Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay is another amazing book I picked up thanks to Book Riot’s 2019 Read Harder Challenge. I’m absolutely in love with all the new authors I’ve been discovering thanks to this challenge and I’m so glad I finally got past my fear and decided to participate.
First off, this book needs a few trigger warnings. If you struggle reading about rape and disordered eating, this is not the book for you. Be kind to yourself and choose a book that will better serve your mental health and wellness, or read this with plenty of support lined up, because this memoir is brutally honest, a raw, painful read that still manages to contain great beauty while presenting the world with the author’s open wounds.
Roxane Gay is supermorbidly obese, a condition she directly attributes to being gang-raped at the age of 12. Even writing that sentence, I have to stop, take a breath, elbow away the anger and sadness that reading her story made me feel. Because of the horrors perpetrated on her that day, she began to eat in an attempt to both make her body feel safe again, and to take back some sort of control over her body. And because she couldn’t tell anyone what had happened to her, this left her family baffled by the changes and constantly making suggestions as to what she could do in order to make her body socially acceptable once more. Despite her frustration with her family’s ‘help’, Ms. Gay understands that it comes from a place of love and knows that she’s lucky to have the support system she does.
This is a memoir of what it’s like to take up space in a way that’s not accepted by society: the constant hurtful comments, the fears of whether any given place will be able to accommodate someone of her size, the difficulties of maneuvering a body hundreds of pounds heavier than average. Beyond her size, Ms. Gay is a person, one who suffers deeply with every breath she takes because of what was taken from her by that group of teenage boys, but because of what the world sees, she’s relegated to being only a fat person and nothing more. Her pain is palpable, exuding from every page in a stinging wallop that will leave you teary-eyed and wondering why on earth humans need to be so cruel to each other.
This is by no means an easy read, but it’s helped along by the beauty of Ms. Gay’s straightforwardness. Blunt, concise, and to-the-point, she never minces words and confronts you head-on with her grief, asking only for understanding, for acceptance, for love. Hunger will open your eyes to the obstacles Ms. Gay faces, not just from her body, but from her mind as well, and it will make you view the experience of obesity in an entirely different way.
While weight isn’t my challenge (due mostly to genetics; I look like my tall, thin father with long hair and boobs), when it came to emotions and pain, I could relate to so much of what Ms. Gay has written. My constant struggle with anxiety and depression is organic; my brain is just a jerk that enjoys lying to me, but the feelings remain the same, and so when Ms. Gay writes things like, ‘I was scared of so much as a teenager,’ and ‘It was not as easy to believe these truths as it was to know them,’ while our pain doesn’t stem from the same place, those words resonate deeply with me, because I feel it too.
I truly appreciated the section where she discussed how being as heavy as she is has opened her eyes to the challenges faced by people with disabilities. I’m not disabled, but I do have several conditions that cause me chronic pain; there are occasions where navigating the world is difficult for me, and this hasn’t been helped by…well, by people. The last time I needed to use my cane (and when I use my cane, I can’t walk without it and I’m in massive pain), I had several people slam into me at the store and grumble about my moving so slowly as they walked away (NO KIDDING, JERKFACE, MY BODY DOESN’T WORK). Ms. Gay writes about how she’s better informed about access- stairs, ramps, handrails, etc- and reading this part made me tear up (again. I did that often while reading this ). It’s rewarding when people whose challenges are not your challenges consider you and bring you into the conversation, and I’m grateful to Ms. Gay for both pointing this out and for expanding my understanding of the hurdles faced by larger people due to their size.
Ms. Gay says that she worries that she’s not brave, but my God, this book is nothing BUT bravery. Page after page of writing about the worst thing that ever happened to her and the devastation it wreaked throughout her life, to be so very honest and willing to expose so much requires levels of courage I can’t even begin to fathom. I’m so grateful that Roxane Gay has shared her story with the world. May we all learn from it and acknowledge each other’s humanity with our thoughts and actions, and may Ms. Gay know nothing but love, peace, and kindness from here on out.
If you’ve read this, I’d love to hear your take on it. Have you read Ms. Gay’s fiction or other works? This is my first by her, so I’m definitely curious about her other writing.