Does my head look big in this?

Randa Abdel Fattah

Marion Lloyd Books


May 2006

‘It’s been the ‘wogs’, the ‘nappy heads’, the ‘foreigners’ the ‘persons of Middle Eastern appearance’, the Asians, the ‘oppressed’ women, the Greek Orthodox pensioner chain-smoker, the ‘salami eaters’, the ‘ethnics’, the narrow-minded and the educated, the fair-dinkum wannabes, the principal with hairy ears who showed me that I am a colourful adjective. It’s their stories and confrontations and pains and joys which have empowered me to know myself, challenged me to embrace my identity as a young Australian-Palestinian-Muslim girl.’

At the start of the novel Amal Mohsamed Nasrullal Abdel-Hakim is beginning a new year at school. She makes the decision to wear the hajib (veil), a choice which shocks the staunchly traditional McCleans Grammar School ‘ with ‘more than one hundred years of proud history’ ‘, shakes her friends and concerns her parents.
An interesting balance between being assimilated into Australian society and retaining one’s religious and cultural convictions is found by Amal. Enviably, this breaks down some of the stereotypical views of Islam that have been promulgated in the wake of terror’ It also provides a fresh outlook on what in essence are fairly mainstream topics in teenage literature.
Amal finds romantic interest in studious, sensitive Adam, this is tempered towards close friendship, conflicts arise resulting from parental influence and there are preoccupations with image and weight. As a construct, the hajib is a particularly pertinent one in this respect, the intentions of adorning it are to help focus on internal beauty rather than its external manifestations ‘ in a world where the media have constantly manipulated acceptable body imagery this comes as a refreshing change.
It is the courage of her convictions that make Amal such a strong and endearing protagonist and it is through her discussions with teachers, friends and family that she is able to arrive at and embrace her ‘identity’, however, wide or narrow that might be perceived as being by her compatriots.

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