The Current

'All they see is the fat': Author Roxane Gay on society's obsession with size

Writer and social commentator Roxane Gay confronts a topic that is inescapably political — the pre-conceived notions of our society when it comes to body size.
Social commentator and writer Roxane Gay turned to food as a way to cope with a childhood trauma. (Jay Grabiec)

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In her new memoir, author and cultural commentator Roxane Gay is taking on a topic both personal and political.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body looks at what our fixation on size says about our society — but also what it has meant for her everyday life.

"The fat body is a public text in many ways," Gay tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"People comment openly to your face. They give you advice, unsolicited. It's a lot."

Gay points to the specific ways weight is seen.

But when people see fat bodies, all they see is the fat.- Roxane Gay

"When we see other people, we make judgments. We have opinions on what people look like," says Gay.

"But when people see fat bodies, all they see is the fat," she explains. 
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body looks at what our fixation on size says about our society, but also what it has meant for Roxane Gay's everyday life. (HarperCollins)

"They make a lot of assumptions. They think, 'Oh, that person is dumb. That person is lazy. That person sits around eating junk food all day.'"

Coping with the trauma

Gay says her own weight gain began in response to a childhood trauma.

"When I was 12-years-old, I was gang raped," Gay tells Tremonti.

"Before that, I had been a normal 12-year-old girl — Catholic, very sheltered. After, all of that changed because something had happened that I didn't even know was possible."

She didn't tell anyone what happened at the time.

"I thought I was going to go to hell," says Gay.

Instead, she turned to food.

"I started to overeat because, partly, food is comforting, and I needed comfort, and that was the only means of comfort available to me," says Gay.

"And partly because I wanted to be stronger. I wanted to be bigger. I wanted to protect myself."

Undoing the damage

Three decades later, she says she's still learning to cope with both the trauma, and how society looks at weight.

I wanted to be stronger. I wanted to be bigger. I wanted to protect myself.- Roxane Gay

"The older I get, the more I realize I did the best I could when I was a kid," says Gay.

"So I'm just trying to be a lot kinder to myself now, as I try to undo that unintended damage that I did to myself. And that helps, to just have some empathy for yourself and just say, 'You know what? You're not bad. You're a good person, you live a good life, and you are not your body,'" she explains.

"'And there's nothing wrong with your body — it has served you very, very well for many years.'"

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Karin Marley.