“Every body has a story and a history,” Roxane Gay writes in her new book. “Here I offer mine with a memoir of my body and my hunger.” What follows are 300 pages of pain, honesty, trauma, joy, loneliness, wisdom, despair and power that chronicle Gay’s life.
Yet saying that Gay’s memoir, Hunger, recounts her life is an oversimplification of the text. It’s ultimately a challenging book to describe, and Hunger’s through line is best explained by Gay’s writing itself: “When I was twelve years old I was raped and then I ate and ate and ate to build my body into a fortress. I was a mess and then I grew up and away from that terrible day and became a different kind of mess—a woman doing the best she can to love well and be loved well, to live well and be human and good.”
Also the author of Bad Feminist and Difficult Women, Gay consistently tackles volatile subjects in her writing. Hunger in particular explores childhood trauma, obesity, feminism, race and relationships, making for difficult but necessary reading. Check out the quotes below to view a small collection of Hunger’s many brilliant highlights.
“We don’t necessarily know how to hear stories about any kind of violence, because it is hard to accept that violence is as simple as it is complicated, that you can love someone who hurts you, that you can stay with someone who hurts you, that you can be hurt by someone who loves you, that you can be hurt by a complete stranger, that you can be hurt in so many terrible, intimate ways.”
“If I must share my story, I want to do so on my terms, without the attention that inevitably follows. I do not want pity or appreciation or advice. I am not brave or heroic. I am not strong. I am not special. I am one woman who has experienced something countless women have experienced. I am a victim who survived. It could have been worse, so much worse. That’s what matters and is even more a travesty here, that having this kind of story is utterly common. I hope that by sharing my story, by joining a chorus of women and men who share their stories too, more people can become appropriately horrified by how much suffering is born of sexual violence, how far-reaching the repercussions can be.”
“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.”
“This is what most girls are taught—that we should be slender and small. We should not take up space. We should be seen and not heard, and if we are seen, we should be pleasing to men, acceptable to society. And most women know this, that we are supposed to disappear, but it’s something that needs to be said, loudly, over and over again, so that we can resist surrendering to what is expected of us.”
“When you’re overweight, your 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.”
“Before I got on the plane, my best friend offered me a bag of potato chips to eat on the plane, but I denied myself that. I told her, ‘People like me don’t get to eat food like that in public,’ and it was one of the truest things I’ve ever said. Only the depth of our relationship allowed me to make this revelation and then I was ashamed for buying into these terrible narratives we fit ourselves into and I was ashamed at how I am so terrible about disciplining me body and I was ashamed by how I deny myself so much and it is still not enough.”
“It’s hard for thin people to know how to talk to fat people about their bodies, whether their opinions are solicited or not. I get that, but it’s insulting to pretend I am not fat or to deny my body and its reality. It’s insulting to think I am somehow unaware of my physical appearance. And it’s insulting to assume that I am ashamed of myself for being fat, no matter how close to the truth that might be.”
“My father believes hunger is in the mind. I know differently. I know that hunger is in the mind and the body and the heart and the soul.”