Last month, I read Roxane Gay’s latest publication Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. I reviewed her novel An Untamed State in my last post, but her writing style, use of language, and overall ability to tell a good story left me in a sense “hungry” for more. I also caught an NPR interview with her on Fresh Air in which she discussed her latest book. She had me hooked when she read the opening lines for chapter two. “The story of my body is not a story of triumph. This is not a weight loss memoir. There will be no pictures of a thin version of me…This is not a book that will offer motivation…Mine is not a success story. Mine is simply a true story.” (4) Throughout the course of her memoir, Gaye discloses that she once weighed 577 pounds, had tried almost every celebrity fad diet known to man, and even looked to bulimia as a means to control her weight. She offers her readers what most individuals classified as obese and whose weight often captures the unsolicited attention and cruel comments of those they rarely know cannot. Gay chronicles the story behind why she has become a prisoner to a body that has led her down a road of health complications and self-esteem issues. Without giving too much away, Gay suffered an unthinkable tragedy as a young woman. This tragedy was and continues to be the source of her complicated relationship with food. Those familiar with the story line in An Untamed State will easily make the connection between Gay’s real life and the life of her lead character Mireille Duval Jameson.
However, the power in Gay’s memoir lies in the insight she provides into the most minute and everyday details of the life of an obese person. Gay’s personal stories often left me both speechless and shocked by my own ignorance into the experiences of many women, men, and children in our society. From the physical torture of sitting in restaurant chairs too small to comfortably fit people of larger frames to publicly dealing with obnoxious flight attendants after being forced to purchase an additional seat because you once again fit outside of the physical perimeters of the plane’s design to purchasing clothes that both fit and acknowledge a femininity that most men and women insist you have relinquished because of your weight, I could not believe that I was so oblivious to everyday privileges I enjoyed simply because of my size. Perhaps the most eye opening discussion revolved around her details of the media trolls who resort to body shaming her instead of effectively debating Gay on her position on sexism in this country.
I am a self professed gym rat and work out religiously five days a week. As a result, there were so many instances I would shout “Fight Roxane. You can lose the weight and live a life similar to Mireille Duval Jameson” as I read the book. Then I would bring myself back to what I believe was Gay’s reason for writing her fist memoir. As she said in the opening lines of chapter two, this was not intended to be a story of triumph or a self help book on how to loose weight. For me, Hunger was an opportunity to put myself in the shoes of an obese woman living in this country trying to maintain her self -esteem and dignity in an image and capitalistic driven society that makes it almost impossible for the obese. It also left me asking myself to what extent have I both contributed and fallen victim to such a narrow way of thinking and how can I change it. For that, Ms. Gay, I am forever grateful and recommend everyone read and experience Hunger.