Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

by Roxane Gay

Hardcover, 2017

Status

Checked out
Due Jun 3, 2021

Call number

BF697.5 .B63

Tags

Publication

Harper (2017), Edition: 1, 320 pages

Description

Roxane Gay addresses the experience of living in a body that she calls 'wildly undisciplined.' She casts an insightful and critical eye over her childhood, teens, and twenties -- including the devastating act of violence that was a turning point at age 12 -- and brings readers into the present and the realities, pains, and joys of her daily life. With candor, vulnerability, and authority, Roxane explores what it means to be overweight in a time when the bigger you are, the less you are seen.

User reviews

LibraryThing member froxgirl
This book is exactly like having dinner with Roxane Gay while you just shut up and listen intently. I cannot imagine sharing my own innermost secrets and shame with an international audience, albeit in such a calm, reasonable, and resonant voice. Although the devastating fact of her rape and subsequent collapse of self are alluded to throughout, there is not one extra word here. She calls her body "unruly" and herself "a woman of size". I say Roxane Gay is a woman of tremendous stature and a writer of such talent that it is difficult to imagine anyone who could improve on this effort. Or anyone who could write a more horrendous story, although it's probably not uncommon.

This needs to be required reading for every woman. Although men would also truly benefit from the book as well, I fear that their probable lack of identification with Gay's saga might make it just another sad story to them, and perhaps unworthy of their gaze. But really, I don't care, as long as women grasp the enormity of what lack of power entails and destroys.
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LibraryThing member TheYodamom
4.5 stars for brutally honesty, heart wrenching moments, ugly truths, awareness, self confrontations and one brave soul.
Wow, Sh*t and WOW. That was really all I could mutter out while reading this. This girl was changed, scared for life. She held this secret, found a way to deal with it and while saving herself she was also destroying herself. To me it was a heartbreaking story, I wanted healing, like a magical wand waving to make it go away. Magic isn't real, this real life horror happened to a young girl and festered inside her.
What an eye opening tale. I thought I understand the plight of being fat in our society, but I really didn't. She says that, the bigger you are the more invisible you become. Wow, I wanted that not to be true, I wanted us/me to be more as humans but I've thought some of these thoughts, I've made judgmental comments and thought I was being nice. I felt shame. I think I will always remember her pain. I hope her story makes me be a better person in the future.
I wish she would name him, he does not deserve to walk without this weight on his shoulders.
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LibraryThing member bakersfieldbarbara
I put off reading this book for a week, for no reason other than the title told me nothing. I ordered it some time ago from my library, probably from some news review and then forgot what it was about. Today I started it,....and finished it. The gang-rape pulled me in, as I had been raped several times at her ages, and the more I read, the more I could feel and empathize with her emotional pain. Her ways of dealing with it were a bit different than mine, but it doesn't matter. Each of us deal with trauma in our own way; hers was to eat her way to oblivion. "If I'm fat enough, no one will bother me" was her mantra to hide behind fat. Ms Gay is a great writer and able to tap into the emotions and write about them in a way that hopefully others can understand. She answers questions that go unanswered: "Why didn't you stop other abuses?" and "why abuse yourself; others did that." It doesn't matter what her behaviors were at the time, or now. Her "fat" body is a shaming thing in today's society. I want to throw up when I see the Kardashian's flaunting their nakes butts and everything else, when we who have been shamed know this isn't reality. It is who is on the inside that counts, and it took Ms. Gay a long time to figure out that inside she is a lovely person, growing into someone with self-worth. What the boys took from her can't be returned nor forgotten, nor forgiven, but she has become an inspiration to me and to many. God bless her for her candid memoir and God bless her lovely family, who stood by her unconditionally.… (more)
LibraryThing member ASKelmore
Best for: Those who enjoy amazing writing, searing honesty, and vulnerability.

In a nutshell: Roxane Gay shares a memoir of her life, framed through her relationship with her body.

Line that sticks with me: There are too many to include all of them. But here’s one: “But the pain of a tattoo is something to which you have to surrender because once you’ve started, you cannot really go back or you’ll be left with something not only permanent but unfinished. I enjoy the irrevocability of that circumstance.” (p 186)

Why I chose it: It’s Roxane Gay. Come on.

