Hunger – Roxane Gay

It’s a word, well, two actually, that should be chucked in the dustbin of unpalatable and unnecessary labels that consign added punishment to people who have been and still, in some cases, are sadly classified and defined by their connotations. Think ‘coloured’, ‘spinster’, ‘retarded’. Should the same happen to one so often cited as the epidemic of our modern society – ‘obesity’, with its big brother/sister, ‘morbid obesity’?

Roxane Gay, author of the remarkable ‘Hunger’, prefers the term ‘woman of size’. It, or ‘man of size’, has a better ring about it, doesn’t it? When beautiful daughter handed me this book I didn’t then realise its creator was the same person towards whom, back in May this year, an insensitive Mia Freedman (of Mamamia fame) caused a brouhaha by putting in the public domain Ms Gay’s list of requirements, on her part, to allow for the smooth running of an interview. Naturally the requirements were weight related. Related to Roxane Gay’s weight.

With ‘This is Us’ on our televisions screens this year, scooping awards right, left and centre, often it is Chrissy Metz’s role as the weight-challenged (???) Kate Pearson that is the most talked about around the office water station. With it and Ms Gay’s book, the world is seeing this issue from the point of views of women of size, rather that society’s hither too unfavourable perception of them. ‘Hunger – A Memoir of (My) Body’ is the literary equivalent of ‘This is Us’. Both Chrissy/Kate and Roxane get us to see modern life in a new light, with the restrictiveness it imposes on their ilk – the physical all too often leading to a negative impact on the mental.

The now accomplished wordsmith’s own journey commenced with a shocking act of sexual violence, impacting on her before she even reached her teenage years. As a result, to this day, her life has been an extremely taxing one and despite her latter day success, she still has her battles, as the Mia F incident pointed to. Prior to this book, recognition for her has also come from previous publications ‘Bad Feminist’ and novel ‘An Untamed State’.

The shame she has felt over the years should have been soul crushing – indeed it was at many stages. The shame forced her to try and hide or disguise a body she couldn’t control. It was the shame of it and the horrible transforming event of her youth that has so marked her attitudes towards sex, towards men and her love/hate relationship towards food. That a few good men and women have entered her life and loved her has been a salve to some extent, but she remains fixated on the one particular boy who so betrayed her at her most impressionable time of life. It is hard to imagine anyone ever coming to terms with such a repugnant act being perpetrated on one’s body. Being able to write about it, in such a brave and open way, hopefully has assuaged the damage somewhat. In ‘Hunger’ her chapters are short and sharp, succinct and often hard-hitting. That being said, it is an easy read even if, at times, the reading isn’t easy, if that makes sense.

Which brings me to the ‘…glaring, harsh, often cruel’ (her words) way reality television compounds the issues for those suffering with being what the producers thereof obviously consider as vastly over-weight. One of her best serves in this book is saved for ‘The Biggest Loser’ and its spin-offs, such as ‘Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss’, ‘Fit to Fat to Fit’, ‘My 600lb Life’ and ‘Revenge Body’. All this small screen dross only serves to encourage the trolls of this world who seemingly rejoice in inflicting as much pain as possible on women of size in their visits to social media. They also reinforce the view ‘…that self-worth and happiness are inextricably linked to thinness.’ The shows simplify an issue that is bound up in so much more than ‘how could these people allow themselves to get into the shape they’re in?’

Also revelatory is how so much this planet, despite the so-called epidemic, is not geared up to cater for those with larger bodies. Gay relates that even going out for a meal with mates is fraught with traps such as whether the seating can bear her weight and of course, the unpleasantness of other diners with their stares and tut-tutting over the amount of tucker she has on her plate. There’s also the ignorance of the fashion industry and retailers who rarely cater for women of size with anything remotely wearable, in stylish terms. This despite given these days a large amount of their demographic is plus sized. Attitudes are changing, but at glacial pace.

No, ‘Hunger’ is not a fun read for light entertainment, but it such an enlightening one. Kudos to Gay for having the courage to be the one enlightening us – and let’s hope the mass of humanity can become kinder to men and women of size.

Ms Gay’s website – http://www.roxanegay.com/

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