Roxane Gay's Memoir "Hunger" Validates Body Oppression And Reminds Us Where Advocacy Is Truly Needed

Roxane Gay's Memoir "Hunger" Validates Body Oppression And Reminds Us Where Advocacy Is Truly Needed

"Hunger" beats the dangerous single story narrative and validates stories of weight gain and living in a larger body.
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I’ve read a lot of books and watched lots of movies and shows about eating disorders, personal experiences, recovery tools, you name it. However, there’s a book unlike any of those; it's a shame that it's the only one. I’m talking about Roxane Gay’s “Hunger.”

Gay’s story is not one you usually hear. We typically hear stories about young, white women who have dealt with anorexia, who are skeletally thin, who are in treatment centers drinking Ensures and doing art therapy. These are the stories of some people, but there’s danger in a single story: it leaves out so many others.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks about the danger of the single story in her Ted Talk, saying “The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” This is the case with the eating disorder and body narratives we often see.

Gay, a black woman, was gang-raped at the age of 12 and spent many of her years eating and eating in hopes of becoming larger and less conventionally attractive. She ate and became bigger in order to feel safer. Despite her parents’ attempts to try to help her lose weight, Gay purposely gained it all back. However, she struggled with her body’s size. It’s not easy to live in a larger body, especially in a world with thin privilege.

She has shame about her body and has realized she no longer needs to be fat (fat is a descriptor, not a bad word) in order to feel safe, but pulling back is harder than she expected.

She also argues that women, especially, are raised and conditioned to think that our bodies are a problem that need to be solved, something we need to lessen. That we need to discipline them with rules. We are told that we cannot be happy until we are thin -- no matter how successful we are -- and that by being thin, we are instantly happy, despite what else is going on in our lives. Being thin will, supposedly, make us wholly happy.

Sigh. What a shame, what a lie, what a misconception this idea is. And Roxane Gay both knows and argues it.

This problem starts with the way we discuss and talk about our bodies with each other and with ourselves. We must drill into our heads the truth that someone who is fat is not always unhealthy, and vice versa. That the fact that people didn’t realize Gay was the keynote speaker because of her size is a problem. That a fat person can go into the doctor with a problem unrelated to his or her body or eating or exercise, and weight loss is the prescription. In that, the Hippocratic Oath apparently doesn’t apply to people who are fat. This frustrates me, and I have thin privilege. I can’t imagine how ostracized, misunderstood, and frustrated people facing body oppression feel.

I struggle sometimes with emotional eating and weight. I struggle with feeling validated in my experience with an eating disorder. In the eating disorder world, there’s a prevalent feeling of “not sick enough” that hits me hard, especially having so many friends who have struggled with their eating and bodies as well.

That’s one of the reasons why Gay’s book is so important. I hunger for stories like hers. I hunger for stories about weight gain and overeating and trauma. I’m entirely too full of stories about emaciated women in hospitals and specific details about how sick someone was. Those stories are important, but I’ve heard them too many times before.

I believe a major reason why stories like mine and Gay’s aren’t heard is because of the stigma and danger that comes from the single story narrative that leaves out so many demographics, including people of different weight ranges. Weight and weight loss have a genetic component that’s not discussed. People are scared their stories aren’t valid so they don’t tell them, and I totally get why. However, I feel we need to have the courage to break out of this small mold. It’s easier to talk about your story when it’s obvious and cookie-cutter and elicits validation and money from insurance companies and the general public. But that doesn’t make other stories less valid, especially since untreated and invalidated eating disorders can be so dangerous.

In addition, we have to keep in mind that our stories are so vastly different, from our family’s environmental and genetic histories, our personal traumas, our behaviors, our brain chemistry, the other ways we try to cope with our mental illness, et cetera. Eating disorders and mental illness and life do not play out the way we want them to, and we don’t have control over them. In other words, attempts at true comparison are futile and cannot be done accurately. There’s no point.

I try to remind myself of this. I struggle, believe me, but that does not make me a hypocrite -- that makes me human. I believe the same of you. Trying is such a valiant thing. It takes courage and fortitude. And we will come out stronger for having experienced it.

Cover Image Credit: The St. Louis American

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An Open Letter From The Plus-Size Girl

It's OK not to be perfect. Life is more fun that way.

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To whoever is reading this,

My entire life has been a juggling match between my weight and the world. Since I was a young girl every single doctor my family took me to, told me I needed to lose weight. The searing pain of those words still stabs me in the side to this day. I have walked past stores like Hollister and American Eagle since I was 13.

Being plus-size means watching girls the same age as you or older walk into a store that sells the cutest, in style clothing and you having to walk into a store that sells clothes that are very out of style for a young girl. Being plus-size means being picked last in gym class, even if you love sports.

Being plus-size means feeling like you have to suck it in in pictures so you don't look as big next to your friends. Being plus-size means constantly thinking people are staring at you, even if they aren't.