Review: I was so anxious to read this that instead of visiting my regular bookstore I stopped at chain store in the middle of the work day in a town I happened to be passing through because I wanted to be able to start reading it at the first possible opportunity. Which turned out to be waiting in line at a coffee shop before a meeting. A meeting I was nearly late to because the writing and story are so compelling that I did not want to put it down.

Dr. Gay (Professor Gay? She has a PhD, so I want to acknowledge that properly) has written a memoir that is unlike any other I’ve read. It feels almost like poetry, as the 300 pages are split into nearly 90 chapters. Some chapters are but a paragraph long; others span multiple pages. The subject matter is challenging, but Prof. Gay’s language is not. As she provides some detail of her rape at a young age, the rape that she describes as a turning point that caused her to build up a physical distance between herself and others through weight gain, she manages to use language that is extremely uncomfortable and horrifying yet possible to read through.

The book focuses on her relationship with her body and what it is like to be in this world that does not value fat people, but it isn’t a laundry list of the challenges she faces. Yes, there are chapters about the frustrations she deals with when traveling, but Prof. Gay finds a way to discuss it that simultaneously points out all the ways people unintentionally — and intentionally — shun, punish, or otherwise seek to harm fat bodies AND remind us all that this is her experience. She isn’t a headless fat person on the evening news; she is a person who lives in this body, who deserves to be seen and respected. And we as a society — and individuals — fail at this. Hard. And often.

And people suffer because of it.

As Prof. Gay points out in the beginning, this is not a ‘before’ and ‘after’ story in the sense that you’ll see her holding up her old clothes and her new, skinny body. She is still a very fat woman. And she is still valuable, and worth love, respect, and basic human decency. She won’t be more of a person if she weighs less.

This is a book you should read. We live in a world where it is so easy to deny the humanity of those who are not like us. Even some of the progressive folks I know, who would never dare mock someone who is a different race, religion, or sexual orientation than themselves, still make shitty comments about fat people. Still used fat as an insult. Still take joy in seeing other people gain weight. And that’s really fucking shitty.

I hope you read this book.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
Roxane Gay's Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body is devastating, both as a personal memoir and as a critique of social attitudes towards overweight women. She traces her struggle with fat to time when, at age 12, she was gang raped by a boy she thought she was in love with and his friends. Gay believe she started packing on weight as a defense mechanism, an effort to make her unattractive to the opposite sex, but when the epithet "slut" continued to be thrown at her, she asked her parents to let her enroll in a private school. Here, she hoped that she could create a new identity, and she did: the Fat Girl. Thus began years of moving from one place to another, one relationship to another, in hopes of finding acceptance and--contradictorily--invisibility. As a six-foot tall black lesbian feminist who weighed over 575 pounds, this hasn't been an easy quest, and it still continues. In addition to her personal story, Gay explores social biases and pressure against obesity (especially for women), from reality shows like "The Biggest Loser," "Extreme Weight Loss," and "My 600-lb. Life," to celebrity endorsements of weight loss regimens like Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, to the reactions of strangers, ranging from stares of disgust to mocking insults. As someone who has struggled with weight for most of my life, I empathized with her claim that a fat person is never able to relax in public, to remove herself from her body and the feeling (or awareness?) that others are constantly seeing and judging her. I, too, have had those moments of self-hatred, of not daring to share the arm rest on a plane, of being self-conscious about what was in my grocery cart or on my plate in a restaurant. Ultimately, Gay comes to no conclusions. Hers is not a happy before-and-after weight loss story, nor is it a journey towards fat acceptance. If anything, it seeks to expose our society's focus on body image and the damage that can be done when we can't see the person because we allow ourselves to be blinded by the surface. And it chronicles Gay's own continuing efforts to rely on her strengths and positive qualities despite what others see.… (more)
LibraryThing member Jan.Coco.Day
What evidence can there be after a trauma? Bodies carry the evidence. Gay's prose style is clipped and curt. She holds the reader at a defensive distance--keeps her own story close, revealing the facts of her trauma at her own pace as the growing fact of her body outpaces her control. This story does not have a happy ending. This story does not have an ending. And I am grateful. I am hungry for Roxane Gay, and any story that she continues to tell, especially her own.… (more)
LibraryThing member akblanchard
Roxane Gay has achieved a lot in her life--she has a PhD and is a New York Times bestselling author--but in her mind she's still "the girl in the woods", the vulnerable twelve year old who was gang-raped by her "boyfriend" and his pals. As the result of this trauma, she over-ate to turn herself into a "fortress" so that she could not be hurt again. Even now, although she's down from her all-time high weight, she writes that her size poses many practical problems, such as finding chairs that are sturdy enough for her to sit on. Even worse are her awkward encounters with well-meaning people who pull things out of her grocery cart or offer unsolicited diet and exercise tips. On top of that, she is prone to bad relationships, self-defeating behavior, and self-loathing.

