When I first picked up the memoir Hunger by Roxane Gay, I was expecting a work solely centered around the author’s struggles with weight and eating habits. While there were sections dedicated to those topics, other portions of this book questioned, critiqued, and called out society’s unhealthy obsession with size.
An example of this concept is present within the beginning of the text when Gay discusses Body Mass Index (BMI). In this part, the writer goes through the science behind BMI, as well as the history connected to this formula of weight divided by height. Gay explains that BMI, while good in theory, does not account for the different types of bodies that there are. BMI does not consider a person’s percentage of fat versus muscle when determining if someone is healthy or not. Additionally, a normal BMI number on the scale used to be around 25.5, but it was changed to 25 as scientists believed that people would remember the latter more easily. By doing so, more Americans were deemed to be overweight when, in reality, they were not. Yet American health professionals and media, despite knowing this information, still promote an inaccurate weight measuring system.
Gay also extends this notion to entertainment in reality TV programs such as The Biggest Loser and certain TLC Shows. These programs either advocate dangerous methods of losing weight, like over-exercising and extreme dieting, or they mock and sensationalize the lives of people who are considered to be overweight and/or obese. People on these shows are treated as numbers rather than human beings with feelings because their subjects’ self-worth is determined by their weight.
Throughout my reading experience, I was consistently surprised by the extent to which fatphobia is embedded in American culture, and I’m stating this as someone who is a self-conscious, overweight American. There are definitely ways in which these toxic body ideals are visible throughout the world.
Hunger has made me rethink the ways in which I am subtly (and not-so-subtly) pressured into maintaining a particular weight/size and influenced to become preoccupied with thoughts and beliefs about my own weight. Since finishing this memoir, whenever I encounter a source that makes me feel bad about my weight, I stop to consider if I truly feel this way or if I am being pushed to hate my body. Do I desire to change or am I being told to change? It’s surprising how often the second option happens to be the truth.