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Book Review - Hunger

April 23, 2019

 

The 2017 memoir, Hunger, by Roxane Gay, has been on my list of ‘must reads’ for a while. As someone who writes about weight and weight loss, and works in the health and fitness industry, I was interested to read another perspective. 

 

Roxane Gay is a successful and critically acclaimed writer, international speaker, novelist and feminist. She is the author of several books including the New York Times bestseller – Bad Feminist. Yet with all this wonderful success, Roxane is profoundly conflicted and tormented by personal issues. 

 

 TED Talk - Roxane Gay

 

From the start we are warned Hunger is not a happy story. It’s a book about a girl from a loving home whose life is suddenly interrupted by ‘something terrible,’ at age 12.  A life altering violation that forever changes her path, and everything about how she views and treats her body. Roxane’s story is about the consequences of hunger – uncontrollable, revolting and piggish hunger.

 

Hunger is a deeply personal book that chronicles Roxane’s struggle with her weight, the impact of her size on her day to day existence and her longing for self-acceptance. She says, it was her most difficult book to write. 

 

‘The story of my body is not a 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… Mine is not a success story.’

 

 Roxane Gay - story and background

 

Whilst Hunger is not a success story, it is an important story. In a world where body transformation conquests are prized and celebrated, Roxane provides an analysis of the alternative - failure. It is a daily struggle and at times painful to read.

 

Perhaps Roxane’s greatest and most fascinating revelation is that ultimately, she hates her body. She wishes it was smaller, fitter and healthier. At her heaviest she weighed 262 kilograms, falling into the super morbidly obese category. Roxane aptly says, ‘There’s what I know, and what I feel.’ As a feminist she believes women shouldn’t have to conform to rigid standards of beauty. Yet her own truth is quite different. Roxane constantly feels physically and emotionally uncomfortable in her body. She openly aches for a more socially acceptable form of beauty.

 

This, and many other moments of raw and honest self-reflection, make Hunger compelling reading.

 Source - The Guardian.com

 

For all its insightful revelations, I felt Hunger could have benefited from the inclusion of more specific details. For example, Roxane writes about waking up each day with ‘the best intentions for living a healthier, fuller life.’ However this never goes to plan and she says she ends most days by binging to the point of feeling sick. Yet she doesn’t reveal what she eats or in what quantities. I was curious to know exactly what it takes to satisfy her unrelenting hunger. In another chapter she writes about it being ‘unacceptable for fat people to eat in public.’ This made me wonder, is this line of thinking, this shame about people knowing what you eat, spilling over into her writing?

 

In her opening chapters Roxane says she hopes her story will allow her to be seen and understood. She says her book exposes her ugliest, weakest and barest parts. However when reading Hunger, there was not one moment where I viewed anything about Roxane as weak or ugly. I only felt empathy and understanding and a desire to know more. For this reason Hunger is an important work of non-fiction and an essential read for anyone wishing to truly understand the formidable force that is, hunger.

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