A Book That Explains a Lot

Roxane Gay’s memoir, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, was not written with the aim of motivating the reader. When the author toured in support of the book, a college newspaper wrote,

Her struggles aren’t meant to be a success story, but a true story to give people a sense that they aren’t alone… Gay sets the record straight from the beginning of her talk. The story of her body is not a story of triumph or motivation. It’s not a weight loss memoir either.

That audience motivation is not her purpose must come as a welcome relief to young adults who are always being counseled about what to do with their lives. Gay says,

I don’t want to pretend I’m on some triumphant, uplifting journey. I don’t want to pretend that everything is okay. I’m living with what happened, moving forward without forgetting, moving forward without pretending I am unscarred.

In the course of exorcising personal demons, a terribly difficult and challenging writing experience became a personal case study and a philosophy textbook. Gay’s observations about feminism and misogyny range widely and cut deeply. In the same way that a person with paralyzed legs must verify the existence of wheelchair ramps at venues, a person with super-morbid obesity has to check out the conditions before venturing forth into the world, and Gay exposes those potential problems to the reader.

She does not care for “reality” shows about makeovers and weight loss, or this world where female celebrities’ weights are “tracked like stocks because their bodies are, in their line of work, their personal stock, the physical embodiment of market value.” She does not love a society where, although fat people themselves cannot lawfully be made to disappear, it’s perfectly okay to wage war on the fat cells that just happen to live inside those people. She vehemently deplores the societal myth that “our truest selves are thin women hiding in our fat bodies like imposters, usurpers, illegitimates.”

What’s in there?

The fortunate humans who don’t cope with obesity in their own bodies or their own families usually do not have an accurate picture of what it’s all about. Here’s the tricky part — among the people who do struggle with obesity, they get that way from a lot of different causes. Some people write books about their “weight loss journeys.” Gay openly admits that while various words might describe her journey, “over” is not one of them.

The Atlantic reviewer Adrienne Green says the author gives readers “some emotional insight into the unrelenting nature of trauma.” And she doesn’t want to call herself a survivor because she doesn’t “want to diminish the gravity of what happened.” The more precise and accurate term is victim, and she claims it.

But what did happen? The origin story of her obesity goes back to a violent sexual assault at age 12. Tara Haelle wrote for the Association of Health Care Journalists,

I recommend “Hunger” to health journalists: Gay offers insight into experiencing two of the most incredibly challenging, complex and pressing issues of our time. It requires a far higher level of empathy, understanding and nuance than most issues about which we write.

After that event, the author wrote, she “ate and ate and ate in the hopes that if I made myself big, my body would be safe.” She needed to transform her physical self into “a safe harbor rather than a small, weak vessel.” In its vulnerability, the body had betrayed her, and the need to make it unassailable became her strongest drive. Eventually, the painful secrets came tumbling out:

My family’s constant pressure to lose weight made me stubborn, even though the only person I was really hurting was myself. The constant pressure made me refuse to lose weight to punish these people who claimed to love me but wouldn’t accept me as I was…

I was swallowing my secrets and making my body expand and explode.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body,” Harper, 2017
Source: “The Boldness of Roxane Gay’s Hunger,” TheAtlantic.com, 06/13/17
Source: “Towerlight News,” TheTowerlight.com, 10/09/17
Source: “Roxane Gay’s ‘Hunger’ a worthy, perhaps necessary, read for medical journalist,” HealthJournalism.org, 02/18/19
Image by Eva Blue/CC BY 2.0

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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