Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Bodyby Roxane Gay Published 13 Jun 2017
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From the bestselling author of Bad Feminist: a searingly honest memoir of food, weight, self-image, and learning how to feed your hunger while taking care of yourself
“I ate and ate and ate in the hopes that if I made myself big, my body would be safe. I buried the girl I was because she ran into all kinds of trouble. I tried to erase every memory of her, but she is still there, somewhere. . . . I was trapped in my body, one that I barely recognized or understood, but at least I was safe.”
In her phenomenally popular essays and long-running Tumblr blog, Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and body, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. As a woman who describes her own body as “wildly undisciplined,” Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care. In Hunger, she explores her own past—including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life—and brings readers along on her journey to understand and ultimately save herself.
With the bracing candor, vulnerability, and power that have made her one of the most admired writers of her generation, Roxane explores what it means to learn to take care of yourself: how to feed your hungers for delicious and satisfying food, a smaller and safer body, and a body that can love and be loved—in a time when the bigger you are, the smaller your world becomes.
"Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body" Reviews
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 heard.
How do I even begin? If I could give this book a hundred stars, I would. And no, not just because it is important and it is heartbreaking - which it is both - but because Gay is one of the best writers I've ever known. The difficulty was deciding how to use quotes without quoting the whole damn book.
I was glued to the pages, completely rapt, as the author used words to create a plethora of emotions and reveal things about the world we live in. This is Gay's memoir from the time she was gang raped at twelve-years-old, to her later need to use food to build a fortress around herself, to her more recent life as a woman categorized as the horrendous phrase "super morbidly obese".
Mine is not a success story. Mine is, simply, a true story.
It is not a memoir that asks for our pity, or tries to manipulate the reader, it is simply a woman's truth. Gay's self-awareness is painful to read as she talks about experiences in narrow seating on airlines, in movie theatres or restaurants, or at events. The assumptions people make about her; the "concerns" for her health; the ultimate belief that as a woman, a fat woman, she just takes up too much space.
You can tell on the rare occasions when an author really lays themselves bare. Gay says the things that many are - for a whole variety of reasons - afraid to say. About rape culture, about fat people, about fat women, and about the fat acceptance movement. She says she prefers "victim" to "survivor" because she has been hurt and has suffered from what happened to her, and she doesn't want to turn into something more empowering than it actually is.
I do not want pity or appreciation or advice. I am not brave or heroic. I am not strong. I am not special. I am one woman who has experienced something countless women have experienced. I am a victim who survived.
He said/she said is why so many victims (or survivors, if you prefer that terminology) don’t come forward. All too often, what “he said” matters more, so we just swallow the truth. We swallow it, and more often than not, that truth turns rancid. It spreads through the body like an infection. It becomes depression or addiction or obsession or some other physical manifestation of the silence of what she would have said, needed to say, couldn’t say.
When she talks about the FAM, she considers what many fat-positive women and men are not supposed to say - that it is not a simple matter of deciding that one's fatness is okay and attractive. We do not live in a world that allows for that mentality to take hold instantly, no matter how much we tell ourselves that weight and size do not matter.
To be clear, the fat acceptance movement is important, affirming, and profoundly necessary, but I also believe that part of fat acceptance is accepting that some of us struggle with body image and haven’t reached a place of peace and unconditional self-acceptance.
It is an incredibly powerful memoir that is made even more so by the raw, uncensored truth Gay brings to it. Gay is not happy with her body, but also angry at the world for being a place that makes her unhappy with her body. She says she is not strong and that she is not brave, but I beg to differ. Writing a book like this in a world like this-- I'd say she's one of the strongest, bravest writers I know.
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I haven't written this yet but it will be okay. Food is delicious.
UPDATE: I have created a Word File entitled Hunger_Book. I have copied and pasted many Tumblr entries into this file along with some ideas as to how to give the book shape. Food is still delicious.
UPDATE 2: This book is still in progress so your low ratings are funny. Is this a motivational tool? It's working.
I cannot jump on the bandwagon of this being a wonderful and empowering book.
Sorry folks but as Ms Gay continues to blame the world for her unhappiness there is just no chance for peace. I wish her the very best but I would not recommend this to anybody.
I finished Hunger five hours ago and still feel such overwhelming gratitude for Roxane Gay's writing; this memoir is my favorite 2017 read by far and one of those rare works that makes me so thankful for my ability to read at all. Hunger focuses on Gay's fatness, how being fat has affected her life in so many negative and unfair ways, and the rape she experienced as a twelve-year-old that precipitated her weight gain. She has an enormous talent for confronting complex, ugly truths in her writing and for injecting nuance into difficult subjects that we would rather see as simple. There are no clear victories or easy solutions in Hunger. Instead of cookie-cutter niceties, Gay offers a harrowing and honest account of her suffering, as well as the painful, slow, and necessary steps she has taken to heal. As writer Caroline Knapp does in her splendid memoir Appetites , Gay blends the personal and the political with great skill, showing how food intersects with feminism which intersects with sexism which intersects with trauma and so much more. A passage that exemplifies what I mean:
"Losing control of my body was a matter of accretion. I began eating to change my body. I was willful in this. Some boys had destroyed me, and I barely survived it. I knew I wouldn't be able to endure another such violation, and so 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. This is what most girls are taught - that we should be slender and small. We should not take up space. We should be seen and not heard, and if we are seen, we should be pleasing to men, acceptable to society. And most women know this, that we are supposed to disappear, but it's something that needs to be said, loudly, over and over again, so that we can resist surrendering to what is expected of us."
