Roxane Gay writes about the consequences of being morbidly obese in a world that’s unforgiving of obesity. She delves deeply into her own psychology about why she gained the weight, as well as some other choices she has made throughout her life. The story comes across as being without embellishment or self-pity. She says it’s a book about her body and I was impressed at how well she stuck to that promise.
The most extraordinary thing about this book is how unextraordinary the story is. Among the woman I have known, I’ve heard stories that were made up of similar bits and pieces. I know that trauma leads to self-hate and self-hate leads to self-destructive behavior. Self-destruction leads to more self-hate and on and on. I have not met anyone who isn’t at least a little bit self-destructive. I appreciate the way Gay lays this out. It might be obvious, but why not make it clear? We have a big, universal problem, so why not make this point very, very clear?
The other day, I watched a youtube video about the tension between teens and parents around food. Looking at the comments, I was shocked at the number of kids who confessed to having restricted their calories from an early age. One said she’d started restricting her calories at the age of six and now, in her late teens, she’s finally eating a normal amount of healthy food. As a result, she has gained weight and her parents are mocking her weight gain. I saw a number of similar comments. It might be from grandparents or parents, but the message the kids receive is the same: the less thin you are, the less value you have.
Of course, there are some experiences that Gay talks about that are unique to her size. Some of these situations didn’t occur to me. Other situations had occurred to me, but I thought they were mere annoyances, rather than being as awful as she describes them. As someone who wants to become more sensitive to the struggles of others, I found her book to be an unexpected resource.
Gay makes it very clear at the beginning of the book that her story is not a success story. We’re a society that has become neurotic about food and obsessed with body size. Somehow, we expect this to turn out well. I suspect this is because success stories are so prevalent in our media. Not only do we expect all fiction to reach a plateau of perfect happiness (and presumably stay there forever), but we expect that of our nonfiction lives, as well. We have been taught that a life that is anything less than blissful perfection isn’t worth living. With that kind of pressure, who wouldn’t want another cookie?