Hello, internet people! Today, I’m writing about a book that is near and dear to my heart-Roxane Gay’s memoir, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body.
First, some context for where I’m coming from as I write about this book. Those of you who follow me on social media know that issues around body image and portrayal of (especially female) bodies in the media is a passion of mine. As a young woman, I once balanced precariously on the precipice of an eating disorder. In college, I came to know many women who were in recovery from or in the process of developing eating disorders. Though I want to shout body positivity from the rooftops, I still struggle with body image issues and frequently tear myself down or compare my body with those of my friends or women I see on TV.
For all that, I am not fat–at least, not really. According to my BMI last time I went to the doctor, I was ever so slightly in the overweight category. Regardless, I cannot know what it is to be “super morbidly obese,” the category at which BMI places Roxane Gay. Furthermore, I cannot know what it is to be a woman of color in the world, so my body is treated differently by default. Yet, at 5’9″, at 170 pounds (give or take), I have certainly been in situations where I felt people’s resentment at the space I dared to take up (you try sitting down in a theater when you’re 5’9″ and see if the person behind you doesn’t huff). So while there was a great deal of new information and new ways of seeing the world presented to me in this book, there were familiar feelings and connections, as well.
This memoir was undoubtedly difficult for Roxane Gay to write–she has said so herself, and as horrifying reactions to the book and to the author pop up online, it’s clear to see why. Some of the tweets she’s shared since the book’s release are insulting, offensive reactions that demonstrate exactly why this book needed to be written. Our society isn’t kind to the overweight, and does not seek to understand them as anything more than “lazy” or “lacking self-control.” In this memoir reflecting on her body, her relationship to that body and to the world, and the factors that led her to create the body she lives in, Gay seeks to counteract this narrative. She faces down the reality of life in her body on every page with unflinchingly honesty, even when it’s hard, even when it counteracts what we expect to hear.
We understand the ways in which the body can be violated as Gay shares the story of her rape, citing it as the source for her initial desire to overeat and transform her body into a fortress. We learn about the reactions of other people in this world when they come across someone who is overweight. This book anchors that experience in a way that reality shows like The Biggest Loser and My 500 Pound Life fail to do–not as a before with a glowing, inspirational after, but as a lived experience. As the now in which the author has lived, lives, and will live.
While I have long admired Roxane Gay’s work in Bad Feminist and Difficult Women, this is the book that truly blew me away. Each short chapter packs a punch that forces us to reflect on the way we treat female and overweight bodies in this world. On the ways that female bodies are violated. On the ways that overweight bodies are marginalized or turned into problems. On what it means to be a human being living in the world regardless of the shape of the body in which you live. It was a difficult book to read in many ways, the material heavy and emotional and raw, as you should by now expect from Roxane Gay’s work. For all that, I’m deeply glad that I read it. You should read it, too. And then you should be ever so mindful of how you respond when you do.