself to graphic novel depiction.) The color pallet is rich and the style well defined, but with the flashback format and range of age depictions it is sometimes a touch difficult to recognize characters from frame to frame.
While it’s refreshing to see someone’s sincere personal faith integrated into a mainstream work, I would have liked to see more of the author’s organic growth and progression in that area. The author credits Islam in saving her life, but doesn’t really explain how. If she grew up in this faith, as was indicated, then what changed about her understanding of it that so aided her in overcoming her self-destruction? What principals or texts/scripture did she cling to amid her recovery?
Unfortunately, readers aren’t privileged with this information.
Ultimately, the story felt a little too abbreviated. It could have easily been twice as long if more aspects had been fleshed out. For the purposes of school counseling office waiting areas, brevity may be an advantage… but I’d still have liked to see more references to direct readers who may yet be ready or able to seek help from the adults in their lives. I can otherwise see it proving to be a valuable resource—adding more diverse voices to a mental health issue that carries a lot of stereotyping.