“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.
This is such a powerful, raw memoir, that I don’t think I have the words to do it justice. I had previously heard of the author, and have always been meaning to get around to reading ‘Bad Feminist’, but ‘Hunger’ is my first proper encounter with Gay’s writing. And I think, on the most part, I will let her words do the talking for me.
Something terrible happened, and I wish I could leave it at that because as a writer who is also a woman, I don’t want to be defined by the worst thing that has happened to me.
She has such incredible talent – the writing is introspective, honest and thought-provoking. One gets the sense that this memoir is as much of a journey for her as it is for us, the reader. The fairly short chapters also make it a slightly ‘easier’ read, in terms of having a moment to catch one’s breath amidst the distressing subject matter.
I began eating to change my body. I was wilful in this. Some boys had destroyed me, and I barely survived it. I knew I wouldn’t be able to ensure another such violation, and so I ate because I thought that if my body became repulsive, I could keep men away. Even at that young age, I understood that to be fat was to be undesirable to mean, to be beneath their contempt, and I already knew too much about their contempt.
The main focus of the memoir is on the author’s weight and her evolving relationship with her body, using food as a defence mechanism after a horrific sexual assault when she was 12 years old. The sheer pain, suffering, and self-loathing are palpable; they pour off the page and it will make you want to punch and weep and scream.
I made myself bigger. I made myself safer. I created a distinct boundary between myself and anyone who dared approach me.
While the author may be self-depracating, and avoids praise of her strength of character, I have to disagree. I think she is an incredibly brave, insightful, wonderful woman, and I salute her.
But when people use the word ‘obese’, they aren’t merely being literal. They are offering forth an accusation.
Apart from her journey from childhood to where she is now, the book also contains commentary on the manner in which society treats overweight bodies, and the ways in which they are forced to navigate the world. Rounding it all off are some thoughts on feminism, race and class. It’s a frank, unflinching memoir that we can all learn from, empathise with and marvel at the national treasure that is Roxane Gay.
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.
ARC received from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof and may differ from final publication.