Hunger is Gay's memoir of the difficult times in her life. At times it reads like an extended therapy session. By the end it seems as though she has reached an uneasy truce with her body and her life, but there is no tidy resolution of her issues with food and relationships. Recommended for the many people, especially women, who will be able to relate to Gay's conflicted relationship with her body.
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LibraryThing member NeedMoreShelves
Hard and painful and funny and relatable and true and honest and real. Read it.
LibraryThing member bkalish
Benjamin Kalish
21 hrs ·
Roxane Gay’s memoir Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body is startling. It is moving and important. It is hard to read and hard to put down.

In this memoir of her body Gay puts into words so much that would generally be left unsaid. Gay’s writing is clear and concise. It does not shy from the contradictions in life. It is both restrained and emotional. It is devastating. Gay tells us about her life. She was raped at the age of twelve. She is fat. She is scared. She is complex, intelligent, insightful, compassionate, and a brilliant writer. She lives a privileged life and recognizes her privilege. She is the subjected to great prejudice and discrimination. In Hunger she shares truths that must be incredibly difficult to share and she does so very well.

Gay’s book tells us much about her life, but it also tells us much about our culture, our country, our attitudes. We are not kind to fat bodies. We are not kind to women’s bodies. We are not kind to black bodies. We are not kind to ourselves. You probably already know this, but Gay’s book will still open your eyes. Her perspective is probably not one you have heard before.

On the back of the dust jacket Ann Patchett tells us why this book is important and I cannot improve on what she says. She writes:

“It turns out that when a wrenching past is confronted with wisdom and bravery, the outcome can be compassion and enlightenment—both for the reader who has lived through this kind of unimaginable pain and for the reader who knows nothing of it. Roxane Gay shows us how to be decent to ourselves and decent to one another. Hunger is an amazing achievement in more ways than I can count.”
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LibraryThing member bookwyrmm
This is not an easy read to stomach, but it does have a powerful message about finding your voice.
LibraryThing member TheAmpersand
"Hunger" is a tough read, a brave testionial, and an effective record of self-construction, but I'm not sure that it's a good book. I didn't enjoy it and wouldn't necessarily recommend it, but I'm still glad that it exists. Over the course of eighty-eight rapid-fire chapters, Roxane Gay tells us what it was like to grow up as an upper-middle class Haitian-American in the Midwest, what it was like to have her life shattered by a truly appalling crime at twelve, and how it led her, more-or-less directly, to develop an all-consuming hunger -- for food, for intimacy, for safety -- that came close to destroying her more than once. Gay is astonishingly honest about her often humiliating adolescence, the numerous bad decisions she made throughout her twenties, and her current state of mind, which is haunted -- and occasionally defined -- by fear, self-loathing, and anger. This isn't a book for the faint of heart. Life hasn't been particularly easy on the author, in some ways, and she doesn't feel much need to sugarcoat things for her readers.

