Thirst by Roxane Gay review- how the world treats fat people

Thirst By Roxane Gay Review- How The World Treats Fat People

A catalogue of horrors and public mortifications, Gays memoir responds to societys condescension and disgust about her body size

Thirst By Roxane Gay Review- How The World Treats Fat People

This is a book its writer Roxane Gay has, over many years, earned the right not to publish. Even though she has detected great success as an essayist, novelist of fiction and university teacher, and attracted a large, passionate online following, its clear from her account that her weight remains the first thing strangers notice about her, and that she must spend much of her period dealing with their unsolicited responses to it. These range from rude to abusive, encompassing all sorts of casual mock, faux fear and outright aggressivenes along the way.

Shopping for clothes or food, visiting a eatery or getting on a plane often involve a humiliating ordeal. Doctors not only patronise her but routinely reject her basic care. Simply leaving the house means navigating a physical and emotional constraints and obstacles. No doubt Gay is thoroughly sick of being reduced to her body and of enduring constant investigations, prejudices and criticism, and she has evidently worked hard to make space for herself to talk and write of other things. People asking those kinds of questions dont deserve an answer, and yet here Gay has decided to give them one.

Hunger comprises at least two narratives: a partial but more or less linear tell of Gays life so far, and a more halting, spiralling description of her everyday experience as a fat girl. The first of these hinges on the horrifying rape visited on her as a 12 -year-old by her boyfriend and several of his friends. Gay blames herself, and her agony is compounded when the boys report their version of events to their peers at school; she maintains hers quiet, unable to say anything about it to their own families. The brief evocation of her childhood before this phase conjures an nearly fairytale-like atmosphere of love and optimism, peopled with adoring parents and siblings. I fell asleep most nights, Gay writes, flush with the joy of knowing I belonged to these people and they belonged to me.

Afterwards, everything changes: she begins to overeat and her weight gain is swift and dramatic, to her familys consternation. Various attempts to reverse it, some undertaken willingly, others under parental pressure, never last long, and both the traumatic event and her highly visible response to it overshadow everything else that happens to her. Gays mother and father are well-to-do Haitian Americans who clearly have high expectations of their children. Gay, who attends an upper-class boarding school followed by Yale, drops out and moves to another state without letting anyone know where she is. She eventually completes a PhD and garners acclaim as a writer, but this volume is still a catalogue of horrors large and small: there are abusive relationships and public shames. Especially striking are the depictions of what its like for Gay to go to the gym or on a date. Unable to fit on a eatery chair and denied a more comfortable kiosk, she expends an entire snack holding herself up in an excruciating squatting. At the supermarket, random people entitle themselves to remove foods they deem unsuitable from her cart.

Gays tone switchings between a breezy, conversational style and something harsher, and she recounts painful events in short, nearly incantatory sentences: There was a boy. I loved him. His name was Christopher. Thats not really his name. You know that. She occasionally constructs light of the cliches that surround public discussion of weight loss( though she herself cant avoided some of these ). Scoffing at Oprah Winfreys metaphor of the cheerful, skinny alter ego lurking inside every fat person, she notes, I eat that thin woman, and she was delicious but unsatisfying.

But in general theres not much to chuckle about. Gay alludes to or summarises difficult conversations, but rarely recounts them in full, and the overall impact is often one of claustrophobic intensity, as if the reader is trapped inside her head much the route she describes feeling caged in her flesh. Some of the books repeatings may be due to its origin in shorter pieces written for various publications, but most reflect the near-constant frustrations of living in a body the world both fixates on and refuses to accommodate. One of the few scenes rendered in detail is the gruesome early description of her father taking her to a group consultation with a doctor who performs gastric bypass surgeries. They must watch a video of patients steamy red and pink and yellow insides being engraved up in an exorbitantly expensive and devastating procedure that even in the best suit scenario will leave them permanently malnourished.

