Roxane Gay is a badass. This was my very first thought when she came onto my radar. This was back in, oh, 2012, maybe? I was part of The Rumpus book club for over 2 years, and Roxane was a writer for the website Roxane Gay’s work while I was there. I knew of her from her essays and articles, but never really *knew* her until she popped into the book club discussions. There was a woman in the book club who drove met bat shit crazy. I will call this woman Batty. She was rude and condescending and just awful. And no one stood up to her. Until Roxane showed up. She, very directly and firmly, put this woman in her place. There were no words minced. And I cheered from behind my computer screen because FINALLY someone had the nerve and ability to do this task that I had secretly been begging someone to do. Batty was silenced. And it was beautiful. I knew from that minute that Roxane Gay was a badass. Let me be perfectly clear. She still is a badass.
Back then during the Batty takedown, I had no idea what Roxane looked like. Not one clue. When her book An Untamed State came out, I finally saw pictures of her attached to her reviews and realized she is black. Okay. Got it. No problem. But it truly wasn’t until this book was released and subsequent podcasts, reviews, interviews, etc that I realized that Roxane is fat (her words). Clinically, she is “super morbidly obese.” And after reading this book in a matter of hours, I stand by my original statement that she is a badass.
It is perfectly clear that Roxane doesn’t want pity for her body. Because her body doesn’t reflect who she is deep down. Or it does. (stealing a bit of her writing style here) She is more than her body. Aren’t we all. But living life with her body isn’t just a challenge. It is an all encompassing every minute of every day challenge. There are things in life she deals with that aren’t even on the radar of other people. Roxane doesn’t fit neatly into a mold of what society feels a woman should look like. She is also 6’3″, which provides its own challenges, of course. But her weight is what this book mainly focuses on.
And, as she puts it, there is a before and after in her life. Before a certain event (which I will not tell here. It is much too personal of a story for her. It is her story. Not mine) she was happy, shy but friendly, typical girl growing up in the Midwest. Her family loved her. She was supported. Then the terrible thing happened and she changed. Her world changed. Her life changed. And her body changed. She ate to escape the pain. She ate to make herself bigger so people wouldn’t want her. She ate and ate and ate and tried her best to hide her sadness, blaming herself for everything. Deep down parts of that girl still live inside her, shouting from the depths “You aren’t worthy. You don’t deserve love. You are fat. You are ugly.” Her internal monologue is brutal to read. Absolutely heartbreaking. Because Roxane is a badass. And not just because she took down someone who drove me crazy. But because she is authentic. Because she is true. Because she is real. Because she is healing. Because she is human.
I am not a writer. I don’t even pretend to be any form of writer, even in these reviews. So I know I’m not doing justice to her as a writer or her book, and I apologize for that. However, let me make this as clear as I can. Every woman should read this book. Not just women who society has labeled because of their weight. Not just women who look in the mirror and view themselves negatively. Not just women who avoid mirrors at all. Not just women who struggle with finding clothes that fit. Each and every woman. Because Roxane speaks to us all. Our insecurities, our need to be loved and accepted, our desire to be seen for who we are on the inside and not judged by our outsides. Thank you for this book, Roxane, and thank you for being a badass.