Book Review: Hunger by Roxanne Gay

This is not a conventional book review. This is purely my reaction to ‘Hunger’ by Roxanne Gay. Just a prewarning, I will include some “spoilers”. I promise, they will not ruin the book.

Gay does not try to empower you. She is just honest.

Sadly, Gay was a victim of gang rape when she was only 12 years old. As a child, Gay believed that in a fatphobic and cruel society, she could protect herself from future sexual assault by building a fortress of fat. In doing so, she believed she was making herself undesirable to men. It breaks my heart that even as children, we feel this way. Unfortunately, this left her vulnerable to abuse from her parents, health care professionals, flight attendants, future partners, and angry people on the internet.  

My most prominent emotion whilst reading Hunger was anger. Why are we as a society conditioned to only care for victims if they look a certain way? Why are we so quick to disregard larger bodies as just “fat” and “lazy”?

I felt humbled by the vulnerability in her writing.

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Prior to Hunger, I read ‘Fattily Ever After’ by Stephanie Yeboah. Both books made me re-evaluate my relationship with my body. I used to pity myself because of my size. These books forced me to confront the fact that, as a mid-sized white woman, I am extremely privileged. Yes, it is awful that I have absorbed the toxic messaging that “slimmer is better”. However, beating yourself up for not being a size 8 cannot be compared to being discriminated against due to your size. I cannot imagine what it is like to in a world that just isn’t built for you.  

Nevertheless, I felt seen by Gay. I too have felt too uncomfortable to eat unhealthy food in public through fear of being judged; relied on food for comfort; set unrealistic weight loss goals and cried myself to sleep. I too have felt frustrated by my “lack of self-control” as it prevented the development of a restrictive eating disorder. How fucked up is that?  

Gay does not practice body positivity. She barely practices self-acceptance.

Hunger emphasises that taking your feelings out on your body is normal. You are not a failure. Sometimes, this reaction is necessary to survive. Gay also proves that your worth is not determined by your size. Despite being over 200lbs heavier than me, Gay has positively impacted the lives of so many. I aspire to live a life even half as worthwhile as hers.  

If anyone has read it, please let me know what you thought in the comments! I would also really appreciate more book recommendations 😊

I see it too but it’s not real.

In a journal entry from a year ago, I detailed how my eyes encircled the spots and uneven skin on my face. I described how they ventured further down my body so that I could continue to dissect myself in my mind. I hated every part of me. This wasn’t unusual. These feelings of failure and disgust were so familiar to me. I had practiced criticising myself in the mirror daily since I was about 8 years old. With every look, new “flaws” got added to my ever-growing list. However, this time, I kept a record of it. I had recently been through a breakup and had started journaling. Pages and pages of me wondering how anybody would ever love me again. Not even love, how the hell was someone even going to find me attractive? Looking in that mirror, I felt lonely and unworthy of happiness. That is when I decided to cover up the offensive reflection and not look at it again. For months, I did not look in the mirror.

I haven’t started this blog to revel in those ugly thoughts. I don’t feel that way now. I am working towards body acceptance. I don’t subscribe to body positivity because for starters, I don’t feel like that movement was made for me. The body positivity movement was originally created for fat, predominantly black, bodies, who have since been pushed out. I also don’t think being crazy body positive is realistic for me. I don’t love my body. If I feel that way in the future, then great. If you feel that way now, I am genuinely really happy for you. However, for me, neutralising feelings around my body image helped so much. Now when I look in the mirror, I don’t pay much attention to the “imperfections”. I don’t grab at different parts of my body, slouch, breath in and criticise myself from an array of different angles. Want to know why? Because where has that ever gotten me or anyone else for that matter? That kind of behaviour has only ever made people miserable.

We are all so much more than our appearances. I study a medical degree and fully appreciate the complexity of the human body. When I think about it from a purely biological perspective, I feel so lucky to be alive. I am extremely grateful for all the intricate processes that are occurring right now just to allow me to write this. I am in awe. Why the hell was I ever so bothered about how it looked? It is purely a vessel for my brain.

I am trying to fully rewire said brain so that I no longer tie my worth with my appearance. I am very privileged in that I am white, relatively attractive, and mid-sized. I am not discriminated against because of my size or appearance. If you haven’t already, read the beautifully written ‘Hunger’ by Roxanne Gay. It is important to note that my new approach of “You are healthy, and I accept you” (stolen from the lovely Demi Lovato), only works because the majority of the abuse that I received occurred inside of my own mind. That is not me gaslighting myself. As a woman I have digested years of toxic patriarchal messaging, which forced me to hate my body.

I am not ready to inspire you by dancing in a bikini on Instagram. I admire the women that do that and will forever be thankful for them but that isn’t me. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend unfollowing everyone on Instagram who makes you feel like shit. If you for some reason “need” to follow these people, I introduce you to the wonderful MUTE button. Then, start following accounts that make you feel happy. For body positive accounts, I personally love @iweigh, @stephanieyeboah, @mikzazon, @jesselking and @yrfatfriend. Enjoy!

The idea that my worth was determined by my weight or level of attractiveness came from so many sources. I remember my Dad telling me to start using anti-aging cream at 11 years old. I have so many memories of my Mum reassuring me that my clothing would look “perfect” if I “just lost a few more pounds”. I thought exercise was only for weight loss, salads were only for diets and confidence, well, that was only for the pretty girls. I remember being weighed in front of the class in primary school. I remember relating to Bridget Jones because she was “fat” like me and simultaneously aspiring to have hip bones that stuck out like the other celebrities. I remember intermittently starving myself, the cabbage soup diet, slim shakes and more. I remember forcing my fingers to the back of my throat after binge eating, only to feel frustrated that I lacked the “self-control” to successfully go through with it. I remember spending hours curling my long blonde hair because that was the only remotely “attractive” thing about me. I remember so much. I know I am not alone in any of this. I do not blame my parents, celebrities, or schools for their role. Fatphobia and misogyny are so engrained in our culture that they have affected us all.

We just need to take off the glasses that are distorting our view. All of us have seen that same monster in the mirror but just because we all see it, doesn’t mean that it is really there. I am so sorry if you have felt that way. I guess the reason that I’ve created this blog is to let you know that you are not alone, and you certainly do not have to feel like that forever. You are so much more than your body.

You are healthy and I accept you.