The number on the scale haunts me. Every single time I think about the number I cringe.

Can I just say how going shopping is an absolute nightmare? If you haven't noticed, in almost every store (that even has plus sizes to begin with) plus-size clothing is closed off and secluded from the rest of the store. For example, Forever 21, There are walls around every side of the plus "department."

Macy's plus department is in the basement, all the way in the back corner. We get it that we are not what society wants us to look like but throwing us in a corner isn't going to change the statistics in America today. That being that 67% of American women are plus-size.

My life is a double-digit number being carved into my jiggly arms and thunder thighs. It is me constantly wanting to dress cute but turning to running shorts and a gigantic sweatshirt instead so that people don't judge me on my size.

It is time that the American society stops making plus size look like a curse. It will never be a curse. If every person was the same size, what would be the point of uniqueness? I will never despise who I am because while I was growing up multiple people told me that I needed to be a size 6 in order for a guy to fall in love with me. I will never hate myself for getting dressed up and being confident.

To all the girls reading this who may be plus-size,

It's OK! You're beautiful and lovable. If you want to buy that crop top, buy it. Life is too short to hide behind a baggy T-shirt. We are just as gorgeous as the girls that we envy. Be the one to change the opinion of the world. Fat rolls don't need to be embarrassing. Your stretch marks are beautiful. Don't ever let the world tell you not to eat that cheeseburger either.

In the end, this earthly life is temporary. We are on this earth for a blink of an eye. Don't let anything stand in your way. Wear the bikini, the crop top, and the short shorts. Post the sassy selfie you've had on your phone for 6 months and you won't post because you have a double chin or your head looks "too big." Who cares. BE YOU and love yourself while you're at it.

I'll start.

Cover Image Credit: Victoria Hockmeyer

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Eating Disorders Are Not Exclusive To One Body Type

Body image and eating disorders can affect people that are skinny.

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With the start of summer vacation, the issue of eating disorders often flares up. Because more people begin worrying about their size due to fitting into bathing suits or going to public pools during the summer, there is an overall increase in eating disorders. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, there are at least 30 million people in the U.S. of all genders and ages that suffer from an eating disorder, and every 62 minutes, someone dies from the direct result of an eating disorder.

In addition, body image has been known to have a connection with eating disorders. According to Eating Disorder Hope, body image has been shown to be a protective factor, and having a good body image can reduce the vulnerability for someone to develop an eating disorder. There are some people who think that the only people who worry about their body image or who develop eating disorders tend to be people who are overweight. But as they've forgotten, cases with anorexia and other eating disorders are often focused on people who are skinny.

You're probably thinking, how does someone who is skinny have issues with their body image? Especially since the overall media portrayal of the perfect body size is someone who is skinny? However, what most people don't realize is that people who are skinny are constantly worrying about gaining weight or not being fit. Being skinny is often associated with someone who is fit and healthy. Therefore, you constantly have to worry about maintaining these traits.

In addition, just because you may be skinny does not mean that you are fit or healthy. People who have a fast metabolism, like me, for example, are not always fit. With my fast metabolism, I'm always around the same size no matter what I eat. However, when you have a fast metabolism, it doesn't mean you'll have abs or have toned muscles. And when you have a fast metabolism, it's harder to build up muscle since your body metabolizes quickly.

You also find yourself comparing how fit you are with other women who are skinny, such as models and judging how you look based on others. For example, if you go to the beach wearing a bikini that you felt confident about and then you see someone else who is wearing the same one but appears to have a flatter stomach or more toned muscles then you, you suddenly lose whatever confidence you had built about your body image. Because of this, there are many women who are skinny and can develop eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.

On top of that, in society, there's an overall fear of being overweight. Even when you're already skinny, this fear can still affect you by making you worry about one day losing the status of being skinny. And if you are thin because you lost weight, the fear of gaining the weight back isn't simply going to go away.

And believe it or not, society's perception of the perfect body image is changing. According to The Self Improvement Blog, in recent years curvy hourglass figures are becoming a more popular body image to have rather than being slender. So instead women who are slender will likely encounter issues with their body image due to trying to match the body image that the media portrays as perfect.

The worst part is that there are a lot of people who believe that problems with body image only center around people who are overweight. Some people tell skinny women to "get over it." This, in turn, causes women to feel that they have no one to confide to about their problems with their body image because the media tells them that they don't have a problem. The women may decide to ignore their problem instead of seeking help, which then causes it to worsen and may go from a lack of confidence in their self-image to an eating disorder.

Most people who are dieting to become skinny think that once they reach a certain size, they no longer will worry about their body image. But as discussed earlier, every woman, regardless of what size they are, faces issues with feeling confident about their body image. And the sooner we come to terms with this as a society, the better we will be able to understand the issues with body image and eating disorders.

Editor's note: The views expressed in this article are not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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