Hunger by Roxane Gay

★★★☆☆ (3/5)

A selection of my favorite passages from the book

  • Every body has a story and a history.
  • The story of my body is not a story of triumph. This is not a weight-loss memoir. There will be no picture of a thin version of me, my slender body emblazoned across this book’s cover, with me standing in one leg of my former, fatter self’s jeans. This is not a book that will offer motivation. I don’t have any powerful insight into what it takes to overcome an unruly body and unruly appetites. Mine is not a success story. Mine is, simply, a true story.
  • But I soon realized I was not only writing a memoir of my body; I was forcing myself to look at what my body has endured, the weight I gained, and how hard it has been to both live with and lose that weight. I’ve been forced to look at my guiltiest secrets. I’ve cut myself wide open. I am exposed. That is not comfortable. That is not easy.
  • This is a book about my body, about my hunger, and ultimately, this is a book about disappearing and being lost and wanting so very much, wanting to be seen and understood. This is a book about learning, however slowly, to allow myself to be seen and understood.
  • how to accept that the “normal people” (his words, not mine) in our lives might try to sabotage our weight loss because they were invested in the idea of us as fat people.
  • But when people use the word “obese,” they aren’t merely being literal. They are offering forth an accusation. It is strange, and perhaps sad, that medical doctors came up with this terminology when they are charged with first doing no harm. The modifier “morbidly” makes the fat body a death sentence when such is not the case. The term “morbid obesity” frames fat people like we are the walking dead, and the medical establishment treats us accordingly.
  • I don’t know how things got so out of control, or I do. This is my refrain. Losing control of my body was a matter of accretion. I began eating to change my body. I was willful in this.
  • This is the body I made. I am corpulent—rolls of brown flesh, arms and thighs and belly. The fat eventually had nowhere to go, so it created its own paths around my body. I am riven with stretch marks, pockets of cellulite on my massive thighs. The fat created a new body, one that shamed me but one that made me feel safe, and more than anything, I desperately needed to feel safe. I needed to feel like a fortress, impermeable.
  • My mother proudly wrote, “Reads almost everything at five years old.” Those are her exact words, written in her neat penmanship, though family lore has me reading the newspaper with my dad about a year and a half before that.
  • The why is complicated and slippery. I want to be able to hold the why in my hands, to dissect it or tear it apart or burn it and read the ashes even though I am afraid of what I will do with what I see there. I don’t know if such understanding is possible, but when I am alone, I sit and slowly page through these albums obsessively. I want to see what is there and what is missing and what happened even if the why still eludes me.
  • Something terrible happened, and I wish I could leave it at that because as a writer who is also a woman, I don’t want to be defined by the worst thing that has happened to me. I don’t want my personality to be consumed in that way. I don’t want my work to be consumed or defined by this terrible something.
  • I had (and have?) this void, this cavern of loneliness inside me that I have spent my whole life trying to fill. I was willing to do most anything if that boy would ease my loneliness. I wanted to feel like he and I belonged to each other, but each time we were together and then after, I felt quite the opposite. And still, I was drawn to him.
  • The food my mother cooked for us was good, but it was secondary to the way we invested in being so connected to one another. My parents always made it seem like my brothers and I were terribly interesting, asking us thoughtful questions about our childish musings, urging us to be our best selves. If we were slighted, they were offended on our behalf. When we had some small moment of glory, they reveled in it. I fell asleep most nights flush with the joy of knowing I belonged to these people and they belonged to me.
  • My parents were pleased that I had gotten my body under control. I went back to school, and my classmates admired my new body, offered me compliments, wanted to hang out with me. That was the first time I realized that weight loss, thinness really, was social currency. Amidst this attention, I was losing my newfound invisibility, and it terrified me. I was scared of so much as a teenager.
  • Bottomless. Fearless. This is the reputation I developed in my social circle. One of those things was true.
  • My parents also want to understand—they are intellectual, smart, practical. They want my weight to be a problem they can address with the intellect they apply to other problems. They want to understand how I could have let this happen, let my body become so big, so out of control. We have that in common.
  • Fat, much like skin color, is something you cannot hide, no matter how dark the clothing you wear, or how diligently you avoid horizontal stripes. You may become very adept at playing the role of wallflower. You may learn how to be the life of the party so that people are too busy laughing at or with you to focus on the elephant in the room. You may do whatever you have to do to survive a world that has little patience or compassion for a body like yours.