And that's just one of the remarkable choices that Gay makes here. For a book written by a published author and creative writing professor, "Hunger" often seems almost defiantly unliterary. She repeats certain word and phrases over and over again, as if trying to drill the reality of her experience into her reader. She's not afraid to use recognizably political language often heard in activist circles. This may turn some readers off, but, then again, so what? Gay isn't trying to write the next "Speak, Memory" here: "Hunger" is a forthrightly political work. The author doesn't skip any of the gory details when she describes what it's like to live in a body that, at one point, weighed well in excess of four-hundred pounds. She wants us to know how much being black, being Haitian, being big, and being a victim of a crime has defined her. In a certain way, Gay makes it work: the book's conscious linguistic repetition and its willingness to discuss the less pleasant parts of moving through the world when you weigh as much as two Hollywood actresses can make feel the very physicality of the author's troubled and troublesome body. "Hunger" works pretty much the same way thematically: Gay sometimes seem to be striving to convince her reader that her experience that the trauma she suffered is permanent and tangible as any other object, or as irrefutably present as she is herself. She admits that getting over it isn't going to be possible, that fighting through her pain and mental issues is really the only realistic option available to her. Over the course of this memoir, Gay asks speculates more than once what her life might have been like if she hadn't undergone such a traumatic experience at a young age. It's a tempting thought, and it's likely one that more than will resonate with more than a few readers. But Gay always circles back to how she looks, how much she weighs, and what she has made of her life. "Hunger" may not be a great book, or even a good memoir. But I can't think of a better account of an author forcing herself, at considerable personal emotional risk, to accept some hard truths about herself. This one is a body blow of a book, but Gay seems to accept that many black women and people in uncooperative bodies have gone through worse. For many, this book may say much more about healing than it does about Gay's own experiences. If you think you might be one of those people, don't hesitate to pick it up.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
Roxane Gay's book about what it's like to live in the world as an obese woman approaches the experience from both universal and starkly personal angles. She's so honest and unflinching in her examination of her own weight, as well as why she is fat, that the book is often difficult to read; I felt that I really shouldn't be privy to such personal information. But Gay is unable to not be completely open, and it's that rawness that makes this book so powerful.

Gay ties her very personal experience to the wider one of how society treats larger women, pulling from her own life to demonstrate how ill-equipped and judgmental we are of people who we perceive as lacking control, and especially of women who take up more space than they should. Gay is also a tall woman, at 6'3" making her even more conspicuous than she would be at an average height, making ordinary things difficult, from airline seats to finding clothes.

While she was on a book tour for this book, she traveled to Australia and did an interview with a website which subsequently wrote an article about the unique problems accommodating Gay's size posed for them, from having to find a sturdy chair to the onerous task of checking how many pounds the elevator could carry. It was amazing how very much a publication which intended to be sympathetic missed the mark and the whole sordid tale proved Gay's points. It should be noted that had this company planned an interview with a man of similar size, they would have gone about their preparations with a great deal less hysteria and certainly never considered it fodder for an article.
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LibraryThing member caanderson
One of the bravest book I have ever read. Roxane Gay lays it out all the pain and ugliness she has endured.
LibraryThing member TheBentley
An extremely brave memoir about body image, food issues, sexual violence, and all the things that feed into those issues—in other words, basically everything. Gay's narrative voice and her tremendous courage and vulnerability make this a very readable book in spite of the fact that it's terribly uncomfortable in all the ways that it should be uncomfortable.… (more)
LibraryThing member brangwinn
One minute I loved this book. The next minute I hated the book. I’m overweight….my doctor considers me on the edge of morbidly obese. It took those words for me to take action and work on getting my body healthy. But I was never sexually assaulted as a child, so I read with interest how this nightmare impacted Gay’s life. If nothing else it makes me look differently at really overweight people, who may be harboring the same personal history as Gay. It took courage to write this book, courage I don’t have.… (more)
LibraryThing member tibobi
The Short of It:

Gay’s story touches on so many things. Although the title is called Hunger, it’s about insecurities, fear, doubt, and most of all identity.

The Rest of It:

This book fell into my hands at the library and although it’s a memoir, my least fave thing to read besides romance, I decided to read a few pages to see if I would like it and the next time I put it down was when I finished it.

At a very young age, Roxane Gay was gang-raped by a group of boys and it affected her for years to come. When I say affected, I mean that it completely transformed who she thought she was which directly impacted how she felt about her body. Her body grew as she continued to feed it. This feeding, her weak attempt at burying herself and making herself invisible caused other problems, of course.

