Hunger (2017) is a personal, open-hearted account of what it’s like to live with a body that’s frowned upon by society.
Roxane Gay was born to a family of Haitian-Americans who lived in Omaha, Nebraska. In her early years, Roxane was raised Catholic and believed that if she did well in school she could grow up to be a respected doctor.
What she could never have expected was that a tragic act of violence would derail those plans and set her on a completely different course.
When she was just 12-years-old, Roxane was raped by her boyfriend and a group of other local youths. The event was devastating on many levels: since Roxane had already been intimate with this boy, what she experienced was a heavy feeling of shame – as if the attack had been her fault for defying the values of her Catholic upbringing. As a result, she couldn’t bear the thought of telling her parents about the rape.
So, she kept it to herself and continued to bury this secret deeper by overeating more and more food.
In the year following the attack, Roxane was sent to a prestigious boarding school where, away from the watchful eyes of her parents, she could eat as much as she wanted. In her mind, food wasn’t just a way to punish her body; she believed that the more she ate, the bigger she’d get and therefore the less vulnerable she’d be to another attack.
Roxane was already old enough to understand that fat women aren’t what society thinks of as desirable. So, as she quickly began to put on weight, part of her knew she was becoming sexually invisible to predatory men.
For a while, Roxane continued playing the part of the obedient Catholic girl who was expected to become a doctor, and her good grades got her into the pre-med program at Yale University. But as she began her junior year, she couldn’t keep up the act any longer – so she dropped out of school to go and live with a potential partner she met online.
At Yale, Roxane felt like she had to deny the reality of who she saw herself as being now: someone ruined. Unable to cope with this any longer, she was about to start a new chapter where she’d be treated as poorly as she felt.