I listened to Roxane Gay read her own book, Hunger: A Memoir Of (My) Body. It was a soul punch. Maybe I shouldn’t have listened at a time when I was struggling with feelings about my family, or maybe it was the exact right time. Several versions of this review were only appropriate for my therapist.
I am fat, and I was always going to be fat unless I either put myself on a constant, punitive diet, or devoted hours and hours of my day to exercise. In my family, the weight starts piling on in our late twenties/early thirties no matter what we do. Almost 80 years of family photos show the progression of grandparents, uncles, aunts and more distantly related family from slender to fat. My dad was fat when he ran three times a week and played softball 4 – 6 times a week. I started putting fat on when I was going to the gym 6 days a week for strength training and cardio. It was all over for me when I broke my leg and came out of it with a weak ankle that won’t tolerate strenuous cardio.
Genetics are one, important factor. Another is the role of food in my family. My home was a swamp of anger, mental illness and addiction. The one place we came together was our shared love of cooking and food. Food is my solace, my consolation and my celebration. Cooking food and sharing food is an important way that I show love.
I’m fat. Between nature and nurture, I was always going to be fat and after a lot of years of struggle, I am ok with it. My body is unruly in a different way than Roxane Gay’s, but the result is we are both fat and the world is not ok with that.
In Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, Gay is bare and honest in ways that cut to the bone. She illuminates the experience of both being invisible and also an object of public comment. The experiences she shares are not really up for comment, and yet, people keep commenting. I read some of the hundreds of reviews that have been written and was frequently enraged by the way reviewers dismissed her experiences.
- “I’m sure she’s imagining the way people avoid contact with her. I’m sure it’s not because she’s fat. Nobody likes touching on an airplane.” As a woman who is not nearly as big as Gay, I recognized exactly what she was talking about.
- “But they’re doctors, of course they’ll bring up her weight.” Nonononono. It’s not about bringing up her weight, it’s about focusing on her weight to the point that they ignore the rest of her. Let me tell you what happened to my mother, who was also fat. She was experiencing pain in her left knee, often to the point where she couldn’t walk. She saw three separate doctors, each of whom told her to lose weight and looked no further. One day she stood up and her femur shattered. She had bone cancer. It wasn’t related to her weight at all. Catching the cancer earlier would not have saved her life, but it might have saved her leg, and it would have prevented months of excruciating pain. My mother’s story isn’t uncommon. I’ve heard stories of women going undiagnosed for years for endometriosis, cancer, thyroid and kidney disease because the physician looked at them and only saw fat.
Dismissing her experiences is just another form of erasure and concern trolling. So I say a hearty fuck you to every single person who read the words in this book and thought, “I’m sure it’s not that bad.” “That can’t be true.” “If only she would try MY diet.”
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body is a beautiful, painful book. If you can, listen to Gay read her own words. See her for who she shows herself to be.