Representations of the Feminine in Abdel-Fattah's Does My Head Look Big in This?

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Gender is an essential aspect of our society and a subject of much debate, speculation and analysis across various disciplines and theories for many decades now. Children’s literature is no exception; it has been used to convey messages or images to the developing minds of children. As Fox (1993) puts it, everything that we read, constructs us and shapes our personalities as boys/girls or men/women. Young readers tend to relate to the protagonists and draw inspirations from them as they engross in the story. So when a teenager would read Abdel-Fattah’s 2005 book Does My Head Look Big in This?, he/she would naturally be drawn to the values and beliefs nurtured by the female protagonist Amal, a 16 year-old Australian-Palestinian-Muslim girl trying to define her identity in society. This essay attempts to understand how the ‘feminine’ is represented in this story by the female author through her female characters and what message does it leave for its young readers.

But before that, it is important to understand the time in which this story is written – the early 21st century, the phase of the third wave of feminism which shifted the feminist discourse to include marginalised women (based on race and ethnicity), advocating their rights to make individual choices about their body, their life and living (Anand, 2018). It resounded the tenets of liberal feminism, which holds freedom for women as a fundamental right – freedom to choose one’s own life, achieving personal autonomy in all social arrangements (Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2007). Liberal feminists believe that the society creates autonomy deficits through social conditions and it is important to challenge these areas. Abdel-Fattah’s book underlines this need in bold, through Amal, as well as the other female characters in the text.


This teenage protagonist is a power-packed character, with a strong individuality, sound ethics and deep religious beliefs. She faces a prolonged dilemma in deciding whether to wear a ‘hijab’ full-time or not, but finally acts according to her inner call and goes full-time. Although her grit and determination is sometimes threatened by social expectations (from her elite school environment, her cousin George, the manager of the shop in a mall where she goes to apply for a front-office job, etc), she manages to pull through against all odds and stand her ground. Having green-blue eyes and light brown hair, she is a beautiful teenager, who is also intelligent, witty and smart. Her religious faith faces steep conflict when she begins to harbour attraction towards Adam, her classmate. But, she succeeds in abiding by her faith, without giving in to the lure of a romantic liaison with Adam. 

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