roxane gay

‘Hunger’ by Roxane Gay is a Must Read Feminist Memoir

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Site Contributor. Motivated to do most things by food.

I love giving people books for the holidays. What better way to escape out of your own life and into the mind of someone else, if only for a little while? And for someone who almost never buys books for herself (I use the library a bit obsessively) owning a book without a due date looming can feel quite luxurious.

Despite my typical desire to read books that have nothing to do with my work life (i.e. no books on trauma, horrific life circumstances, etc) Hunger: A Memoir of (my) Body by Roxanne Gay was too tempting to pass up.

roxane gay

I recommend this book to anyone and everyone. For the holidays, for birthdays, for anytime. Roxanne Gay has a unique voice that is strong, direct, and achingly vulnerable all at once. She shares her trauma history and how this event spiraled into her need to feed herself excessive amounts of food to create a larger body that she could feel safe in. Her story of sexual assault as a teenager is one that is not new, but her ability to explicitly tie this event to her weight struggles is important, common, but also not spoken about as often as it needs to be. Not only did she create a barrier between her inner self and the outer world with her body, but she created an identity for herself that both protects her and targets her in our skinny-obsessed society.

I was moved by the healing she has gone through, the ongoing struggle she experiences, but the most powerful theme in this book is around control. Gay describes many times where she has lost weight, focused on eating healthy and working out, and then becomes panicked at losing this protection she has carried for so long. The fear of the unknown leads her back to eating and experiencing comfort in the increased intake of calories, creating the only armor she has ever known.

Gay shares the struggles she faces every day taking up more space in our world, from fear of a particular type of chair to an inability to eat what she would like to in public, because she is not allowed this luxury. She writes: “As a woman, as a fat woman, I am not supposed to take up space. And yet, as a feminist, I am encouraged to believe I can take up space. I live in a contradictory space where I should try to take up space but not too much of it, and not in the wrong way, where the wrong way is any way where my body is concerned.”

It’s no secret that we have a fucked up idea of female beauty, particularly that fat women are constantly pressured to release this inner thin woman out into the world. “In yet another commercial, Oprah somberly says, ‘Inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be.’ This is a popular notion, the idea that the fat among us are carrying a thin woman inside. Each time I see this particular commercial, I think, I ate that thin woman and she was delicious but unsatisfying. And then I think about how fucked up it is to promote this idea that our truest selves are thin women hiding in our fat bodies like imposters, usurpers, illegitimates.”

Perhaps the most feminist part of this book is that Gay rejects this notion of being lifted up as a strong survivor. She reminds the readers that her story is like so many other stories, and there’s nothing special about hers beyond her ability to use her words in a way that describes it. Feminist research often reminds us that telling stories in their own context rather than holding them up in a way that glorifies them is essential to the work. Gay does this in a heartbreakingly beautiful way. I highly recommend you dive into her life for a few days and see what changes when you come up for air.

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