This was a powerful read and very well-done. It gave me a lot to think about and yes, anyone who has struggled with weight, myself included, will certainly identify with what Gay speaks of but it’s so much more. Even if you are not a fan of memoir, pick it up because it’s very, very good.
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LibraryThing member libraryhead
I've heard so much praise for Roxane Gay that I was expecting something more. While certainly vulnerable and raw, the prose is largely artless. While the specifics of her life story elicit a great deal of sympathy, her self-understanding of how and why she gained the weight puts forward a narrative of an extreme version of emotional eating that is far from universal. While Gay is of course free to process the story of her own life in whatever way works for her, I was disappointed that she never seems to consider that among the factors at work in fat gain are the resolutely physical. I'm sure the last thing she's looking for is advice, but I can't help but think a shift in thinking about causes would be so much more empowering than reveling in all the shame she seems to be carrying around.

The blog Your Fat Friend treads a lot of this same territory, but (I think) does a better job of exploring the fat lived experience without compounding the cliche that excess body fat is always a sign of past trauma and psychological issues.
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LibraryThing member Narshkite
I love Roxane Gay. I have seen her speak and answer questions on 2 occasions and have seen her on TV and heard her on radio many times. I have always found her to be smart, and funny and to have a unique and not often heard POV. But (there is always a but) I have not really liked much of what I have read of hers. I haven't hated it, I just have not found it interesting or particularly insightful. More importantly, she portrays everything as Roxane against the world, and Roxane is always right. People look at you funny when you say that Bad Feminist was "fine" or "okay" but that is how I felt. I liked some of it but felt more of it was obvious or unoriginal and thought a good deal was arrogant and presumptuous. So Hunger was a surprise, an amazing surprise. Every one of the thousand+ times I have heard someone say that a person was brave to write a book or give a strong performance I have rolled my eyes hard enough to end up with a substantial headache. So I forgive anyone who reads this and rolls their eyes when I say that Roxane Gay was incredibly brave to write this book. She has done something painful to help others, and has done so at considerable risk to herself. Hunger speaks aloud so many things that are seemingly never spoken; it tells a story so many people have to tell, and yet never do. As a fellow fat chick so much of the writing about interacting with the world resonated with me. It is true that in our world being fat makes you invisible, genderless, sexless. It is true that many of us insulate ourselves from rejection and fear with fat at the same time as we know that fat brings on other rejection and breeds other fear. Much of Roxane's story is nothing like mine, but the radical honesty of the parts that parallel my own existence assures me that she has bared all in the other sections as well. If the greatest thing about reading is the opportunity to build empathy (and I think it is) this is a great book.

Listened to this read by the author, and the immediacy of her telling her own story enhanced the experience, I recommend the audiobook.
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LibraryThing member spinsterrevival
What an intense journey; this left me gutted and without a lot to say even though my mind is churning.
LibraryThing member jillrhudy
I love that this memoir is so honest. The author refuses to sugarcoat anything and leaves open the distinct possibility that she will never be able to heal from her trauma or lose weight. This is an important work because of that.

The only flaw is that the author seems to repeat herself a lot. You're in her thirties, then you're back in her twenties covering the same ground. The book is very short; it seems as though the publisher is trying to spin it out into a big feminist treatise that they can charge $25 for, when you can read it in an hour and many pages don't cover 2/3 of a page in large font. It's a handful of essays, essentially. It doesn't come up to the mark as a memoir.

It's excellent, nevertheless. Mesmerizing. Top-notch writing.
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LibraryThing member Calavari
A memoir of the body is a really interesting idea. Honestly, it makes me want to write a post or series that does the same thing. I haven't had the same experiences with my body that Gay has, but there are so many ways for the female body to break.

In Hunger, Gay begins with a specific kind of break that is more common than it should be, that should never happen to anyone. From there she discusses the ways she dealt with that break and the effect it had on the body and her opinions of her body, which created a new set of problems while fixing the last.

Her solution was brilliant in its efficiency but also detrimental to other parts of life. Honestly, it makes so much sense that I'd be surprised if there aren't many others who cope in the same way. Still, it's not healthy, which she freely admits. Let me take a moment to specify that I mean holding in that much hurt is not emotionally healthy and it seems to cause it's own kind of mental unhealth. I can't imagine looking at the world this way can be healthy for anyone's mental health and yet women are constantly forced into a state where we are held responsible for others victimization of us. Being on constant guard for whether or not our perceived friend actually wants to hurt us and what our culpability may be if they did hurt us, because how dare we trust anyone is really no way to live.

