September's Book Club Recap - 'Hunger' by Roxane Gay

The Thrive Tribe Movement’s Body Positive book club came together to discuss ‘Hunger’ at a very timely moment - our meeting happened the week after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s brave retelling of her sexual assault. We sat around a table, beers in hand, and discussed the current climate of the world and various coping methods women use when dealing with trauma.

For Gay, that coping method was gaining weight.

‘Hunger’ is a powerful narrative about Gay’s reliance on food to be able to hide in plain sight after she was gang-raped by her boyfriend and his friends in the woods at the age of 12. She blamed herself, as most women do, and overate to grow her body past a point where she believed men would find her attractive. She felt safer in a bigger body, but she also details her size as her ‘fault.’

This book brought up several questions about marginalized bodies and how the world interacts with them, as well as about body positivity as a movement.

We began by discussing our own histories with body image. Every single one of us was able to recall a specific moment that a family member commented on our bodies, and therefore changed the way we saw ourselves. Roxane Gay’s family panicked when she began to gain weight. They wondered what was wrong. They sent her to weight loss camp. They put her on diets. They weren’t being malicious, they just, as society does, saw her growing size as an issue to be resolved. Her family continues in the years to come to be supportive and loving toward her (they took her in after she disappeared, for example,) but she has still had to create boundaries about weight discussion.

The conversation flowed into the weight paradox in Gay’s own mind: she desperately wants body acceptance, but also to become smaller. It brought up the question - can someone be truly body positive AND want to shrink their body? Even justifying weight loss for health (like less pressure on the joints) - does this further equate health with thinness? This is an ongoing question that we believe nobody truly has the answer to.

Furthermore, Gay talks about her relationship with movement and exercise. The gym is not a welcoming place for her, as she feels judged by the women on the cardio machines around her. So, she hired a trainer that takes her through difficult workouts. She gets through her workouts, yes, but it brought of the question of what being empowered through movement feels like. Movement that empowers involves endorphins, feeling freed, and feeling powerful. What does it take to reach that point, especially in a marginalized body?

One last point we touched upon was food insecurity. Gay’s diet was limited as a child, especially during and after gaining weight. This immediately put ‘bad’ and ‘good’ labels on food, which is common for children. We all hear from a young age what is ‘bad’ and what is ‘good’ - ‘don’t eat this, eat more of that.’ However, this can create the idea in children that certain foods they like are limited, which haunts them while growing up. This may lead to adults believing we can’t trust ourselves around certain types of foods. How do we solve this dilemma? That will continue to be a conversation.

We finished our first meeting with the question that will end every meeting - how can we use what we learned about Roxane Gay’s experiences to help those in marginalized bodies?

The Body Positive Book Club meets on the last Sunday of every month at Local 138. October’s book is ‘Landwhale’ by Jes Baker. Please send us a message to join!