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On Reading Roxane Gay’s *Hunger*

When Roxane Gay writes about hunger she writes about more than a grumbling stomach. She writes about hunger as longing, hurt and anxiety. She writes explicitly about hunger both as noun and verb, as a physical sensation and emotional state.

One of my personal cravings in this world is for good, strong writing. Roxane Gay delivers exceptionally strong writing. Without pretense. She never wastes my time or my attention. She cuts to the quick with straight clear sentences. She uses words I understand and don’t need to look up. She tells her story unadorned and without apology.

She tells us that writing the book Hunger is the most difficult thing she’s ever done. I believe her. In Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, she tells us her secrets. She tells us explicitly about being Roxane Gay, about being a woman of size in a society that rejects and hates very fat people.

I admire Roxane Gay’s capacity to craft the sentences her story requires. I admire her economy of expression. I admire her fortitude in telling the truth about what it means to move through the world as a morbidly obese person. I feel indebted to her for telling the truth about what it means to have that label, morbidly obese, applied to you. These are things I did not know or had not yet thought carefully about.

I want to share some of my favorite sentences from Hunger. Let me show you how Gay’s particular way with words feeds my craving for good, strong writing.

She describes the thought processes of men who shout vulgar insults at her from their car windows:

I try not to take these men seriously because what they are really saying is, “I am not attracted to you. I do not want to fuck you, and this confuses my understanding of my masculinity, entitlement, and place in this world.” (p.188)

On self-esteem and change:

I hate how people treat and perceive me. I hate how I am extraordinarily visible but invisible. I hate not fitting in so many places where I want to be. I have it wired into my head that if I looked different this would change. Intellectually, I recognize the flaw in the logic, but emotionally, it’s not so easy to make sense. (p.154)

On the reality of not finding spaces where her body can fit:

There are very few spaces where bodies like mine fit…

I see how physical spaces punish me for my unruly body…

Even the happiest moments of my life are overshadowed by my body and how it doesn’t fit anywhere. This is no way to live but this is how I live. (p.203–205)

On the effect of finding the right people:

My warmth was hidden until I found the right people with whom to share it, people I could trust…the people who have always been able to see and take me exactly as I am.

I am not promiscuous with my warmth, but when I share it, my warmth can be as hot as the sun.” (p.253)

As I read this memoir I felt a lot of things: Shame, regret, understanding, surprise and humility. Shame and regret because I had to confront my own biases regarding fatness. I felt understanding where I recognized those very human dilemmas of deciding how many ways we will bend to find acceptance. Surprise, both at my own ignorance of the challenges a very large and heavy person faces and also at the moments of humor that popped up where I did not expect them. Most often, though, I felt humbled by the sheer depth of honesty.

The fact of Roxane Gay sharing these intimate and painful parts of her very real life, both past and current, gave me pause. To release these true stories into a very cruel and distinctly hostile world — I think and I thought: We are not worthy. We do not deserve this offering of truth and exceptional clarity.

I suppose not everyone who reads Hunger will understand that the author is not interested in our pity, well meaning advice or even approval. She tells us her story expertly and that is more than enough.

image: © @edifiedlistener

Leadership Coach, Educator, Workshop presenter & facilitator, avid reader & writer @ home on the edge of the alps. Publisher of "Identity, Education and Power"

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