Through this deeply moving memoir, Kiese Laymon shares his experience having grown up as a black male in a larger body in the deep South. He shares his earlier traumas, his fonder memories, and how he has learned to cope with both the times his mother was absent and the times she was present.
This is a such a gritty, revealing memoir that reading it feels almost voyeuristic. Writing it as a letter to his mother, Laymon is so deeply introspective and revelatory that we peer into his private window, we peek inside his heart. We experience his profound sense of pain and powerlessness as he watches the women in his life become victimized by other men. His anger is, sadly, directed inward – as it so often is. It manifests first as binge eating and later as restriction and overexercising. This coping strategy works for him, however, until it doesn’t. Meanwhile, he is able to be as resilient as possible, forging relationships, excelling academically and achieving goals on his terms.
As a side note, I so appreciate that Laymon has come forward with this memoir, because it defiles so many stereotypes of who struggles with eating disorders. As he acknowledges himself, eating disorders are thought to exist only in upper class, white women – and this is just not true. Folks of all genders, races, and socioeconomic strata utilize these behaviors to cope with their lives and one can never assume anyone is free or “protected” because of who they are or appear to be. These are secretive behaviors and cannot be diagnosed by someone’s appearance. And they can be very painful, distracting, and most importantly, life-threatening – never to be taken lightly.
This is also an important memoir from the perspective of understanding racial issues and racism. Laymon shares his encounters with racism and digests them with us, his readers. Both he and his mother, in spite of their obvious intelligence and academic accomplishments, are underpaid and frequently disrespected. But, again, he also places his experiences into context. He understands that even when he’s been treated as less than, he is still not at the bottom of the totem pole, being a male as opposed to a female person of color. His compassionate view of the women in his life enables him to see their utter vulnerability to the forces of bias and power imbalance.
I deeply appreciate this memoir, for all its raw and painful honesty. This is a hard read but well worth the work of it.