“Hunger,” by Roxane Gay, is one woman’s attempt to grapple with the state and size of her body and the way it interacts with the world and the world interacts with it. It’s also a story of endurance, and survival: a story of sexual violence, of eating disorders, of being treated as less than for her weight.
Gay is a brilliant writer and accurately portrays the way fat bodies are treated, and the way we take up space and are denied space. She shares the common thing fat people do when entering a room… who am I fatter than? Who is fatter than I am? She talks about the accommodations so often lacking for fat people: proper sized sturdy chairs, booth tables that aren’t too close to benches, stairs, patience. Gay also discusses her sexual history, which includes a gang rape when she was a child– when she was twelve– that shattered her and deeply affected her forever.
Gay is Very Fat. She is Obviously Fat. She is I’m Just Concerned About Your Health Fat. She is Can’t Shop In Regular Stores Fat. She is Can’t Shop In Specialty Stores Fat. She is Morbidly Obese, or as some put it, Death Fat. Like most fat people, she didn’t used to be fat. She lives with binge eating disorder which has its roots in her rape. After it occurred she began eating to fill herself, to protect herself, to build a layer of fat to keep the world at bay. Like most fat people, she’s treated with scorn and derision outside, in public, at doctor’s offices, from some strangers and from family. Like most fat people she doesn’t quite fit in public. Not in restaurant booths; not on planes; not on trains; not in desk chairs in college classrooms; not in computer chairs; not in the chairs placed on raised daises and stages for visiting speakers and presenters. It’s a constant dripping grind that opens fat people to abuse and shame.
This scorn, derision, abuse, and shame is something that I also deal with as a fat woman. In many ways Gay’s story resonated with me. Moving through the world while fat, moving through the public sphere while fat, is an open invitation to many people to shout insults at us, to move away from us while saying, to whisper loudly about us, to make assumptions about us. Unlike Gay, I don’t binge eat. My personal disordered eating involves severe calorie restriction. I’ve never yo-yo dieted. Unlike Gay, restricting calories and working out has never involved weight loss for me. I trundle along at the same heavy weight. Like Gay, however, I face pressure from family and friends and medical professionals to lose weight. I’ve had doctors allude to stomach mutilation/amputation. I’m told I’m just weak willed for not working harder to “tame” my “unruly body” as Gay puts it. I have a family member who regrets the regulation of amphetamines because they helped her lose weight (she now has heart issues). If her doctor mentioned Phen-Fen as a possibility to her she’d try it, even though it causes heart damage. This is what it is to be fat in the world.
“Hunger” is naked but polished, a soul searched work of personal genius. It’s a work that many fat people will identify with, and hopefully that the non-fat can learn a bit of empathy from.