Tag Archives: fat

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Add to RSS feed
Facebook
Twitter
Follow by Email
Google+
https://laurietobyedison.com/body-impolitic-blog/tag/fat">
Pinterest

Debbie says:

Here’s an excerpt from near the beginning of Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body:

I wish I could write a book about being at peace and living myself wholly, at any size. Instead, I have written this book, which has been the most difficult writing experience of my life, one far more challenging than I could have ever imagined. When I set out to write Hunger, I was certain the words would come easily, the way they usually do. And what could be easier to write about than the body I have lived in for more than forty years? But I soon realized I was not only writing a memoir of my body; I was forcing myself to look at what my body has endured, the weight I gained, and how hard it has been to both live with and lose that weight. I’ve been forced to look at my guiltiest secrets. I’ve cut myself wide open. I am exposed. That is not comfortable. That is not easy.

I have been a body image activist since the early 1980s. I have heard people’s body image stories, told my body image stories, led workshops where people tell their body image stories, edited body image stories for print. Doing this work for much of a lifetime, one of the many things I have learned is that while your story is not, is never, cannot be my story, your story nonetheless overlaps and strengthens and connects to my story in hundreds of places.

So that takes us to Roxane Gay, who has perhaps written the most powerful body image story ever told. Having made that statement, let me say what I don’t mean:

  • Gay, as she is extremely careful to stress, is not the victim of The Worst Trauma. She is precisely aware of her privileges and the ways she is lucky.
  • She is not a stand-in for every other fat woman, nor does she want to be; her story is her own, not mine, and not anyone else’s.
  • Hunger is not a book about miraculous healing, or a road map for other fat women to find healing.
  • The book has no new information, and doesn’t contain much that is surprising to someone who inhabits the world of fat activism.

What makes this book such a punch in the gut is that Hunger ranks among the most nakedly honest books ever written. Whether Gay is reliving the story of her childhood, talking about her family, recounting relationships, or just telling every fat woman’s story of going to the doctor, she never for one second takes the easy way out. She never tells a simple version of the truth: the truth is always complex, thick, interwoven.  She also accomplishes the amazing feat of not writing about race, while also not exclusHere’s just one example of how open this book is:

During my twenties, my personal life was an unending disaster. I did not meet many people who treated me with any kind of kindness or respect. I was a lightning rod for indifference, disdain, and outright aggression, and I tolerated all of this because I knew I didn’t deserve any better, not after how I had been ruined and not after how I continued to ruin my body.

My friendships, and I use that term loosely, were fleeting and fragile and often painful, with people who generally wanted something from me and were gone as soon as they got that something. I was so lonely I was willing to tolerate these relationships. The faint resemblance of human connection was enough. It had to be enough even though it wasn’t.

Food was the only place of solace. Alone, in my apartment, I could soothe myself with food. Food didn’t judge me or demand anything from me. When I ate, I did not have to be anything but myself. And so I gained a hundred pounds and then another hundred and then another hundred.

In some ways, it feels like the weight just appeared on my body one day. I was a size 8 and then I was a size 16 and then I was a size 28 and then I was a size 42.

In other ways, I was intimately aware of every single pound that accumulated and clung to my body. And everyone around me was also intimately aware.

There is so much more here. We live in a world where physical nakedness is easy currency, although its implications are extremely contextual and complicated, and the physical nakedness of fat women is fraught indeed, as Laurie and I know in detail. But Gay’s determination to be emotionally as naked as a human being can get is far from easy.

Just as everyone’s story is individual and unique, our stories all also overlap on each other. They intertwine and diverge and reconnect. And when they are brilliantly told, they reflect so much more than one person’s story. Without ever taking a moment to speculate on whether or not her truth is related to anyone else’s truth, Gay opens a window on human truth in general; she focuses unrelentingly on her own story, and by doing so models how each of us can see ourselves.

Read the book (if you can stand a graphic description of pre-teen sexual trauma, and an unflinching examination of its results).  Read it whether you’re a lifetime body image activist or completely new to the concepts. Rarely will you find a book more worth your time and attention.

Caveat: Lots of people (including me) will respond to this book by wanting to reach out and make a connection with Roxane Gay. If you have that reaction, and you follow through, I’m personally asking you now to make sure that whatever you send or say to her doesn’t ask for anything from her in return: not an acknowledgment of commonality, not a response, not advice, not comfort. She’s given us everything she has in this book, and you can be 100% sure that a great many readers are asking her for more, and every one she has to turn away causes her pain. Don’t be That Reader.

