September 28, 2017 | Charlotte Donlon
I read Roxane Gay’s Hunger in a few sittings on the day it was released. I am a fan of Gay’s work and had been awaiting this book for a couple of years—since I first heard she was writing a memoir about her body. The publication date ended up being later than initially announced because Gay had a hard time engaging the content. And anyone who reads this memoir will be able to see why.
Gay’s life is one full of tragedy and difficulty. She has been ridiculed and oppressed and violated in ways that no human being should have to experience. One reason I enjoy reading memoirs is that I have an opportunity to hear from another person what it’s like to walk around inside their skin. Some memoirs are harder to take in, but I think it’s important for me not to turn away if I can help it.
In Hunger, Gay writes about what it’s like to be morbidly obese. She shares examples of what she faces from people and systems and institutions while she’s attempting to live her life. She also shares some of the factors that have contributed to her weight gain. But these topics are not easy to discuss. In Section IV of the book she writes:
I hesitate to write about fat bodies and my fat body especially. I know that to be frank about my body makes some people uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable too. I have been accused of being full of self-loathing and of being fat-phobic. There is truth to the former accusation and I reject the latter. I do, however, live in a world where the open hatred of fat people is vigorously tolerated and encouraged.
But Gay isn’t completely hopeless. She also writes:
All things considered, I have a reasonable amount of self-esteem. When I’m around the right people, I feel strong and powerful and sexy. I am not fearless the way people assume I am, but despite all my fears, I am willing to take chances and I like that too about myself.
We do live in a world where fat people are frequently treated as less than human. While I have a different take on some of the aspects of body politics than Gay has, I’m grateful for her courage in writing about these topics, for sharing her story, and for bringing to light so many things that have lingered in the darkness for too long.
Charlotte lives in Homewood with her husband and their two children. She’s earning an MFA in creative writing from Seattle Pacific University, and she does freelance writing and copywriting. You can find her online at www.charlottedonlon.com, on Twitter at @charlottedonlon, and on Instagram at @charlottedonlon. You can sign up for her newsletter about books and writing here.