Tuesday, September 26, 2017

What I'm Reading: Hunger by Roxane Gay

In the beginning of the year, I made a goal of reading more than just smut romance books. I've been in the smut romance book rut for a while now and wanted to challenge myself to find new genres that I love. You know, being a former English major and all. By doing so, I've learned that I love memoirs. This doesn't surprise me as Jen Lancaster is one of my favorite authors and she writes mostly memoirs. And when I was in college, I mostly wrote memoir style in my creative writing classes. Deep down, I just love learning other people's stories.  Hunger by Roxane Gay was recommended by Jen Lancaster on her Facebook page, so I gave it a shot.

I'm just going to put it out there - this book made me all kinds of uncomfortable. And I think it should. So often we talk about bodies without considering the person that lives inside the body. We are all very specific about what should and should not be DONE to a body, but we don't think about how we talk about the body and that, in actuality, it's a super intimate topic.

The premise of the memoir is the story of Roxane Gay and how she came to be fat. That sounds harsh, but in the book she describes that fat tends to have a harsh connotation instead of just being a description. She's in the 600 pound range. That qualifies as fat. The book details the decisions she made and how she arrived at her life as it is now. 

Instead of doing a book report, I'm going to tell you why this is one of the hardest books I have read and why, if you struggle with weight, skinny or not, you need to read this book.

First off, it makes you think. Think long and hard about what you think about bodies and how you talk about bodies. I have an entire blog that I created because of my body. I wasn't happy with my body, so I started doing something about it. Which is what we expect everyone that's not happy with their body to do. But what if you created your body the way it is? What if that person loathes the body they created, but also finds their security in it? What if what makes you uncomfortable about someone's body is what makes them comfortable? Are you okay with that thought? Because it took me a while to be okay with it. 

Roxane made a statement about how there are overweight people that talk about being fat but they've never been fat fat. Like more than 300 pounds fat. I'm that person. I'm bigger than I should be. I heard the change in someone's voice recently when I told them my weight. But I haven't been 600 pounds fat. I honestly hope to never be even close to 250 pounds fat. I've experienced the change in attitude towards me because of my weight, but yet I can't lie and say that I didn't feel the same reaction towards here, just a little, when she talked about her weight. We all have issues with what we think is fat. Reading a book about someone's feelings about their 600 pound body made me uncomfortable. 

It's causes conflicting thoughts. I went back and forth on how I felt during this book. There was a time when my heart broke for her. There were times I was disgusted by what I read.  There were times that I had no sympathy for the issues she was describing. Not being able to go out to eat because she wasn't sure there were chairs that would hold her. And in the next moment, I was amazed at her. That she would go out to dinner, sit in chairs that would cause bruising and pain for days for some semblance of normalcy. My mind was pretty much at war with itself the majority of this book. As a writer, I would take that as a huge compliment because in a memoir, you want someone to feel something. She felt hate, loathing, self-pity, all of those things and I felt it with her.

The ideal body isn't always ideal. This was one big hard idea for me to grasp. I've spent most of my life, all of my adult life, fighting my weight. Even in high school I wasn't skinny, but more along the lines of average. It wasn't until college that I hit both my highest weight and my lowest weight. And I've had that fight ever since. In this book, Roxane started out average. Not skinny, but not fat. But after a horrible, and I mean horrible, event, she changed her body to protect her. Her ideal body became the one that would hide her, that no one would look at.

How different is that from our usual ideal body?

The ideal body changes as you mature. My ideal body used to be something I could easily put a bikini on and never feel any insecurity.  I never found that ideal, by the way. Just in case you were wondering. Now, my ideal body is strong, healthy and has good numbers for cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. My how we change our ideals. But none of those ideal bodies look anything like Roxane's.  I watch shows like "My 600 Pound Life" and always wonder how someone let it get so bad. But I never thought, "Maybe this was by design." She mentions that she's tried to diet, to workout and be healthy, but when she starts losing weight and becoming a "normal body," a part of her freaks out and she goes back to her usual weight. Deep down, that's her ideal body. Whether she likes it or not. And that's hard to think about, to consider. What if what my mind wanted most was not to be healthy, but to be invisible, to be hidden in a body that no one would want to look twice at? That breaks my heart just thinking about.

Family and love is everything. Roxane talks about how no matter how far she pushed her family away, they loved her. Her brother went to a college just to be near her. And at the same time, many of the terrible choices she made as an adult were in search of love. Of comfort and another person. I think back to my childhood and to my parents. My mom never pushed me on my weight, even pushed back on her mom when she talked about my weight as a kid. It's never been a "when are you going to lose weight, Sarah?" but rather a, "That's awesome what you're doing, but you're beautiful no matter what." And I can't tell you how invaluable that is. And I think about Aaron and how we push each other to eat better and work out more with the understanding that it's so we can be better, not that we want a different person. And I think about my friends and my gym tribe that I have been so, so supportive through everything I've done, especially the past year and a half. We were made to love and to be loved and everything that we do, deep down, has to do with love. Loving ourselves, someone else or someone else loving us.

If you've ever been on a health or weightloss journey. If you've ever watched "My 600 Pound Life" and wondered how the hell things got so bad. If you've ever looked at someone and thought, "Ugh, they need to lose weight," then you need to read this book. We talk about bodies as if they are an item on a shelf we are examining to see if they are worth taking home. But a body is attached a person, a real live person with thoughts and feelings. It's not a book asking about sympathy, but rather offering you another view, another idea to consider.   

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