Ode to Hunger

In 2014, I was diagnosed with anorexia. I was sixteen and weighed 132 pounds. My nails were blue – my lips purple. My resting heart rate was 34 bpm, and my index finger and thumb created a shackle around my bicep. At night I held my hip bones: I loved them.

At that time, Florence and the Machine (stylized as Florence + The Machine) had only released Lungs (2009) and Ceremonials (2011). I listened to their music religiously. It reminded me of great women who passed from suicide, namely: Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf. The drowning metaphors, the spiritual motifs, the haunting voice, the crystalized sounds – all of it transformed me into a pretentious adolescent.

The band has a keen awareness of who they are, the kind of music they create, and who they create it for. I argue, however, that the majority of their mystic and fantastical lyricism, especially with their earlier albums, hint at a deeper desire to stay hidden from the world. Yet with the release of their third and forth LPs, the band cut from themselves the holy horror for a more relatable, humble image. With this, I suggest a parallel: as they transform, so do I.

I should preface that Florence and The Machine did not cause my anorexia. No. That burden rests elsewhere. But their music did lend a hand in carving my flesh from bones, like a sculptor chisels marble. I idolized them: the heavenly glow of weightlessness, the ability to scrutinize the essence of who I was – then again, that’s adolescence. Nonetheless, their music was a friend, an influencer, a magician who transformed my outlook on myself and my life.

My weight has fluctuated since being diagnosed: rising to 160 pounds and sinking to 140 pounds. (I never went lower than 132 pounds, and I have not seen numbers below 140 for a year now.) I am doing better, and part of me doing better has to do with Florence and The Machine releasing “Hunger”.

Hunger” was the second single off of their fourth LP, High as Hope. It was released last spring, on the 3rd of May 2018. The song marvels at what it means to be lonely and how people attempt to fix their loneliness: hunger, sex, drugs. The band confronts the crux of humanity: the “Hunger” for something to give our lives purpose, as if something like that existed, as if it were outside ourselves.

The song opens with Florence singing: “At seventeen I started to starve myself/ I thought that love was a kind of emptiness.” When I heard this, I cried. I cried because she understood. I cried because she was brave. I cried because I wasn’t. 

Incongruous with my ego, she declared: “We all have a hunger” – a thunderous anthem for the misfits and the loveless. An aphorism for the forgetful and their self-hatred. She acknowledged my uncertainty and fear and anxiety about myself and my existence; and then promised me it was a simple, acceptable fact of life.

It gives me comfort – those three minutes and thirty-four seconds. For me, the song’s power – do I have the authority to name something “powerful”? – is real and true. No, it did not magically cure my anorexia. I continue to struggle with eating enough calories a day, with not loathing my gut as I turn on my side to sleep, with not accepting my hip bones for their lovely curve. But their song was a start. A last page saying: “To be continued…”