Dear Fat Feminists: Roxane Gay Doesn’t Owe Us Anything
Even though we share some common lines, I don’t know what it is to live in Roxane Gay’s body.
Roxane Gay had weight loss surgery (WLS) and I have many opinions and feelings about that but it is also none of my goddamn business what Roxane Gay does to Roxane Gay’s body. And that’s a hard pill to swallow.
Gay has been one of the most visibly fat women of color working today. She has written a number of articles, books, and even comics. She has spoken passionately for fat activism, her book, “Hunger”, was about her struggles with food, trauma, and her own body. Her work has struck a chord with many fat feminists who found solace and strength in her words, myself included, but none of that gives me any room or right to tell her what she can and can’t do with her body.
She outlines why she made this choice in her piece, “What Fullness Is” for Unruly Bodies. It was not one that she came to easily and she was pondering it off and on for a number of years before finally going through with the process. And it comes to this: She lived under multiple marginalizations for her entire life when, given a choice to be able to opt out of one, to give herself a break from the constant abuse of the world, she did.
I’m a visible, fat, Black woman. I’m smaller than Gay which affords me more privilege than her in navigating this world, but I still get the abuse, the constant messages that should hate myself for my fatness, my Blackness. It is exhausting to always be in a position where you feel you have to prove you are worthy of just existing.
Even though we share some common lines, I don’t know what it is to live in Roxane Gay’s body. I don’t know what it is to wake up everyday and have to live her life. Just because I have been able to find my peace with myself about my weight, does not mean that Gay could or ever would be able to. Because Gay’s life and her body is not my life or my body or anyone else’s.
I would be lying if I said that learning of her choice didn’t sting though.
WLS is an incredibly heated topic in the fat-o-sphere. There are studies that show that the surgery is only a quick fix for many people and the weight is gained back as well as a plethora of health problems that come with the surgery itself. Many fear-based tactics are used to recruit patients, including telling people that they will die from their weight or that cure or keep them from getting diabetes. Even though the surgery comes with its own set of dangers, the message is that those are more acceptable risks than the ones you’re agreeing to by just existing in your body as it is.
We’ve seen other visibly fat, Black women decide to go through with this surgery before Gay. Most recently, Gabourey Sidibe back in 2017. And like with Gay, there’s this feeling of loss, this feeling that a fellow warrior has laid down their sword and given up the fight.
But the truth is, they shouldn’t have to be warriors, and how can I fault them for saying, “I don’t want to fight a war I didn’t sign up for anymore.”
It still stings but it doesn’t change the fact that I have no room to speak on what they decide to do with their bodies. Regardless of what Gay means to me, what she means to anyone, she is beholden to herself before all others. She has to live her life and neither I nor anyone else gets to tell her what’s the right choice for her.
I’m not going to support WLS or dieting but honestly, I hope that this choice gives her the peace she was searching for. I hope it works out and she’s happy. I’m not going cancel her or stop supporting her work. It’s really hard to be a Black woman in America and it’s even harder to do so while being fat, while carrying trauma, while being queer. Roxane Gay does not exist to inspire others, she is a person with her own life and struggles, and although the decision she made is not one that I think I would have made, that does not give me the right to judge her for a choice she made for her own life.
So yes, it stung, but it was her body and she—like all of us—gets to decide what she does with it.
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