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

22813605(Maybe, this is not really a review.)

Is it fair to board Roxane Gay’s vehicle? To scream…

I see you. I have been there. Me too.

Is it fair to air stories about my battle when Gay’s memoir is utterly raw and intimate? I don’t know. But Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body has exhumed some painful memories and writing about those here will be a comforting exercise in catharsis.

I was a few hours old when my aunt saw a nurse carrying me to another room. My aunt didn’t know it was her niece. Her jaw dropped; she asked my grandmother, “Whose child is this? So huge! Already looks like it’s 10-months-old!” The remark terrorised my grandmother. She said, “Shhh! That’s Ramesh’s child. She was born a couple of hours ago.” My mother always relates this conversation with pride because she pushed out that HUGE baby.

The word lives with me. HUGE.

My BMI has always been marginally alarming; I have been obese all my life. The biggest in my classroom, in my workplace, in my family, and even in elevators. Roxane Gay has given a fitting phrase to articulate my feelings — my body felt like a cage.

Someone whom I dearly love told her friend that I wasn’t going out often because I was fat. A cousin asked if my friends are scared of me in school because I am gigantic. My school teachers wanted me to try hard and win medals at shot put. In their minds, fat girls can lift heavy objects and hurl them effortlessly. Oh! And the elevators beeped, all heads turned toward me. Fine. I’ll walk out.

I was in Class 7 when my teacher took me to the staff room and whispered in my ears that I must start wearing a dupatta (shawl) over my school uniform to cover my large bosom. According to the rules, girls should wear shawls only from Class 8. I had one more year to enjoy that freedom. However, my teachers couldn’t handle the image of my chest. So she said, “Ask your parents to buy a dupatta for you okay?” I cringed, I collapsed into myself, but I decided not to tell my parents. I chose not to become different from my other classmates. I couldn’t envisage me being the only girl in the class to wear a dupatta. That would have been a shame. If I succumbed to fatshaming, it meant that I acknowledged that my bosom was a problem. I said yes to the teacher, but no to myself. I wore a dupatta only after I was promoted to Class 8.

My family was in a reunion. The oldest aunt in the family pulled my mother, directed her index finger at me, with a scowl on her face. I knew what was coming. I was livid and rebellious. “Why would you bring her like this? First cover her chest with a dupatta!” the aunt was almost yelling at my mother. I stood there, listening to the conversation. My mother uttered a feeble okay and I shot an angry glance at my aunt. That was all I could do then. But I continued to attend social gatherings without wearing a dupatta. I made my statement that way.

I walk to the men’s section to buy shirts; the salesgirls smirk. I ask for the next size and they stifle a giggle. At markets, strangers pass lewd remarks. Random women ask me in restrooms, “Where do you buy your plus-size clothes?” I wonder why they think it’s not a crime to ask personal questions to a total stranger.

Despite being rebellious, I felt like a victim. I bought clothes online to avoid human interaction and the ridicule. I chose oversized black clothes. I boycotted gyms because the trainers who had to be patient and empathetic were condescending. I was often mistaken for a man. (I still walk behind my boyfriend, use him as a fort since security guards rush to run their hands on me, presuming I am a man.) I intensely experienced the need to lose weight, become fit, look feminine. I still do. But since last year, the need seems less depressing and more motivating. I work out, try to watch what I eat, move often, because it feels good and I owe it to the people who love me.

Everyone was so worried about me when I broke my ankle and it confused me. I have a huge, loving family and a solid circle of friends, but these things were something of an abstraction, something to take for granted, and then all of a sudden, they weren’t… There were lots of concerned texts and e-mails, and I had to face something I’ve long pretended wasn’t true, for reasons I don’t fully understand. If I died, I would leave people behind who would struggle with my loss. I finally recognized that I matter to the people in my life and that I have a responsibility to matter to myself and take care of myself so they don’t have to lose me before my time, so I can have more time. When I broke my ankle, love was no longer an abstraction. It became this real, frustrating, messy, necessary thing, and I had a lot of it in my life. It was an overwhelming thing to realize. I am still trying to make sense of it all even though it has always been there.