Though Gay does not owe anyone a single explanation of her size, she devotes her readers an abundance of them. If some can seem a little too neat and familiar, that impact is complicated by how many accumulate, often immediately contradicting one another. She characterises her initial weight gain as an attempt to take over more space, growing bigger and more powerful, but also as an effort to disappear and avoid ever attracting male attention again. She intentionally fees to create a protective shield of flesh, or simply cannot defy use food to soothe unbearable emotions. Gays mixed feelings often feel inevitable, though, in a culture that dedicates fat females no safe place to stand: you must feel bad about your size, but not enough to make anyone else uncomfortable; you must feel good about yourself as you are, but not too good. I am a product of my environment, she writes, explaining why her feminist convictions cant protect her from the cycle of selfblame, from longing to be thinner and accusing herself of weakness or lack of discipline when her body doesnt change.

Elna - Thirst By Roxane Gay Review- How The World Treats Fat People
Elna Bakers 2016 account of her own extreme weight loss sheds light on Hunger.

Most of what Gay suffers is neither her fault nor within her control, but since she believes society will not change fast enough, if at all, she makes no apology for yearning to adjust herself to it. And of course, much of the more or less veiled fear and abhorrence expressed by others is a self-fulfilling reaction to their own conditioning: People know how they see and treat and think about fat people and dont want such a fate to befall them. The book is crammed with agonising ironies, some more strongly emphasised than others. Gay gains weight as an outward expres of her unhappiness, but those around her dont get the message, and only attain her more miserable in their reactions to her changing body. In trying to develop a defence mechanism after her rape, she inadvertently invites half a lifetime of invasive threats to her physical freedom and violations of her permission. When her parents want her to go on a liquid diet or to a fat camp, she concurs because I had learned that saying no meant nothing.

As she has before, in her hitting essay collecting Bad Feminist , Gay proclaims her refusal to represent anyone but herself. Among other things, that entails she isnt interested in trying to make anyone feel better including other people of sizing who would rather not hear that she dislikes her body and blames herself for her inability to change it. This is not, as she notes repeatedly, a narrative of victory neither of triumphant weight loss nor triumphant self-acceptance.

Stories that skirt those two potentials are far rarer than they should be, and the exceptions, whatever their individual failings, stick in the mind. Reading Hunger reminded me of radio producer Elna Bakers 2016 account of her own extreme weight loss and its aftermath, which in some ways holds up a funhouse mirror to Gays experience. Its only after losing a huge amount of weight that Baker fully discovers the miseries the world inflicts on fat people. As a thin girl, she sees her love life, job prospects and everyday existence abruptly transformed. And she encounters head-on the stubborn denial that enables other people to enforce sadistic norms: when Baker insists to her husband that hed never have fallen for her at her previous weight, he tries to weasel out of it, suggesting that all the benefits Baker derives from being thin are simply due to how much happier and more confident she must now feel. But that isnt true, she says she was fine before, whereas now she must live with the knowledge that her new life and relationship involve her to keep up an unnatural( and unhealthy) struggle with her weight for ever. Bakers story helps shed light on one of the most intractable knots in Hunger . Gay knows that losing the weight would not solve everything or grant her happiness, and yet she longs for the entirely different, less painful life she imagines she could have had without it.

Early in the book, Gay characterises it as a confession, that term so often flung as an insult at women who write about themselves. These, she writes, are the ugliest, weakest, barest parts of me. Its more a provocation than a promise. There are certainly flashes of confession, passages in which Gay lays out, say, the precise consequences her rape has had on the formation of her sexual desires. But largely she is not prepared to be so bare and weak as all that. Its the world around her that comes off as out of control in its appetites hate-filled, obsessed with womens body parts, eager to punish what it helps create.

Hunger is published by Harper. To order a transcript for 11.89( RRP 13.99) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over 10, online orders merely. Phone orders min p& p of 1.99.

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Thirst By Roxane Gay Review- How The World Treats Fat People
Thirst By Roxane Gay Review- How The World Treats Fat People
Thirst By Roxane Gay Review- How The World Treats Fat People
Thirst By Roxane Gay Review- How The World Treats Fat People
Thirst By Roxane Gay Review- How The World Treats Fat People

Thirst By Roxane Gay Review- How The World Treats Fat People

Thirst By Roxane Gay Review- How The World Treats Fat People

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