Heavy by Kiese Laymon- A Brief Discussion

I read Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon and here are my thoughts (with a couple of spoilers).

Trigger alert: This piece contains some mention of eating disorders, abuse, and sexual violence.

So before reading Heavy, the memoir by Kiese Laymon, I had watched a few interviews with him describing the book and his thought process. My favorite interview though, was the one he did with a YouTuber named Joulezy because I think she was able to connect with him in a very genuine way. The authenticity he showed in that interview was also very prominent in this book and was the vehicle that carried some of the key themes of black masculinity, gendered and raced violence, sexuality, eating disorders, and abuse. When I first starting reading it I felt as though I was in the midst of a deeply personal conversation and I wrote in my notes, “I’m tearing up. I feel like I’m opening the curtains to the lives of individuals I have not earned the right to.” There was this clear feeling of intrusion. That feeling did subside a bit as the book continued but it was still uncomfortable to read especially in the beginning.

Laymon is essentially writing this book to his mom as a tell-all account of all that he has been through throughout his life. From the very beginning though, he makes it known that the relationship he had with his mother was very intimate in ways that were comforting at times but also quite distinctly unhealthy. For most of his life, it was just his mother and him, although his grandma did play a very important role. His mother was a professor who always encouraged him to read and so from a very young age, he was able to gain these skills that helped to advance him academically. However, his mother represents what I believe to be for many black children, the pressure to have to be excellent and to work twice as hard.  It’s that love that parents and guardians try to express but it’s that love that feels prickled with pain.

As the book continued we see that Laymon takes on the role of being the man of the house (as a boy) which is where I think he became entrenched in an emotionally draining relationship with his mother. I couldn’t help but wince during certain parts of the book, which I suppose was the author’s purpose, because I felt the heaviness in his experience of growing up as a black boy in the south. In one of the chapters, his mom called him his best friend and those were one of the parts that we were able to see that “okay yeah this isn’t supposed to be like this.”  This creates a weird relationship between them because at the same time his mother is also disciplining him in an abusive way.  It becomes kind of difficult for Laymon to understand the type of relationship they have because he still feels the need to protect and care for his mother. This showed the complex ways of loving a black woman while being a black man.

He details his experience of being overweight and not loving his body but also wanted his body to experience being touched. He spoke briefly in part about being prompted into having sexual relations with an older woman, who was actually at the house to babysit him and feeling rejected after seeing her engaging with someone else. His response though was to blame himself for being fat.  I thought it was interesting to see how most of the times when he described his experiences with wanting to or actively engaging in intimate relationships with women he also mentions food or his body. We see this connection he had with food and his body progress throughout the book, as he goes to college and begins to start aggressively dieting and exercising. He becomes so obsessed with being as thin as possible that he manages to injure himself. It’s quite apparent that he is suffering from an eating disorder possibly body dysmorphia but he’s eating to avoid dealing with the trauma he has experienced. Food becomes his therapy. His obsession with food is very present throughout the entire book and is a motif that enhances the weight of his experiences.

This book doesn’t end with a “kumbaya” moment but it ends more so with an acceptance of what it means to be black in society. He’s owning his experiences and he’s lingering in the realities of those experiences and the experiences that other black Americans like him have faced and continue to face. 

This was a very condensed run-through of the book so I would strongly encourage you to read it. It was such a great read and Kiese Laymon is a dynamic author so I know you’ll enjoy it. Also, please feel free to leave any book recommendations in the comments!

The interview I watched!
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