Take The Cake: Roxane Gay Kinda Isn't My Idea Of A Shero

I want more memoirs by fat women of color that chronicle the complexity of our relationships to food, family, and culture.

Take the Cake: Stories of a Fat Girl in a Skinny World an ongoing series about living as a fat girl, in a skinny world (obviously).

I’ve spent the day with my friend Kendall, a fat activist/feminist/all around babe.

We met when she came to a lecture I gave called “The Construction and Performance of the Fat Bitch.” She walked up to me after the Q&A and asked why there wasn’t more rage in the fat movement.

I liked her immediately.

Right now, she’s pissed because she’s vegan and there’s no soy milk at the coffee place where we’d decided to meet. When the coffee dude compliments us on our outfits by giving us the thumbs up and saying “I approve,” she replies, “That’s what I come to a coffee shop for — to get approval.” She’s in rare form, and I totally love it.

The soy fail rage inspires me to be a little more feminist than usual. So when we go to a little shop called Cheese Village to shop for chocolate, and a man stands literally right in front of us to look at the EXACT chocolate we were looking at, I laughed at him and pointed out how rude he was being.

After the Cheese Village debacle, we settle into Caffe Roma (where they do have soy milk), and we begin to process about whether or not Roxane Gay is hella problematic.

Conclusion: To be determined, but for now, we landed on “Probably.”


 

My problem is that somehow Hunger will be considered part of a conversation on changing the way we think of fat women when, in fact, it isn’t.


 

Kendall worked at a bookstore until recently, and was telling me about how quickly Bad Feminist flew off the shelves.

I tell her I haven’t read it yet. I’m still traumatized by the portrayal of men of color as irredeemably violent and careless in Untamed State.

Gay’s forthcoming book Hunger is one I contemplate with a little bit of an anticipatory cringe. Here’s a preview from the Harper Collins site:

I ate and ate and ate in the hopes that if I made myself big, my body would be safe. I buried the girl I was because she ran into all kinds of trouble. I tried to erase every memory of her, but she is still there, somewhere.... I was trapped in my body, one that I barely recognized or understood, but at least I was safe.

OK, first, I’m offering a gag on behalf of all fat feminists for this quote, Roxane Gay.

My problem isn’t with Gay characterizing the way she eats as “disordered,” even though I think that a lot of normal eating behavior that fat people do is classified as over-eating or emotional eating.

I don’t even necessarily have a problem with her characterizing her relationship to her fat body as a pathological one, using the tired old framework that posits that fat is a distancing mechanism that women undertake purposefully (if not subconsciously).

OK, I lied. I do have a problem with that, but it’s not the problem I want to focus on right now, right here.

I want more memoirs by fat women. I want more memoirs by fat women of color. I want more memoirs by fat women of color that chronicle the complexity of our relationships to food, family, and culture.

My problem is that somehow Hunger will be considered part of a conversation on changing the way we think of fat women when in fact it isn’t.

I think Hunger will be lumped in with books like Dietland and Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls. And that both confuses me and pisses me off.

This exact kind of confusion came up a little over a year ago when I was asked to review the book Gorge: My Journey Up Kilimanjaro at 300 Pounds. Before I read the book, I was so, so excited about it. Fat athleticism isn’t my thing, but I’m all about ladies getting theirs on their own terms.

The book started with some really intense internal monologues which chronicled the author’s self-loathing. Even though it was more graphic than I was totally prepared for, I thought, OK, this makes sense as the beginning of a book about a deep emotional transformation.

I kept waiting for the book to turn. I waited and I waited and I waited, but the book never did turn. There was one page near the very end where she was able to recognize the abilities of her body, her strength, her power. By the next page, however, she was back to denigrating it and promising the reader that she planned to lose weight.

Upon the book’s debut, it was touted as fat positive literature. I want you to imagine my face when I begin to understand that mainstream media outlets are positioning this book within the new surge of books that empower women by centering fat narratives. I was like:

Image: supplied.Fat people writing narratives that confirm the culture’s narrow view of fat people as always already mentally ill, diseased, troubled, weak-willed, asexual, or out of control are not examples of fat positivity.

They’re examples of internalized fatphobia.

I want to see internalized fatphobia discussed in literature seriously because it’s important, but I’m dismayed that publishers (and maybe even consumers) can’t seem to decipher between stories that genuinely center fat people in order to destabilize fatphobia, and stories that actually re-center a bigotry that’s confirmed and espoused by a member of an oppressed group.

I hope Hunger will offer more than I’m expecting, and I’m capital-B Bummed that Roxane Gay isn’t a writer with whom I resonate.

Her work in and of itself is arguably radical, because she’s a fat woman of color getting mainstream traction (all about that!).

But I can’t get behind a flattened narrative that fat women writing about our lives — no matter what we say — is inherently liberatory.  

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