Roxane Gay is a critically-acclaimed author, editor, and professor, raised in the US by parents of Haitian descent. In Hunger, she chronicles her experience in a body labeled as "super morbidly obese" in the crudest of medical terminology. That is, Gay writes of the incessant challenges of living in an “unruly” body in a world bent on disciplining and fixing such bodies.
Eliciting controversy, Gay expresses contempt and frustration toward her body albeit a genuine liking for herself - for her weirdness, sense of humor, how she loves and how she writes. Stated in reverse, Gay articulates that we might love ourselves, who we are as people, while not necessarily loving (every aspect of) our bodies. (Is this experience allowed? Yes, it is.) In truth, our body’s appearance and how we feel about it is not who we are; it is but one part of who we are.
To be clear, the fat acceptance movement is important, affirming, and profoundly necessary, but I also believe that part of fat acceptance is accepting that some of us struggle with body image and haven’t reached a place of peace and unconditional self-acceptance. (Hunger, p. 153)
In reference to the quote above, Gay offers an expanded definition of fat acceptance -- one that, I have no doubt, captures the real lived experience of many people. I thought of how important this more human definition is, and how many times my clients express confusing and conflicting thoughts about concepts like fat acceptance and especially, body positivity.
Finally, Gay writes of hunger. Hunger in the form of envy for the things her body cannot do. Hunger for real relationships in which she does not have to apologize or somehow make up for her size. Hunger to feel pretty and to wear clothes with beautiful, colorful patterns -- to shed her unassuming “uniform” of dark jeans and a t-shirt.
My father believes that hunger is in the mind. I know differently. I know that hunger is in the mind and the body and the heart and the soul. (p. 193)
When the response to hunger and appetite is one of shame, a disordered relationship with food is a possible, if not likely, consequence (see also previous blog post). And yet, our proclivity to care for our body is in our blood. Now in her forties, Gay describes a surprising and newfound form of healing: Learning to cook. Inspired by Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa, Gay writes of Ina symbolizing a “plump," confident woman who celebrates her love of food and good ingredients. In doing so, Ina gives Gay permission to both acknowledge and satisfy her hunger in healthy, not destructive, ways.