Roxane Gay’s Hunger exposes heartbreaking truths


Roxane Gay is the author of five books that are all written with an unprecedented honesty. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, released on June 13, is the latest. Both heartbreaking and revolutionary, Gay’s honesty about her “unruly” body in Hunger is an obvious yet striking revelation of how society treats those who are not reduced to the standards of a “perfect” body. Additionally, she explores this topic in the contexts of feminism and race.

Right away, Gay wants to make a few things clear: “The story of my body is not a story of triumph” and “This is not a book that will offer motivation,” but most importantly, “[Hunger] is a book about my body, about my hunger, and ultimately, this is a book about disappearing and being lost and wanting so very much, wanting to be seen and understood.” But, Gay also confesses “I wish I had the kind of strength and willpower to tell you a triumphant story.”

She recalls a pivotal moment in her life when “a terrible thing happened,” a memory of being taken to a secluded cabin in Omaha to a group of boys by a friend she admittedly falsely found comfort in. Her experience there, where her “no” didn’t matter and after, where she was painted as a slut at school, ignited a dependence on food because “food tasted good and made me feel better.” Her dependence resulted in a considerable weight gain, one she still carries with her today.

“I was swallowing my secrets”

Gay justifies her coping mechanism and shares, “I was swallowing my secrets and making my body expand and explode,” Gay said. “I found ways to hide in plain sight, to keep feeding a hunger that could never be satisfied—the hunger to stop hurting. I made myself bigger. I made myself feel safer. I created a distinct boundary between myself and anyone who dared to approach me.”

Beyond a struggle with an obese body, Hunger explores fatness in relation to femininity and race. “I am called “Sir,” because people look at the bulk of me and ignore my face, my styled hair, my very ample breasts and other curves,” Gay said. Being Black, she says, often does not help either as “Black women are rarely allowed their femininity.”

Gay discusses her daily life’s struggles, sharing that even the easiest task, such as sitting in a chair, can seem like the ultimate challenge, as she fears a weak chair will break under her. When someone doesn’t fit societal ideals, they are treated as less than human, as proven in Hunger and Gay’s countless experiences with ignorant people who hide under the guise of helpfulness—some even taking unhealthy foods out of her grocery cart, offering an unwanted “helping hand,” others offering her health advice on Twitter.

Gay invites readers to understand that the human body is a sum of one’s life experiences, and that it isn’t a bad thing. Hunger is a book for those who seek to understand, for those who seek validation, or both. Gay’s truth is inspiring and gives power to those who otherwise feel unheard because of their appearance. It is a redemption story, a confession—not only for Gay, but also her reader.

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