UNASHAMED by Leah Vernon


Musings of a Fat, Black Muslim
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Detroit-based model, blogger, and activist Vernon describes life caught between the societal boxes of white and Islamic cultures.

Narrating the story of her life, the author takes aim at the societal vitriol directed at those living in fat, black, and Muslim bodies. “Deciding, really deciding, to unapologetically wear my hijab for me has been the most freeing and rebellious and feminist thing I could possibly do,” she writes. In a brash, slang-heavy text, Vernon—whose work has appeared in Elle, Seventeen, Teen Vogue, and the New York Times, among other publications—speaks to experiences often concealed within her communities, including mental illness, divorce, abortion, domestic violence, child sexual abuse, and body-shaming. “Self-worth was a roller coaster,” she writes, “and mine was usually attached to what I could and couldn’t fit into.” Though these traumas have deeply impacted the trajectory of Vernon’s life, she takes care to enthusiastically portray her triumphs: her escape from a dysfunctional marriage, her personal flourishing as she embarked on a plus-size modeling career, and the creation of her semiviral video, “Muslim Girl Dance.” Vernon’s narration reads like an intimate heart-to-heart chat with a friend; while her off-the-cuff riffing is infectious, the storytelling occasionally rambles. Readers may balk at the author’s apparent disdain for incarcerated people and women who have casual sex, and not everyone will understand the hard-won wisdom behind “Angry Black Bitch,” Vernon’s inner persona that turned racist, sexist, and fat-phobic aggression into the courage “[t]o step out of my comfort zone and fuckin’ live a little.” However, those looking for an imperfect hero of her own story, “with [her] own opinions and skewed outlooks and quirks,” will find this a quick, cheeky read, and her message is solid. “We are all humans with complexities,” she writes. “We are equal. We are fucked up. But we are beautiful and interesting and knowledgeable.”

Irreverent, vulnerable, and unapologetic in every sense.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-8070-1262-8
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Beacon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2019