Roxane Gay’s memoir, Hunger, has been on my to-read list for some time and I thought I had some idea of what I was getting into. However, I was not prepared for how immensely readable this book was but how gut wrenchingly brutal it was at the same time. For those who haven’t read it (or read about it) the subtitle is “A Memoir of (My) Body” and it is the verbal equivalent of Roxane Gay stripping naked, standing in front of her readers, and telling some of her biggest secrets involving her sexuality and her sense of self. In trying to describe this book to someone, I said, “Imagine taking every insecure thought you’ve had about your body, moment of self-loathing you’ve felt after ripping through a bag of potato chips or gallon of ice cream, feeling of self-doubt you’ve had walking into a room filled with people and then turn those up to a hundred.”
I think what really blew me away in the light of all this was how matter-of-fact Gay is about her life and her feelings—her desire to change yet her honesty about the difficulties of moving on and moving past her past. As a young teen, Gay was gang-raped by a boy she was seeing (I can’t utter the word “boyfriend” in this context) and a group of his friends, and that incident changed everything—the way she saw herself, the way she saw food, the way she saw the world—and the impact of that trauma continues to shape her today.
Food became an escape as well as a form of protection. By gaining weight, Gay was able to take up more space and feel less vulnerable, but also become invisible or at least, less visible. As a result, Gay not only writes about the effects of sexual trauma on her life and relationships but she is also especially equipped to explore society’s obsession with and horror over too large, unruly bodies—that try to squeeze into airplane seats, that dare to bare their arms and legs on the beach—and especially bodies of color. Whether she’s talking about the Biggest Loser, discussing her love for the Barefoot Contessa or showing how one poisonous relationship which makes you feel unworthy seems to lead to more, she seems able to share the most honest details in a way that made me want to both hug and shake her.
Though Roxane Gay’s story is specifically her own, its shapes and contours speak to every woman who has ever been abused, belittled, or simply been made uncomfortable in her own skin . . . and that is pretty much every woman.