Coming of age in a culture that demands women be as small, quiet, and compliant as possible–like a porcelain dove that will also have sex with you–writer and humorist Lindy West quickly discovered that she was anything but.
From a painfully shy childhood in which she tried, unsuccessfully, to hide her big body and even bigger opinions; to her public war with stand-up comedians over rape jokes; to her struggle to convince herself, and then the world, that fat people have value; to her accidental activism and never-ending battle royale with Internet trolls, Lindy narrates her life with a blend of humor and pathos that manages to make a trip to the abortion clinic funny and wring tears out of a story about diarrhea.
With inimitable good humor, vulnerability, and boundless charm, Lindy boldly shares how to survive in a world where not all stories are created equal and not all bodies are treated with equal respect, and how to weather hatred, loneliness, harassment, and loss–and walk away laughing. Shrill provocatively dissects what it means to become self-aware the hard way, to go from wanting to be silent and invisible to earning a living defending the silenced in all caps.
My first experience with Lindy West’s writing was when I discovered the world of Jezebel, which was an eye-opening encounter to my feminism-starved self. Of course, now I am more aware of the site’s problematic nature, but at the time it was a good introduction for my high school self to the world of feminism.
Shrill covers Lindy’s childhood, coming of age and career as a woman who is classified as ‘big’. It doesn’t go into boring autobiographical detail, but rather includes observations and experiences relating to feminism and our culture’s obsession with weight. The book is also an easy read – not in terms of the content matter, which will probably make you alternately angry, despairing, and ‘RRRRR girrrrrl power’, but rather in terms of the writing style, which is fairly colloquial – Lindy has an approachable, conversational tone – perhaps a little over the top snarky at times.
In a certain light, feminism is just the long, slow realisation that the stuff you love hates you.
I cannot tell you how much the above quote resonates with me. Ever since I’ve become more aware of social justice issues, it is so difficult to consume movies, books and other forms of media without observing the sexist/racist/homophobic elements.
Much of the book is focused body size, and the author’s experience in a world which constantly polices female appearance.
So, what do you do when you’re too big, in a world where bigness is cast not only as aesthetically objectionable, but also as a moral failing? You fold yourself up like origami, you make yourself smaller in other ways, you take up less space with your personality, since you can’t with your body. You diet. You starve, you run till you taste blood in your throat, you count out your almonds, you try to buy back your humanity with pounds of flesh.
I could feel the hurt pouring off the page at some points, and some of her words really resonated for me. While I perhaps don’t qualify as plus-size, the emphasis on making yourself ever-smaller certainly struck home.
People go on and on about boobs and butts and teeny waists, but the clavicle is the true benchmark of female desirability. It is a fetish item.
She also makes a number of salient points, a few of which I have quoted below:
I dislike ‘big’ as a euphemism, maybe because it’s the one chosen most often by people who mean well, who love me and are trying to be gentle with my feelings. I don’t want the people who love me to avoid the reality of my body. I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable with its size and shape, to tacitly endorse the idea that fact is shameful, to pretend I’m something I’m not out of deference to a system that hates me.
Please don’t forget: I am my body. When my body gets smaller, it is still me. When my body gets bigger, it is still me. There is not a thin woman inside me, awaiting excavation.
Privilege means that it’s easy for white women to do each other favours. Privilege means that those of us who need it the least often get the most help.
The fact that abortion is still a taboo subject means that opponents of abortion get to define it however suits them best.
We don’t care about fat people because it is okay not to care about them, and we don’t take care of them because we think they don’t deserve care.
I didn’t even realise until I read this book that West originally started out in comedy – which has been overshadowed by her activism in response to the trolls and prejudice she’s encountered. An honest, unflinching collection of essays with some excellent critique.