Getting back to Gay, though, this book is magical and I appreciate her bravery and willingness to be so vulnerable. I especially loved the way she talked about the fat experience. All the women in my family grow up skinny and gain lots of weight in their twenties, usually during pregnancy, that never goes away. I've seen a lot of the thing Gay talks about play out as I went places with my family and as my mother explained all her fears about going on a plane. It all contributed to an insane fear when I was pregnant of gaining too much wait to lose. Its strange to me though that people still felt the need to comment on my mother's weight and then assume I'd join them in talking crap about fat people.

I loved the way she talked about the rash of weight loss shows and particularly "The Biggest Loser". It was such a sensation when it first came out that I watched an episode but one was enough. I've tried and failed to be that support person for my mother and seen a part of what she goes through. Then watching the sensationalized version on television and knowing something of what could be happening between those scenes and I couldn't bear it.

I don't understand fat-shaming other than as a disgusting way for a horrible person to make themselves feel superior. I have, on the other hand, witnessed countless times when different family members have been marginally successful on diets and shoved the diet she should try down her throat and shame her for not wanting to try it too. I've seen the doctors talk about health and dieting as if she's too dumb to understand that her weight poses a health risk but I've also seen the diets and the hunger. I love Roxane Gay so much for being so honest about that struggle and what it does to someone. Its a relief to hear someone talking about all of this.

I highly recommend this book for any feminist, but also anyone who is interested in ending fat-shaming and who is working for body positivity.
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LibraryThing member sturlington
This book evoked so many feelings in me and had me on the cusp of tears more than once. I've never read anything like it. Everyone should read this book.
LibraryThing member hes7
This was not a book for me. With flat narration, abrupt chapter endings, repetitive writing and contradictions, there’s not much I enjoyed about reading it. Still, I did appreciate Roxane Gay’s willingness to share her story.
LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Oomph. This was a tough but important read. Roxane Gay is well-known as a contemporary feminist voice. She is also “a woman of size,” and has come to accept that, to some degree. Writing this memoir was a part of her journey. But this was not a “rah rah we can all be body positive” book. Roxane’s body is the result of horrific trauma as a young girl, which took a significant toll on both her physical and mental health. And her challenges are far from over; every day presents challenges to her personal well-being.

I did not expect such a searingly honest account, nor did I expect to learn as much as I did. Reading this book opened my eyes and, I hope, will help me to curb any judgemental thoughts that I have, and possibly even speak out when others comment about a person’s body in harmful and hurtful ways.
Oomph. This was a tough but important read. Roxane Gay is well-known as a contemporary feminist voice. She is also “a woman of size,” and has come to accept that, to some degree. Writing this memoir was a part of her journey. But this was not a “rah rah we can all be body positive” book. Roxane’s body is the result of horrific trauma as a young girl, which took a significant toll on both her physical and mental health. And her challenges are far from over; every day presents challenges to her personal well-being.

I did not expect such a searingly honest account, nor did I expect to learn as much as I did. Reading this book opened my eyes and, I hope, will help me to curb any judgemental thoughts that I have, and possibly even speak out when others comment about a person’s body in harmful and hurtful ways.
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LibraryThing member abycats
This is so incredibly raw and honest that I found it difficult to read. Her descriptions of the difficulties she faces because of her weight are clearly put and sad.

I found myself wishing two things: that the author continues to learn that she has value to herself and others without regard to her weight, but also that she can find some way to reduce the impact of her rape at age 12. As someone who has struggled with weight all of her life (altho not at this level), it literally hurt to see anyone whose life is so wound up with using pounds as self-defense.

Few people can be so descriptive of pain. I hope she’s able to come out the other side of her anguish. Such a talented woman with so much to say should not have to deal with so much self-doubt. Am hoping that her increasing awareness that she IS loved will give her support in changing her life.

Bottom line is that this is powerfully written and hard to read if you have even a touch of empathy. You will have to judge for yourself whether you’re up to it.
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Language

Original language

English

Original publication date

2017-06-13

Physical description

320 p.; 5.31 x 0.72 inches

ISBN

0062362593 / 9780062362599
Page: 0.2631 seconds