Before You Read: Roxane Gay’s “Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body”

written by MEDA undergraduate intern, Alexa Riobueno-Naylor

RoxaneGay_HungerI’m a huge Roxane Gay fan. Her writing is honest, elegant, and powerful. So naturally, I was extremely excited when I found out her new book, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body was coming out. In the book, she works to reclaim power over her body through telling its story. At the beginning of the book, she writes:

“This is my truth. This is a memoir of (my) body because, more often than not, stories of bodies like mine are ignored or dismissed or derided. People see bodies like mine and make their assumptions. They think they know the why of my body. They do not. This is not a story of triumph, but this is a story that demands to be told and deserves to be heard.” (p.5)

By the time I was done reading Hunger, my copy of the book was not the same. I had underlined countless paragraphs, phrases, and words, putting exclamation points next to them, smiley faces, hearts, and writing “WOW” in huge letters. I loved the book, even though at some points I was uncomfortable or in disagreement with some of the arguments that Gay made. However, I have no right to judge Gay’s views as right or wrong, because they are just that— her views. The opinions she expresses in the book were born out of her own experience, and are legitimate in their own right. With that in mind, I still think it is important to take into consideration a few points before reading her book:

  • Gay’s memoir outlines the many experiences that shaped her relationship to her body. Many of those experiences were traumatic, and she explicitly describes the details of her sexual assault in the book in chapter 11. It may be best for some to skip over this chapter. She also refers to the assault at various other points in the book.
  • The book also includes specific language regarding Gay’s eating disorder behaviors, however she does not discuss seeking out help for these behaviors for various reasons, including weight bias.
  • Gay discusses her complicated relationship to the health at every size movement, which does not particularly align with the movement’s mission. However, this is due to her own experiences living in her body, which cannot be disputed. She states that, “I don’t know where I fit in with communities of fat people. I’m aware of and regularly read about the Health at Every Size movement and other fat acceptance communities” (p.154). Later, Gay reveals that “I also want to lose weight,” while also noting that “I hate that I am letting down so many women when I cannot embrace my body at any size” (p. 148).

There are many reasons to pick up this book, and I would definitely recommend it to those who think it is appropriate for them. Two of the most important reasons for reading this book include:

  • The fact that the book offers a diverse perspective on embodiment. Gay’s perspective is intersectional – she discusses what it means to be a woman, a fat woman, a black woman, a queer woman, and all those things at once.
  • The book is extremely empowering. Gay is honest and forthcoming about her experiences, while also asserting power over her experience by only disclosing to the public only what she wants us to know.

If you want to learn more about Roxane Gay’s new book, feel free to check out some of her interviews on The Daily Show, as well as on the podcast Another Round.