Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body – Roxane Gay

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5 star

Genre: Memoir
Publisher: HarperCollins

From the bestselling author of Bad Feminist: a searingly honest memoir of food, weight, self-image, and learning how to feed your hunger while taking care of yourself

I ate and ate and ate in the hopes that if I made myself big, my body would be safe. I buried the girl I was because she ran into all kinds of trouble. I tried to erase every memory of her, but she is still there, somewhere. . . . I was trapped in my body, one that I barely recognized or understood, but at least I was safe.

In her phenomenally popular essays and long-running Tumblr blog, Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and body, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. As a woman who describes her own body as “wildly undisciplined,” Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care. In Hunger, she explores her own past—including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life—and brings readers along on her journey to understand and ultimately save herself.

With the bracing candor, vulnerability, and power that have made her one of the most admired writers of her generation, Roxane explores what it means to learn to take care of yourself: how to feed your hungers for delicious and satisfying food, a smaller and safer body, and a body that can love and be loved—in a time when the bigger you are, the smaller your world becomes.

Trigger warning: Rape

Hunger is about truth. The unfiltered truth of what it means and how it feels to be overweight/obese in a world that will always see your appearance first and personality second or if at all. Before diving head first into my review, I’d like to thank Roxane for sharing her story. Stories like hers are far too common, but not spotlighted nearly enough.

“This is a book about my body, about my hunger, and ultimately, this is a book about disappearing and being lost and wanting so very much, wanting to be seen and understood. This is a book about learning, however slowly, to allow myself to be seen and understood.” 

Hunger tells Gay’s life and how certain events shaped her worldview, how she views herself, and what she did to alter her feelings. She goes into detail about what it means to be fat, what it means to be a woman, and, more importantly, how it feels to be a fat woman. Over and over women are taught to take up as little space as possible, so being a fat woman laughs in the face of those lessons. However, time and time again Gay wishes to disappear. To fold into herself. To be a wallflower. But as a feminist, she has to remind herself often to take up space and allow her presence to be known despite the judgmental looks and rude remarks. These beliefs clash as she writes about her experiences with airlines, movie theaters, and various events. Her self-awareness in writing about her experiences is painful to read. She doesn’t manipulate the reader into pity or sympathy. It’s the pure, naked truth about how people of her size are treated. They make assumptions, hold prejudices, and act and speak in ways that are harmful with no regard towards the person in question.

“This is a memoir of (my) body because, more often than not, stories of bodies like mine are ignored or dismissed or derided. People see bodies like mine and make their assumptions. They think they know the why of my body. They do not.”

What this memoir does best is offer an honest perspective. You may have some idea of what fat people go through in certain situations, but you do not know the daily internal struggles, family dynamics, or realize the things you take for granted like not worrying about the type of chairs when going to a restaurant or worrying about stairs and handrails.

I was reading while at work when someone obese walked by as he does every day. He always tells me to have a goodnight and I reciprocate. He’s outgoing, friendly, and generous (he always gives my co-workers and I baked goods every holiday). Another employee walked by me and started talking about whether or not someone had talked to him about the dangers of being obese, how he has sex, and that she felt bad for him. She said she wanted to talk to him, but didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t believe this conversation was happening as I was holding this memoir that deals with these situations. She saw his body first without once considering him as an individual with thoughts and feelings. I was stunned by her assumptions, so all I ended up saying was anything you said to him would be insulting. She walked away shaking her head pitying the man. In hindsight, I should have said more. I should have defended him or spoken up about her rude assumptions, but I was shocked. I understood this sort of thing happened on a theoretical level, but I’ve never actually experienced it. This is a reality for many because time and time again we’re taught to see a body first then make judgments.

“You are your body, nothing more, and your body should damn well become less.”

Overall, Hunger is a powerful memoir that doesn’t seek to manipulate the reader, but offers an honest perspective on the realities of being obese. Gay’s writing is flawless and allows readers to occupy her headspace as she lays her truth down for all to see.

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