Book Review of Hunger by Roxane Gay


I've been hearing about this book for so long, that when I saw it in my library's NEW section, I just had to get it.  Being a bigger woman myself, I found the idea of a memoir written about someone's body intriguing.  I wanted to see what it was like for someone else.  And being that I am also a memoir writer, I really love to devour other people's memoirs.  I've read Paula Deen's (pre-racist remarks).  Ginger Spice's (Geri Halliwell).  Both of Mindy Kahling's.  And many, many more.  I devour other people's memories like a child devours ice cream on a hot day.  I am adept at picking out similarities between us, no matter how small.  I identify with the writers.  I find myself staring back through their memories.  These books help me write my own memoirs: they remind me of things long forgotten, and help me to see what kind of format will work best to order my own when I put them together.  These books help me to feel closer to the authors, as if we are sitting around, hanging out, sharing their life stories with me.  It's nice while it lasts.

I am a memory writer...I love to keep track of all things that have happened to me, both good and bad (I even have a blog where I keep all these memories).  Coming from a family (that I am not blood related to, but that doesn't matter) that is steeped full in dementia, I see how quickly these memories can fade, never to be thought of again.  So much time lost.  So much experience... just lost.  I don't want to be lost.  I've been lost many times in my life, and I can't let that happen again.

So I write.  And sometimes it gets me into trouble (blogging about my abuse growing up literally turned my entire family against me...though, something I do not regret in the least).  But I write for me.  And I write so others know they aren't alone in this strange world, full of weirdos like us (and weirdos not like us).

And I read.  I read other people's stories so I know I am not alone and to know there are other weirdos like me in the world.  Even if the person is vastly different from myself, there are always similarities, connections.  Always.  This is how I live my life, how my brain works: I see how I relate to others.  Even in the simplest of manners.

Geri Halliwell taught me that OCD was real and not all in my head.  That I wasn't crazy and that even famous people suffered as I did.  Paula Deen taught me that even famous people get panic attacks like I do.  Mindy Kahling taught me that being a dorky kid wasn't just limited to myself and that chasing your passions is worth it.  And Roxane Gay taught me so much that one line just won't cut it.

What I learned from this book cannot probably all be put into words.  It's more feeling than anything.  She explains very matter-of-factly where her weight issues came from.  She knows the exact why, and the exact how, and the exact when and the exact who, and the exact where (the "what" being her weight).  I can't say I know those things so concretely, as mine was a gradual thing and not so much a choice (though after reading this book, I wonder if they were subconscious choices all along).  I know that before I was fat, I had energy.  I do know why I got fat in the first place: being pregnant (twice).  I also know that the females in my family have a tendency to put on weight (and sometimes a lot of it).  I also know that I got hypothyroidism at a certain point and lost all that energy I once had when the kids were little.  Mine are all medical reasons (mostly).  Hers were emotional.

But reason why she put her up walls and gained weight to begin with, that I can relate to: sexual assault.  I've lived that term many times in my life (though never in the way she did).  Reading this book made me really look deeply into my own sexual assaults, which in turn made me look deeply into my own long-held beliefs on sex as a whole.  I can see that I am very damaged in more ways than I thought.  I am very fearful of men, always have been, and being fat helps them to stay away from me.  I am not sure if that's just a great side effect or some sort of choice my body made to protect me (or that my subconscious made).  I worry less about being fat-shamed (though I do worry about that) then about men who make unwanted advances towards my body.  Which, when I was thin, happened constantly.  So I just enjoy it when I go out.

I also learned from her story that I was right.  Fat people are not treated like normal humans.  Wait, scratch that.  I mean to say "fat women".  Fat men are treated like normal people all the time.  But fat women?  Not in the least.  We are invisible.  So much so, that I am literally surprised when a person in public strikes up a conversation with me, as though they can see me, hear me, and realize I am actually there.  I am always taken aback.  And I am what Roxane calls "Lane Bryant Fat", meaning I can still shop at Lane Bryant and Walmart and most other stores (even resale shops, where I get of my clothing from).  But I am still fat.  And I am still under the radar for most people to even notice I am there.  Well, that is unless I am in their way.  Then they sure notice.  The most hurtful thing I have that happens to me is that most normal looking people look away when I smile at them.  I will literally look them in the face and smile, and they will literally look away.  It's really disheartening (though, this could just be that most people do not like to acknowledge others at all, fat or not, so I suggest some skinny people try out this and see what results they get).

Another great point Roxane makes is that women who do not fit society's norms for femininity are not treated as real women.  I have never experienced issues while being fat, but I am not just fat, I am also a very untraditional woman.  Back when I was young, I had short, spiked, bleach blonde hair.  I was called a man countless times.  I was 125lbs, dressed like a girl, and had boobs (skinny with boobs should be your first indication that someone is a woman).  BUT my hair caused people to automatically call me a dude.  Even little kids would tug on my pant legs and ask "Are you a girl or a boy?"  If I had a picture of myself back then, I would share it here, so show just how very girly I looked.  But still, people had to ask me on a regular basis if I was a girl, including a man who tried getting my attention at work by calling me a waiter.  I said "Sir, I am wearing a skirt."  He replied "Yes, but with these short haircuts today, you never know.".  *sigh*  Today, my hair is short, but I am never asked if I am a women because one side is long.  My head is completely shaved, except for the top, which is long and hangs over my right side of my head (not the left side, because that side shows the grey!).  It's a way for me to look younger at 40 years old while hiding my grey and not having to dye it.  I have had very few compliments, but at least I don't get called a man anymore (scratch that, yes I did: my mother-in-law once waited until everyone left the room and told me I had a little boy's haircut--we don't really talk to her anymore).

And mostly, the part of the book I identify with regularly, is the idea that I have to be sorry that I am fat.  It's engrained into our brains that fat people are worthless and the only way to have worth, is to lose weight.  I remember once when my husband and I attended karaoke with a bunch of friends, he got up and sang "Turn the Page" by Metallica.  He killed it and the entire place gave him an standing ovation.  Even the sexy, skinny girls who ogled him with their drunk, hungry eyes.  A man who can sing like that is sexy.  I was so fucking proud of him for singing in public for the first time and everyone loved him.  But at the same time, all I could think, deep down inside was "I am sorry I am so fat.  I am sorry I am the one here with you, not quite fitting on this horrible bar stool made for skinny people, with my fat spilling over where everyone can see.  I am sorry all these people love you, but if they looked at us together, they'd all wonder what you see in me."  I know my hubby doesn't feel this way in the least.  He loves me for me and is always proud to have me on his arm.  But I know what people think when they look at us.  I feel it.  I am always aware of it.  I see the things they write online about fat people.  The things that are said where they think nobody can hear them.  The lesser fat people making fun of fatter people.  The fat men making fun of fat women.  The skinny people making fun of both fat men and women.  No matter which way you spin it, this society is 100% fatophobic.  The fat-shaming, fat-hating, fat-phobic world we live in.  How can you ever feel comfortable in highly visible situations when you're fat?  You just can't.  Well, maybe not all of us, but I know I can't.  Roxane goes into detail about this, so know she understands what I mean.  And I am grateful she wrote a book about it so I know I am not alone.  So I know it isn't all in my head.

And that's why more memoirs are needed.  That's why telling your stories is so important.  We all need to know we are not alone.

You can get Roxane's AMAZING book on Amazon.  It's heartbreaking, poignant, amazing, and beautiful.  But most of all?  It's fucking real.  We need more real in this world, so thank you Roxane for sharing this very personal piece of your soul with us.

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