So let’s talk about Hunger, a current best-selling memoir by a woman who argues that “the bigger you are, the less you are seen” (quote from the book jacket synopsis).
Who I Am vs. How I Look
In Hunger, A Memoir of (My) Body, author Roxane Gay exposes how something that happened to her as a young girl translated into reasons for burying herself under layers of fat. Referring to her body as a crime scene, at her heaviest Roxane weighed 577 pounds and now weighs about 150 less.
Along with reasons she shares for massive weight gain, she describes the pain of living in a body that people punish––judging by appearance the person who lives inside the body.
“I hate myself. Or society tells me I am supposed to hate myself; so I guess this, at least, is something I am doing right.
Or I should say, 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 stare at my body, treat my body, comment on my body. I hate equating my self-worth with the state of my body . . . 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.
But I also like myself, my personality, my weirdness, my sense of humor, my wild and romantic streak, how I love, how I write, my kindness and my mean streak. It is only now, in my forties, that I am able to admit that I like myself, even though I am nagged by this suspicion that I shouldn’t . . .
I don’t want to change who I am. I want to change how I look. On my better days, when I feel up to the fight, I want to change how this world responds to how I look because, intellectually I know my body is not the real problem.
On bad days, though, I forget how to separate my personality, the heart of who I am, from my body. I forget how to shield myself from the cruelties of the world” (148–149).
“The Heart of Who I Am”
Roxanne endured the violent invasion of her body (she was gang-raped at 12-years-old) and she told no one.
Roxane’s initial weight gain made her feel safe. In her book, Roxane peels back layers of coverings she has used to conceal her pain and protect herself from the kind of hurt that does ongoing damage to a person’s core. Her body hurts. And so does her soul.
I was broken, and to numb the pain of that brokenness, I ate and ate and ate [until] I was trapped in my body, one I made but barely recognized or understood. I was miserable, but I was safe. Or at least I could tell myself I was safe (22).
Roxane concedes the ways she sought to cope, to escape, to minimize her pain and shame, these ways have not worked.
“The story of my body is not a story of triumph . . . Mine is not a success story. Mine is, simply, a true story.”
Roxane admits, “For so long I’ve never talked about this. I suppose we should keep our shames to ourselves, but I’m sick of this shame. Silence hasn’t worked out that well” (233).
Incidentally, Roxane’s story illustrates the toxic effects of keeping secrets. Instead of confiding her secret, confessing the shame she felt, and the guilt, Roxane built a cage to protect herself.
To Tell the Truth
Stories of sexual abuse that as children happened to both my mother and my aunt make me wonder, Why do children fear telling adults the truth? Why does shame prevent people from early seeking help? Why do people lie to themselves and others when the truth promises to set you free?
Truth, as I see it, marks the first step in the right direction. A step to take sooner rather than later.
Hungry for Acceptance, Forgiveness, and Love
Reading Hunger brings to mind myriad ways people attempt to cope with unbearable pain.
Ultimately, all people everywhere are hungry for acceptance, forgiveness and unconditional love.
Reading Hunger opens my eyes to every person’s need to be seen and validated as a human being, no matter how much space they take up.
No matter what a body looks like on the outside, there really is a person inside every body.
Handle with care.