Writing this book is a confession. These are the ugliest, weakest, barest parts of me. This is my truth. 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. This is not a story of triumph, but this is a story that demands to be told and deserves to be told.
What makes Hunger (read Goodread synopsis here) so important is the way it furthers the conversation surrounding obesity, body positivity, and our society’s expectations when it comes to what a woman’s body should look like. Roxane Gay is open, honest, and vulnerable in a way that demands to be heard. This book isn’t a pity party in any way; however, it does lend a more personal account to the issues behind obesity.
Gay was horrifically gang raped in the woods near her home when she was just twelve years old. Afterwards, she never told anyone what happened – not her parents, siblings, or friends. Instead, she turned to food to bury her pain, and also to change the way she looked – to become unattractive to men.
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 men, to be beneath their contempt, and I already knew too much about their contempt.
Eating was Gay’s attempt at self-preservation. But while she tried to do everything she could to survive with her pain, society was doing everything it could to make her feel shame instead. Our society’s beauty standards when it comes to a woman’s ideal body are not only unhealthy, but often times, unrealistic as well. Images in magazines and on billboards seem to only feature women that are too thin – hip and collar bones that stick out, hollowed cheeks, and legs that look more like arms. It’s disheartening, and as a mother, it enrages me.
Books like Hunger continue to keep the body image conversations in the forefront of people’s minds. It challenges us to reevaluate what we accept at “normal” in society and demands that we do better for the young girls that are growing up to be the next generation of women. Gay’s vulnerability also demands that we pay attention to survivors of violence and/or rape so that we can give them a safe place to step forward so they don’t have to live a life mired in shame and guilt. This is the very least we owe our fellow humans – a safe place to speak and be heard and then supported and helped.
What were your thoughts on Hunger? Please leave a comment below!