In her new book, “Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body,” acclaimed feminist author Roxane Gay chronicles her lifelong struggle with obesity and the daily challenges of life as an overweight woman.
“When you’re overweight,” she writes, “your body becomes a matter of public record in many respects. Your body is constantly and prominently on display.”
As if to illustrate that very point, albeit unintentionally, the Australian women’s lifestyle website Mamamia published a podcast interview with Gay this week that suggested her weight made it a “logistical nightmare” to book her as a guest.
“Will she fit into the office lift?” read the now-altered podcast description, written by Mamamia creative director Mia Freedman. “How many steps will she have to take to get to the interview? Is there a comfortable chair that will accommodate her six-foot-three, ‘super-morbidly-obese’ frame?”
In a separate post, Freedman wrote: “You see, Roxane Gay is … I’m searching for the right word to use here. I don’t want to say fat so I’m going to use the official medical term: super morbidly obese.”
The irony was not lost on Gay’s many supporters on social media, nor on Gay herself, who blasted Mamamia in a series of tweets Monday and Tuesday, calling the episode a “s‑‑‑ show.”
“I am appalled by Mamamia,” Gay wrote. “It is cruel and humiliating.”
“I ask for one thing. A sturdy chair,” she added. “This situation is disgusting and shameful and frankly it speaks for itself.”
As backlash spread online, Mamamia removed the offending language from the podcast and description, then issued a vague and circuitous apology, saying it was “mortified to think” that Gay felt disrespected.
The site said it was “disappointed our execution of this story hasn’t contributed in the way we intended. We’re deeply apologetic that in this instance we’ve missed the mark in contributing to this discussion.”
Later, Freedman wrote an apology of her own. She said she initially felt comfortable revealing the details of the steps Mamamia took to accommodate Gay during the interview.
“But this is not my story to tell and I should not have included it in the intro to the podcast or the podcast description,” Freedman said. “It was disrespectful and it upset her and for that I am deeply, deeply sorry.”
The mea culpas didn’t impress Mamamia’s critics, among them the blog SorryWatch, which called the statements “faux-humble” and “self-congratulatory” in a post on Tuesday.
“Your promo copy depicted a monster, not a beauty,” SorryWatch wrote. “Own it. Then you can try apologizing legitimately for it.”
The Mamamia podcast was recorded in May as Gay made the rounds promoting her memoir, which was released on Tuesday.
The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Gay has long focused on gender, race and body image in her 20-odd years as a writer and public intellectual. Her most recent book is her second in 2017, coming after “Difficult Women,” a short story collection. In 2014 she published a best-selling essay collection called “Bad Feminist,” as well as her debut novel, “An Untamed State.”
In “Hunger,” Gay gives an account of how she started eating excessively to cope with a kidnapping and rape she suffered as a teenager. She writes that her parents “knew nothing of my determination to keep making my body into what I needed it to be — a safe harbor rather than a small, weak vessel that betrayed me.”
Gay, who teaches at Purdue University and contributes to the New York Times opinion page, describes the obstacles, both mundane and existential, that come with her size and stature. (She stands 6 feet, 3 inches and once weighed more than 500 pounds.) In one part of “Hunger,” she writes about looking up event spaces to see if the stairs are accessible and wondering if chairs are sturdy enough to fit her.
The book also criticizes people who gawk at her size and offer unsolicited advice about how to lose weight. “People are quick to offer statistics and information about the dangers of obesity,” she writes, “as if you are not only fat but incredibly stupid, unaware, and delusional about your body and a world that is vigorously inhospitable to that body.”
In an interview with The Washington Post last week, Gay said one of her goals in writing “Hunger” was to show people “what fat looks like, beyond what people generally see.”
“I wanted to wrest control of that narrative,” she said, “back from the people who have seized it.”
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