I never had the right words to pin down my thoughts and then Roxane Gay’s book happened. It’s loud and sincere and burning. I am glad I read the book because I now have the vocabulary to embrace my journey. And I think we all must read the book because our bodies deserve the sort of respect that Gay advocates. This pale blue dot is everybody’s.

(I loved Big Reading Life’s blog on the book too. The link is here.)

Have you read the book? Have you read books like Gay’s memoir? What are your thoughts?

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27 thoughts on “Book Review — Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

  1. As for your commentary not being a true review, I always say that our blogs our about talking about books, they do not need to be formal reviews.

    I have heard a lot about this book. Based on what you wrote I think it is an important., You do deserve respect and that includes self respect. It is so important that we love ourselves. Your life belongs to you and you do not need to meet anyone else’s expectations.

    I was very overweight until about 10 years ago. I do understand that society generally puts very different pressures on women as opposed to men however.

    I hope that you continue to embrace your joy journey.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love your honesty here – as always – Deepika. I’m so sorry that you were treated so insensitively from a young age by people, like teachers, who should have known better. I’m really glad you have found a book that you can relate your own experience to to so closely. This is why we read books, and it’s so special when they can make you feel supported and not alone.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What an honest, heart-felt post! I’m sorry you had to go through that as a child but am glad that you seem to have the strength to recognise that the fault is with the others rather than with yourself. We are all so judgemental of other people, but I do think things are improving a little – I hope so anyway. Glad you found the book so relatable! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Aww, thank you for linking to my blog post and your kind words.
    I loved reading your post, Deepika. I suspect every one of us who carries “extra” weight, be it ten pounds or much much more, will relate to Roxane Gay’s book. People who are well-intentioned can do so much damage. I am glad to hear that recently you are experiencing peace with your body and exercise. It is not easy, I go back and forth with self-image struggles but I do know that overall I am stronger mentally and physically now than I have been in a long time. Let’s keep it up! Thanks for sharing your story!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sending all the hugs, Deepika! To you and back in time to that rebellious, courageous child! ❤ Happy to hear that you are enjoying your body and moving more freely! I remember going from being a thin child to putting on weight right when I started puberty and all the shit I got for having breasts. It really changes how you relate to the world, I’d love to get that back, the unselfconscious way I could move as a child. But as for Hunger, what a fantastic, haunting book and it’s on my review list, but how to do it justice? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love how you put it, Bina. “The unselfconscious way…” I so hope we could reach a wee bit close to that space.

      It’s hard to do justice to the book. Seriously! But I would SO love to read your thoughts on the book, Bina.

      Sending you more hugs and love! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I am right in the middle of reading Gay’s book. It is heartbreaking and inspiring all at the same time. Thank you for sharing your own experiences too. If we ever should meet in person, I have a whole lot of hugs for you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awwww, Stefanie! Thank you! I can do with all the hugs in the world. And if we ever should meet in person, I will ask you to take my Calvin for a ride, so you can see the world from my two-wheeled friend’s perspective. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Now, THIS is a review. I love it when someone gets personal with a book. I find it tough to connect if I don’t know where the writer is writing from. Gives roots to the review. Such a great post Deepika.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading, Madhu. I am always torn between writing a conventional review and whining/reminiscing/ranting. I think I will survive here if I write about how I access books from my own burrow. But the challenge is, on a bitchy day, I look back at all the ranting and whining, and I shut down the website because I can’t hear my own voice. I let go of my previous site that way. It was hard to see all those memories. I hope I would make peace with my own voice, however cocky or bitchy or pathetic it is.

      Thank you again!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. conventional reviews have their places I guess.. but whining reminiscing and ranting! that’s what makes good stuff. didn’t someone say if what you write doesn’t terrify you, then it’s not worth writing? no one buys a book of conventional reviews, do they? or do they? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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