The Fat Mind, Speaking from the Trash Heap

Add to RSS feed
Facebook
Twitter
Follow by Email
Google+
https://laurietobyedison.com/body-impolitic-blog/tag/fat">
Pinterest

Debbie and Laurie say:

Carmen Marie Machado’s essay, “The Trash Heap Has Spoken,” from Guernica Magazine, is one of the finest pieces of writing about fat women in our extensive experience. The article’s opening, “My grandmother was a mountain” tells us that we’re going someplace interesting and powerful … and we do.

She wore leopard-print nightgowns and smelled like White Diamonds and overflowed from the bones of her chair.

Her body was a marvel to me, a form unbound and soothing as a Buddha. Sometimes, I would sit in her lap and peek down her shirt, to see her mysteries. She was the biggest woman I knew.

Machado moves from her grandmother to Margery the Trash Heap from Fraggle Rock:

After sharing the delights of Margery (and Ursula from The Little Mermaid), Machado moves on to her own story, which is all too familiar.

I kept getting bigger. I didn’t absorb Marjory and Ursula’s object lessons on existing audaciously, but instead landed squarely where culture wanted me: hating my body, participating in my own oppression in grotesque ways. I clipped out advertisements for weight-loss products—despite the fact that my cousin was hospitalized with heart problems after taking the prescription diet pill Fen-Phen—and watched infomercials for electrical muscle stimulation machines; all that kept me from joining these late-nineties/early-aughts weight-loss crazes was my lack of a credit card. I became convinced that I could break down my fatness with violence, punching my abdomen with my fists like I was trying to induce an abortion. I drank so much water my pee was nearly clear. I tried to stop eating, but the hunger was so terrible I broke my fast by eating all I could find in my parents’ kitchen: half a bag of jumbo marshmallows. Unable to change, I became Centralia, settling into a low-grade loathing that smoldered for years. …

Almost every person I’ve dated or slept with, man or woman, has observed unprompted that I am the fattest woman they’ve ever been with. I never know what that means. Are they marveling? Struggling for answers? After a series of these confessions I found myself watching lovers more closely, not because they have reminded me that I am fat, but because they have pointed out that it is unusual for them to be in such intimate, pleasurable proximity to a fat body. I think about it as I unhook my bra, straddle my boyfriend, kiss a date in her car.

And then Machado turns from the pain, confusion, and just plain observation to a rich, fresh framing:

I have an intermittent daydream in which I’m a queen straight out of an epic fantasy novel. I am draped in red silk and sit in a large baroque throne, crowned with a grandiose headdress dripping gemstones that tick tick tick like Yahtzee dice when I turn my head. My feet rest on snoozing bears. I am so fat I can only leave the throne on a palanquin borne aloft by twenty men. I am so fat it takes the air out of the room. I am so fat no advisor tells me no. I am so fat would-be conquerors flee the room in fear. I am so fat the members of the court do their best to look like me by eating onions cooked in lard, but none can match my sweeping vista, my strength, my power. I am so fat I can take as many lovers as I please….

The unapologetic fat body is dangerous because, like so many other dangerous things, it suggests that there’s another way—and that there has always been another way. I know what’s happening, the unapologetic fat body says, taking your hand and pulling you away from the crowd. Come with me and I’ll show you ….

Queen T’hisha from Women En Large

So the fat mind, too, is dangerous. It, too, suggests another path.

The fat mind? A phrase we have never heard, in decades of doing this work.

Unapologetic fat women embrace the philosophy of displacement. They manifest the audacity of space-taking. They cleave the very air. This is not just fatness of the body, it is fatness of the mind. If you have a fat body, you take up room by default. If you have a fat mind, you choose to take up room.

Whenever I see a fat woman with a fat mind who is excellent in that fat way that I love, I want to be her handmaiden. I want to kiss her feet and the hem of her dress. To rub her aching shoulders. To follow after her on my knees with a dish of milk in my unworthy hands.

I take second helpings, thirds. I order appetizers and desserts. I get excited about homemade pasta and pork belly and chocolate cake and dirty martinis and bowls of pickled things. Sometimes when I talk about food, people around me laugh with surprise. Subconsciously, I think, they’re not expecting it; they’re expecting restraint, apology. I refuse to give it to them.

Fat activists talk about unapologetic fatness. We talk about eating what we want in public, about taking up space. But most often, we talk about these things as ways to appreciate and love our own bodies. The radical aspects of fatness are usually framed as being about self-appreciation, comfort, and confidence. Even from there, it’s a radical step to being the most beautiful, most attractive, most interesting person in the room, to embracing fatness as a way of centering yourself in a world that is trained to despise you, and rejecting that training outright. When this kind of rejection (not easy, not for everyone, not a goal) happens, the whole space shifts. It’s not just about a fat person loving herself any more: it’s about a fat person framing her size, her body, so powerfully that the people around her stop remaking her into a culturally acceptable image. They imagine her with her feet on snoozing bears.