As with all great memoirs, Gay's vulnerability in Hunger makes it a phenomenal, empathy-inspiring read. She shares some of the most embarrassing, disturbing instances of discrimination she has faced as a fat person, ranging from both internet trolls and medical professionals berating her because of her weight, to how she could not find seating that would fit her in airplanes, movie theaters, etc. She elevates the intensity and quality of these disclosures by admitting the painful emotions that accompanied them: her sheer hunger for both the safety of invisibility and her right to visibility, the self-loathing society instilled within her because of her weight, and her desperate and sometimes self-destructive pleas for love. In large part because of her distinct voice, Gay somehow manages to make this memoir insightful, heartbreaking, uncomfortable, authentic, and sometimes even humorous all at once.
Overall, a difficult and worthwhile book I would recommend to everyone. I had the pleasure of getting dinner with Ms. Gay when she visited my college's campus in 2015, where she mentioned to me that she was working on this book. As a nineteen-year-old, I was intimidated and starstruck by her intelligence and wit. But ultimately, I was won over by how human she was: she was tired that day from an exhausting flight and it showed, and she still exuded kindness and good humor. I could hear her incisive and self-aware and oh so human voice in every single page of Hunger. I want to share one last quote from the book to close this review:
"In writing this memoir of my body, in telling you these truths about my body, I am sharing my truth and mine alone. I understand if the truth is not something you want to hear. The truth makes me uncomfortable too. But I am also saying, here is my heart, what's left of it. Here I am showing you the ferocity of my hunger. Here I am, finally freeing myself to be vulnerable and terribly human. Here I am, reveling in that freedom. Here. See what I hunger for and what my truth has allowed me to create."
Thank you, Roxane Gay, for empowering victims and survivors of eating disorders and various forms of assault - myself included - to honor our hunger and to use our stories to create. Thank you for showing, once again, how writing can unify and fortify and ultimately, help in the healing process.
My full review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, can be found on my blog.
In understated but moving prose, Roxane Gay reflects upon her life as a fat woman living in a misogynistic society that seeks to regiment and shame “unruly” bodies. The six-part book consists of eighty-eight short essays that alternate between autobiography, cultural criticism, and social analysis. The start of the memoir centers on Gay’s weight gain following her gang rape at age twelve by her boyfriend and his friends. The pain of this section is palpable, and the level of patience and sensitivity with which Gay approaches this period of her life is astounding. In the remainder of the book, Gay considers how her weight, race, and gender have affected the ways in which others have perceived and treated her as an adult, while she critiques American culture for having made “the desire for weight loss” a “default feature of womanhood.” A flawless memoir, full of insight and feeling; highly recommended.
“I do not want pity or appreciation or advice. I am not brave or heroic. I am not strong. I am not special. I am one woman who has experienced something countless women have experienced. I am a victim who survived.”
This is one of the most powerful memoirs I have ever read.
I’ve realized that Roxane Gay is, while not my style as a fiction author, a fantastic author of nonfiction. Her stories are so emotive, so well-conveyed, so horrifying and so real. And most of all, so incredibly well written.
The writing here is just… it’s stunning. Roxane Gay seems to know exactly how to use repitition and exactly how to convey what it is to be in her place - emotions we’ve all felt, but maybe haven’t put to words. It’s horrifying and heartbreaking and beautiful, all at once. I listened to this on audiobook, and the experience somehow made it even more powerful. Gay’s narration perfectly conveys every emotion, perfectly conveys just how horrifying and hard to talk about her experiences are without melodrama or tears.
→ 🌺 let's talk empathy ←
I’m a little horrified by several reviews seeming to imply - or outright state - that Roxane Gay is making her problems worse by wallowing or by “refusing” to open herself to others - or even worse, that she is “choosing” not to heal. Roxane went through a horrible experience, and choosing to heal after an experience like that is work. The fact that she is working so hard at healing now is a testament to her strength. It is insane to me that anyone could read this book and have the immediate reaction “well, she was the one with a trauma-created eating disorder, so obviously she’s choosing not to heal!!” This response is horrifying and displays, in my view, a shocking lack of empathy towards other people. Or reading comprehension, for that matter; she is angry at herself for not being able to heal faster. I hate being this person, but: why are you all like this?
I am possibly just as horrified by a comment saying that “she acknowledges she wants to lose weight, but also blames society for treating fat people badly!” So maybe this is a shock to a few of you [I’d hope rather few of you??], but people don’t deserve to be treated as less than human because their bodies don’t look how you think they should. Basic empathy is actually a thing you should feel for people whether their bodies - which don’t affect you, by the way - fit your standard :)
Genuinely, if you wrote something like that in your review, you should maybe look at yourself. Examine why you felt so offended by Roxane’s criticism of societal systems meant to keep women with unruly bodies in firm self-hatred. I’d wonder why you weren’t horrified by her rape, by her own experiences, and jumped straight into "but why doesn't she just lose weight?" She's dealing with trauma and human empathy is a thing that exists. Jesus.
This is a book that deeply affected me and one that I’ll think about for years. Heavy trigger warnings for disordered eating, body issues, and sexual assault, but this one is so worth the read.
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