REVIEW: Unashamed: Musings of a Fat, Black Muslim by Leah Vernon

Review by Sarah Evans

cover of unashamed - author photoEverything on the cover of Leah Vernon’s memoir screams confident, proud, fearless. From the title —  Unashamed: Musings of a Fat, Black Muslim (Beacon Press, October 2019) — to the image of Vernon, clad in banana yellow pants and a fire-orange turban, directly facing the viewer, her hands on her hips, her lips slightly parted, her entire expression a challenge.

The image fits her so well that it would be easy to think she’d always been this way, a strong woman who dresses, speaks, and presents herself the way she likes.

In reality, Vernon has only become this way in recent years. Most of her life, she stayed quiet, hid her true self, wore clothing that swallowed her whole, like the huge, shapeless, men’s t-shirts her mom bought her because they were the only thing that fit and were modest.

Vernon grew up in Detroit, daughter of a single mom who struggled with her mental health, and who had five children by five different men. Vernon’s father stayed out of her life purposefully. The few times she did see him, he never treated her like his daughter. She even took him to court at one point after he stole tuition money that was rightfully hers.

As she grew up, her self-identities as fat, black, female, and Muslim immersed her in traditional ideas that she should be quiet, submissive, begging for the attention and approval of others.

Vernon carried these ideas into her first marriage, to a Muslim man who never fully respected her. Their marriage was filled with shouting matches and violent altercations that sometimes ended with flashing lights and handcuffs.

But somewhere along the way, Vernon started to realize certain things about herself that contradicted what she’d been fed by others. Yes, she was fat, but she was also beautiful — enough that she became a model and a popular voice of the “body positive” movement on Instagram. She was Muslim, but she embraced her hijab as her “crown” and something that showed she was “proud and loud.” Most importantly, she realized she had value, and that value was not contingent on others’ approval.

Like the title of her book, Vernon is not ashamed to tell her story. Her straightforward, no holds barred, often humorous writing style only strengthens the identity she has come to accept: she is strong, she is beautiful, she has something to say, and she doesn’t need others to tell her how to exist.

It wasn’t an easy journey, but it’s an inspiring one for anyone who has ever felt uncomfortable in their body or their identity. Vernon has become a woman who flaunts her individuality, rather than hiding it, and reading her story makes you want to do the same.

 

Sarah EvansSarah Evans is an Oregon writer who has been published in Mom Egg Review and on the Brevity Nonfiction Blog and the River Teeth Beautiful Things blog. She has an MFA in nonfiction writing from Pacific University. Read more about her at www.sarahevanswriter.com.

 

 

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