Lindy West has spent her career in the midst of a hate campaign. She has been continuously insulted, threatened repeatedly with rape and endured a barrage of vicious emails sent from an account set up in her deceased father’s name. People want to hurt her because she writes about what she believes in, namely that she is proud to be a woman and unconcerned with weight loss.
That this sentence sounds jarring (almost every woman I know is concerned with weight loss, irrespective of their actual weight) highlights how rare a voice like West’s is; she provides an alternative point of view with intelligence, wit and warmth. I have followed her writing for years, ever since reading “How To Make A Rape Joke” in response to Daniel Tosh. In it, she skilfully cuts through the debate on censorship versus offensive humour by arguing that a joke of any topic can be funny provided that the victim is not the butt of the joke. I had not seen this point of view anywhere else in the conversations surrounding the controversy; she had injected new life into a stale debate and has continued to do so with this new book.
Shrill falls somewhere between a collection of essays and an autobiography. Detailing her personal experiences as a fat woman, the book is a fearless and ferocious odyssey through the life vocal female writer who refuses to believe that the only path to self acceptance is the path paved with Pilates and protein shakes. She discusses fat shaming “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”, double standards “on her frame, angular but soft, a baggy T-shirt is coded as ‘low maintenance’ not ‘sloppy’; a ponytail is ‘sleek’ not ‘tennis ball on top of a mini fridge”, the ongoing dearth of stylish clothes in larger sizes “more bejewelled tunics covered with skulls, cherries and antique postage stamps please” and a spirited defence of Ursula The Sea Witch “history is written by the victors, so forgive me if I don’t trust some P90X sea king’s smear campaign against the radical fatty in the next grotto”.
We learn of her termination and how it prompted her to launch Shout Your Abortion, a post-debate platform with an emphasis on sharing experiences. We learn about her most harrowing trolling experience and how, after realising the connection between unkindness and insecurity, she interviewed the perpetrator on This American Life and forgave him. We learn her thoughts on flying first class “the highest praise I can give it is that it was adequate, it had succeeded at being a chair instead of a flying social experiment about the limits of human endurance” and why she talks openly about her period “the active ingredient in period stigma is misogyny”. Most importantly we learn about the importance of kindness and acceptance. Health is not a moral imperative; to be fat can be a state of being rather than a problem in need of a solution. Ironically, we should have larger concerns.
Shrill: Notes From A Loud Woman available here.