  • Instead of fever, leaking pustules, swollen glands, or lesions, your symptoms are girth and sheer mass. The obese body is the expression of excess, decadence, and weakness. The obese body is a site of massive infection. It is a losing battleground in a war between willpower and food and metabolism in which you are the ultimate loser.
  • I hate these shows, but clearly I watch them. I watch them even though sometimes they enrage me and sometimes they break my heart and all too often they reveal painfully familiar experiences of loneliness, depression, and genuine suffering born of living in a world that cannot accommodate overweight bodies. I watch these shows because even though I know how damaging and unrealistic they are, some part of me still yearns for the salvation they promise.
  • What does it say about our culture that the desire for weight loss is considered a default feature of womanhood?
  • When a celebrity loses weight she is often billed as “flaunting” her new body, which is, in fact, the only body she has ever had, but at a size more acceptable to the tabloids.
  • The less space they take up, the more they matter.
  • Specific body parts, “problem areas,” also get labels—fupa, gunt, cankles, thunder thighs, Hi Susans, wings, cottage cheese thighs, hail damage, muffin tops, side boob, back fat, love handles, saddlebags, spare tires, double chins, gocks, man boobs, beer bellies. These terms—the clinical, the casual, the slang, the insulting—are all designed to remind fat people that our bodies are not normal. Our bodies are so problematic as to have specific designations. It’s a hell of a thing to have our bodies so ruthlessly, publicly dissected, defined, and denigrated.
  • There is a smugness to how they use the exercise equipment, programming the computers for the most challenging levels. Their placid facial expressions say, “This is hardly bothering me,” their bodies glowing with a thin patina of perspiration rather than the gritty sweat of serious exertion. They wear their cute little outfits—shorts so short that the material is more a suggestion than an actual item of clothing and narrow tank tops with the scooped shoulders designed to reveal as much surface area of their perfect bodies as possible. They know that they work hard and look good and they want everyone else to know it too.
  • I am hyperconscious of how I take up space. As a woman, as a fat woman, I am not supposed to take up space. And yet, as a feminist, I am encouraged to believe I can take up space. I live in a contradictory space where I should try to take up space but not too much of it, and not in the wrong way, where the wrong way is any way where my body is concerned.
  • My breath catches at the mere thought of wearing something sleeveless, baring my brown arms. Fierce vanity smolders in the cave of my chest. I want to look good. I want to feel good. I want to be beautiful in this body I am in. The story of my life is wanting, hungering, for what I cannot have or, perhaps, wanting what I dare not allow myself to have.
  • Most of us have these versions of ourselves that terrify us. We have these imperfect bodies we don’t quite know how to cope with. We have these shames we keep to ourselves because to show ourselves as we are, no more and no less, would be too much.
  • 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.” It is not my job to please them with my body.
  • What I feel is guilt and uncontrollable self-loathing, and oftentimes, I find something else to eat, to soothe those feelings and, strangely, to punish myself, to make myself feel sicker so that the next time, I might remember how low I feel when I overindulge. I never remember.
  • Before I go to a restaurant, I obsessively check the restaurant’s website, and Google Images and Yelp, to see what kind of seating it has. Are the seats ultramodern and flimsy? Do they have arms, and if so, what kind? Are there booths, and if so, does the table move or is it one of those tables welded between two benches? How long do I think I can sit in those chairs without screaming? I do this obsessive research because people tend to assume that everyone moves through the world the way they do. They never think of how I take up space differently than they do.
  • Part of the pleasure of baking is in its precision. Unlike cooking, which favors experimentation, baking requires weighing and measuring and exact times and temperatures. The pleasure of having rules to follow is multiplied.
  • The thing about shame is that there are depths. I have no idea where the bottom of my shame resides.
  • I always wonder what healing really looks like—in body, in spirit. I’m attracted to the idea that the mind, the soul, can heal as neatly as bones. That if they are properly set for a given period of time, they will regain their original strength. Healing is not that simple. It never is.
  • Despite the frustrations and humiliations and challenges, I also try to find ways to honor my body. This body is resilient. It can endure all kinds of things. My body offers me the power of presence. My body is powerful.
  • I understand if that truth is not something you want to hear. The truth makes me uncomfortable too. But I am also saying, here is my heart, what’s left of it. Here I am showing you the ferocity of my hunger. Here I am, finally freeing myself to be vulnerable and terribly human. Here I am, reveling in that freedom. Here. See what I hunger for and what my truth has allowed me to create.
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