Roxane Gay’s newest release, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, is a powerful addition to Gay’s body of other works that shed light on the parts of womanhood deemed difficult, bad, unlikable, or unspeakable.
Hunger chronicles the trauma Gay suffered as a child, her subsequent attempts she made to control her body (and her trauma) through disordered eating, and the resulting difficulties she’s faced in a world that, as she puts it, isn’t set up to deal with “unruly bodies.”
“Unruly bodies” have been the talk of much cultural criticism these days (even here on Eleventh Stack), as the the body-positive movement gains more traction. The body-positive movement means a lot of things to a lot of different people, but is probably most easily understood as an umbrella term for activism which seeks to celebrate bodily autonomy and accessibility. Body-positivity can apply to small, individual decisions like body hair removal or decisions about wearing makeup, and to larger, more systemic concerns; large wings of the movement are focused on disability activism, awareness for trans rights and fat-activism.
Hunger is an interesting addition to this discussion, because unlike many other forays into the body-positive movement, it’s not all (or even mostly) positive. If Jes Baker’s super-popular, highly readable Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls was a rallying cry for women who want to see past the limits society currently places on fat women, Hunger is one woman’s stark account of the reasons why a body-positive movement was (and still is) so necessary.
Gay writes in clear, short chapters where she matter-of-factly discusses her own bodily trauma, grappling with difficult emotions, the negative impact that other people’s opinions have on her self-image, and the ways in which culture (both pop culture and society-at-large) create both emotional and physical barriers for inclusion and acceptance for people who have bodies that don’t fit the norm.
While reading this book, one of the things I was most impressed by is the way this award-winning, world-renowned and respected author was able to lay bare her lifelong struggles. There may not be any immediate solution or relief for those whose “unruly bodies” buck the norm, but Gay is making sure we’re all still thinking about it, and maybe finding some empathy along the way.
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Ginny is a baker of treats, reader of fiction and Coordinator of Volunteer Services based out of the Office of Programs and Partnerships at CLP – East Liberty. She wants to pet your dog.