With Sana Bakkoush – played by the effervescent Iman Meskini – recently announced as the main for Skam season four, as I’d so fervently hoped for back when I created my original Skam book tag, I wanted to immerse myself in some much-needed fiction told from the point of view of a Muslim hijabi girl as the main character. Does My Head Look Big in This? seemed to be the perfect starting point.
Set in Melbourne, Amal is a 16-year-old Australian-Muslim-Palestinian teen with all the usual obsessions about boys, chocolate and Cosmo magazine. She’s also struggling to honour the Islamic faith in a society that doesn’t understand it. The story of her decision to “shawl up” is funny, surprising and touching by turns.(Fun fact: I started reading this right after having rewatched the above iconic episode in Skam season two, where the girls go to a remote cabin and Sana defies all their exceptions.)
- Does My Head Look Big in This? started out incredible with following Amal’s decision to wear a hijab “as a full-timer.” I particularly loved getting to read her thought process leading up to that moment:
“I’m terrified. But at the same time I feel like my passion and conviction in Islam are bursting inside me and I want to prove to myself that I’m strong enough to wear a badge of my faith. I believe it will make me feel so close to God. Because it’s damn hard to walk around with people staring at your “nappy head” and not feel kind of pleased with yourself – if you manage to get through the stares and comments with your head held high. That’s when this warm feeling buzzes through you and you smile to yourself, knowing God’s watching you, knowing that He knows you’re trying to be strong to please Him. Like you’re both in on a private joke and something special and warm and extraordinary is happening and nobody in the world knows about it because it’s your own experience, your own personal friendship with your Creator. I guess when I’m not wearing the hijab I feel like I’m missing out. I feel cheated out of that special bond.”
- However, I quickly came to notice a number of problematic phrases thrown in here that rubbed me the wrong way, like describing someone angry as “psychotic” and the like. And I especially detested how this next conversation was handled:
“Anyway, back to your attempt to wear the hijab without the assistance of Revlon. I hate to disappoint you, but there are only a few women in this world who can get away with the natural look. Don’t you read New Weekly? “Stars without their make-up”, etc.? Hello? Do you have a big modelling contract you haven’t told me about? Are you co-starring in Brad Pitt’s next movie? If your answer to either of these questions is no, then go out and buy some cosmetic products this instant.”
I feel like Lilly Singh said it best when she talked about said topic:
- Plus, I couldn’t for the life of me why understand why Amal was so infatuated with Adam Keane. To borrow Scaachi Koul’s superb phrasing, this boy was the epitome of “forgettable, something that even now makes me think of warm, soggy bread, or crackers with the salt brushed off.” So when the book focused on those vapid white boys more than I liked, I was gone.
- Another thing I want to mention is that I feel like the author had this great opportunity of discussing body-image and taking care of oneself with Simone’s character, who’s described as: “incredibly self-conscious about her body. She doesn’t understand that it’s all in her mind. OK, so she’s not a size eight, can’t feel her ribcage and doesn’t have toothpicks for legs. She’s about a size fourteen and really voluptuous and curvy and gorgeous with big blue eyes, creamy, radiant skin and lips that look like she has permanent red lipstick on.” But that lesson of accepting yourself never really came… The only thing that came out of it was a lot of harmful and triggering sayings spewed, such as this next paragraph that made my head spin:
“Or I see all these model shoots of gorgeous beach babes with their bones poking into my hand when I turn the pages and I think, what’s the point? Even if I lost ten kilos and was in my weight–height ratio, people would still consider me fat. I wish I could become anorexic. How sick is that, huh? But I don’t have the self-control to live off a lettuce leaf a day. And I’ve tried the whole bulimia thing but I can’t even throw up. I’m just pathetic! Abnormal!”
… How is this in the final version of the book??? This ignorance and insensitivity consequently led to a lot of girl-on-girl hate while comparing herself to others. Speaking of which, those “mean girls” were never really given any characterization, so that blew off as well for me.
After all that I really tried giving this book multiple tries to impress me again, but I just kept getting disappointed time and again. So in the end I decided to give myself a break, in particular after reading this next horrible thing spit out of Amal’s mouth about her friend’s mom, who wouldn’t let her daughter leave the house to go shopping:
“I’m just about ready to report Leila’s mum to immigration.
Grounds for deportation: stupidity.
Alternative country: none. No nationality deserves her. Send her to Mars.”
I just… how do you rollback from that???
So unfortunately Does My Head Look Big in This? was a DNF around the half-way point for me.
In the meantime, however, you can catch me rewatching these two recently released Skam clips until season four is out there in the world:
(I’m still amazed by the usage of the song.)