Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay.
I know that not enough time has gone by since I finished this book to put my feelings into any kind of coherent piece of writing. But I also know myself well enough to know that no amount of time would actually do that. This book spoke to me in so many ways, and I sort of feel like I need to get some of it out.
This book is amazing. And painful. I cried for Roxane Gay. I cried for myself.
I bookmarked soooo many passages.
I love Roxane Gay. I love her for so many reasons. I love her honestly in all its messiness. I love that she admits she’s full of contradictions. I am so very messy and so very full of contradictions. I struggle with that (I like things ordered, straight-forward), but I’ve accepted the truth of it.
There are so many passages I want to write about, but I’ll weed them down to just a few. This one knocked me flat:
He said/she said is why so many victims (or survivors, if you prefer that terminology) don’t come forward. All too often, what “he said” matters more, so we just swallow the truth. We swallow it, and more often than not, that truth turns rancid. It spreads through the body like an infection. It becomes depression or addiction or obsession or some other physical manifestation of the silence of what she would have said, needed to say, couldn’t say.
And sometimes that depression goes as far as a suicide attempt that lands her in a psychiatric hospital…
In that way where we can always find someone whose experiences have been worse than our own, I was lucky. And really, I’m not being facetious there. I *am* lucky in so many ways. That failed attempt to go “to sleep and never wake up” (the words I used even to myself for the longest time) led me to the beginning of a road that ran in a better direction.
When you’re overweight, you body becomes a matter of public record in many respects. Your body is constantly and prominently on display. People project assumed narratives onto your body and are not at all interested in the truth of your body, whatever that truth might be.
And come on, we all know what that narrative is when it comes to fat people. We’re lazy and we’re stupid and we have no self-control. But just as no two thin people have the same story, no two fat people do either. My story is not Roxane Gay’s story, though there are glimpses of it. Thing is, why does a fat person owe the world her story just to be accepted as a human being?
The bigger you are, the smaller your world becomes.
The bigger you are, the smaller your world becomes.
Obviously there’s a reason she said that twice. The truth of that is profound. It is overwhelming.
The sheer willpower it takes to leave my home is immense. Oh, I’m fine to go for a walk in the woods or something like that, where I know I won’t have to see other people. But being around other people terrifies me. And it wasn’t always this way. It wasn’t this way when I was thin, or even a bit overweight. Somewhere, many years ago, I crossed a line though, a line that seemed to be the demarcation of what size was acceptable and what size was not.
Fat shaming is real, constant, and rather pointed.
Doctors generally adhere to the Hippocratic oath, where they swear to abide by an ethical code, where they swear to act, always, in their patients’ best interests. Unless the patient is overweight.
As a result, I don’t go to the doctor unless it is absolutely necessary even though I have good health insurance and have always had every right to be treated fairly and kindly.
Not every doctor I’ve had has been this way. I really like my current doctor, and while she always discusses my weight, I at least feel like she hears me when I talk about other things. I don’t go until it’s absolutely necessary, because even though she’s kind about it, it’s still not easy being told you’re a failure. (Not that she actually says “failure,” but the implication is always there.)
But I had a doctor once who was horrid. My obstetrician when I was pregnant with Annie. We’d spent a few years battling infertility because of my endometriosis. After surgery, I finally got pregnant, and to say we were elated would be an understatement. But oh how this man tried to ruin it for me. At my very first appointment, he told me that I needed to be very careful and not gain too much weight. I was overweight then, but nowhere near as big as I am now. And at this first visit after stressing how I just couldn’t let myself gain too much weight, he went on to tell us how horrible it was to have to do C-sections on obese women and have to go through all those layers of fat. WTF?!! If I’d had a choice, I would have switched doctors then and there. There were more fat-phobic incidents to come. I had hyperemesis gravidarum, which is extreme nausea and vomiting that leads to weight loss and dehydration. Despite having to be hospitalized for dehydration, he was downright pleased that I was losing weight. And when I finally reached the point where I was feeling somewhat human again, when I could at least keep water down and sometimes bland foods, he told Rich to make sure I didn’t eat too much at Thanksgiving. Yeah, he told Rich, as if I wasn’t even there. And as if I could eat Thanksgiving dinner anyway. Asshole. But the worst came when he actually put Annie and I in danger. I was 29 weeks along and I woke up not feeling right. For one thing I’d gained 6 pounds overnight. If I knew what I know now, I would have immediately known what was going on—and he sure as fuck should have! Or at least had me come in to check on things. But when I called, he told me to quit eating so much. Just what the hell did he think I ate to gain 6 pounds overnight?!! But of course, that wasn’t it–I had preeclampsia. Which he immediately diagnosed at my next appointment 2 weeks after my call–with my blood pressure through the roof, protein in my urine, and a body so swollen that I couldn’t wear shoes or even talk normally because even my tongue was swollen. Because I was fat, he had dismissed me and my very real medical problem. BECAUSE I WAS FAT.
I love the body positivity movement. It brings me such joy to see these big, beautiful women (and men) embrace and love their bodies. To tell the world to #effyourbeautystandards. But admiring these women isn’t the same as being one of these women. As Gay puts it:
…I hate my body. I hate my weakness at being unable to control my body. I hate how I feel in my body. I hate how people see my body. I hate how people stare at my body, treat my body, comment on my body. I hate equating my self-worth with the state of my body and how difficult it is to overcome this equation. I hate how hard it is to accept my human frailties. I hate that I am letting down so many women when I cannot embrace my body at any size.
Roxane Gay is so admired by so many, myself most definitely included. She has friends and family who love her. And yet she sometimes doubts that love, wonders when there’s going to come a time when she’ll have to lose weight to keep that love.
Omfg, can I relate. Not to the being admired by many part, of course. But the what-if-these-people-who-are-my-world-can’t-keep-loving-me-because-I-can’t-lose-weight. When I’m in a good frame of mind, I can believe that my close friends love me. I can believe it with all my heart. But that good frame of mind isn’t with me much of the time. I spend more time that I’d like to admit wondering if these truly freakin’ good, kind, nonjudgmental, accepting people would be happier if I wasn’t in their lives but are far to nice to just say so. Should any of my dear, sweet friends read this, please do not be insulted by this admission. Because it is nothing you have ever done or said, and I know that is not the kind of people you are. But it is a story that the world tells me at every opportunity, a story that says I’m not worthy of love because I take up too much space.
In case it’s not obvious by now, I loved this book hard. I cannot begin to imagine how hard it must have been for Roxane Gay to write this book, to share her truths. And in doing so, she told pieces of so many other people’s truths. And to feel understood, to know that you’re not the only person who feels the things you do, well, we all know how important that can be. Thank you, Roxane Gay.