As I told a reader friend recently, I don’t have a lot of tolerance for people’s memoirs of their childhoods. But, as I knew it would, Gay’s writing hopped over that personal barrier and pulled me right through her story.
I listened to the audiobook, which Gay narrates herself. While not as adept a reader as Bahni Turpin, who read Bad Feminist, Gay is a good reader and I appreciated hearing her story in her voice.
The memoir is divided into more than 80 sections, which switch back and forth between Gay’s growing up years and her current life as an adult, academic, and writer in her 30s.
The lengths of the sections vary depending on the amount of relevant content. Some tell an entire story. Some seem to be thoughts she wanted to make sure to include, relevant commentary or short scenes that make up part of her story. We get satisfying glimpses into her daily life as she explores the topics of emotional and physical hunger, woven as they are throughout her existence.
As you may know, Gay is an adept cultural critic. In Hunger, she addresses many of the stereotypes around fat people, as well as the way fat people are treated in a society that values thin.
As a person who is, at the time of writing, around 250 pounds overweight, she also uses experiences in her own life to illustrate the effects of extreme obesity, personally— physically, socially, and emotionally.
These personal stories are what really got to me. She relates the experiences of asking for a seatbelt extender on an airplane, fielding her family’s constant grave concern, being heckled on the street, and the impact of her obesity on her health, among other things.
Gay also explores the origin of her obesity, telling, once again, the story of her rape. Gay was gang-raped as a child and she mostly attributes her food addiction and her fatness to her need to protect herself, to make herself larger, and to become undesirable to men.
As anyone who is or has been obese would know, being overweight makes one less visible even as body size increases. Less visible, meaning less attractive and therefore less deserving of attention. If very fat people aren’t being ogled they are often, paradoxically, being ignored. Discounted.
Throughout this intense examination, Gay is exploring how her desire to be thin does or doesn’t fit with her values as a feminist. It’s a struggle when you reject society’s beauty standards but also want to meet them.
“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.”
Lotta’ ins and outs when you are a critic of the society in which you are also trying to live peaceably.
This is becoming too long a post, but suffice it to say that I, once again, felt “seen” thanks to Roxane Gay’s work. And do let me know your thoughts if you read it.
Thanks for stopping by!