When I was 14, my English teacher told my class about a book called "Shrill." Written by Seattle native Lindy West, "Shrill" tells the story of what it's like being a loud, fat feminist. At that age, the word fat terrified me. My biggest fear was my friends finding out I was chubby. It wasn't like they couldn't tell, but something about even having the word said to me was terrifying. Is everyone looking at me? Are they waiting to see how I react to a book about a loud, fat feminist? I was almost offended. My English teacher was not speaking directly to me, rather she was telling a group of 14-year-olds that there is a universe in which they should listen to loud, fat women. But in ninth grade, I found a way to sneak into each and every conversation my love of vegetables, my affinity for running and all the aspects about myself that one might typically associate with a skinny person so as to avoid any association with fatness at all. And through eating disorders and the avoidance of accepting my body as it was, I got through high school with a proper amount of shame and an oath to one day make myself take up less space.
Freshman year of college, a show came out: "Shrill." "Shrill" tells the story of Annie Easton, loosely based on the Lindy West novel of the same name. Annie is a fat writer for a small newspaper based in Portland. Annie, played by Saturday Night Live cast member Aidy Bryant, is fat, brilliant and fun. I was hesitant to watch a show about a fat girl. Didn't that seem a little too on-the-nose? What if somebody found out that I watched a show about a fat woman? Would they learn my secret? That after 20 years of existing in my body, I'm kind of okay with it? So I watched the first episode and was immediately captivated. It quickly became my favorite show.
I hadn't expected so many of my experiences and internal criticisms to be universal. The things I thought about myself and my body were so intimate. They were so horrifically mean, that I assumed I was the only person who could think these things about myself. I couldn't imagine another woman telling herself that you can't be conventionally unattractive and have strong opinions. Or that if you're not going to appease the eurocentric male gaze, you at least have to appease the male desire for power.
"Shrill" covers these issues, these beliefs that your fatness makes you bad. That if you were only sweet enough to any man, he would be able to look past his distaste for your body. That as a fat woman you do not deserve the right to have the same standards that skinny women have. That somehow it's self-care to admit that your body is unattractive and that you deserve to spend $100 on Spanx.
On April 29, SFTV in conjunction with Hulu hosted a Q&A with "Shrill" creators Ali Rushfield and Lindy West. For those of you unaware of Lindy West's work, well, shame on you. In 2011, Lindy West wrote an article in Seattle (my hometown) newspaper "The Stranger" entitled, "Hello, I Am Fat." The article was eons ahead of its time. West unabashedly called herself fat — not plus-sized or curvy. She told an all-too-familiar story of promising herself that one day she would be thin enough to achieve all her dreams, a story about coming to the realization that her body as it exists is not just good enough but revolutionary.
Unfortunately, fat women are still met with dehumanizing practices and comments, but if there’s anything this Q&A taught me, it’s that we are cultivating spaces in which body neutrality and fat positivity are praised. Halfway through the audience Q&A, I was struck by the fact that the questions were about the show itself. People were not asking, "What is your best plus size fashion tip?” The questions were about pitching a realistic show about a fat woman and getting it made. I had never witnessed the intersection of fatness and representation so clearly, and I had never felt so confidently safe in an environment. Lindy West was not the voice representing all fat women and their plights; rather, she was here to be part of a conversation about her contributions to a new cultural acceptance.
While the process didn’t occur without hardships, Rushfield and West emphasized that the ultimate way for skinny people to act as allies is pretty simple. “You don’t have to describe our bodies," said West. What a revolutionary concept. If calling someone fat, even as neutral, feels strange to you, ask yourself, "Why do I feel the need to describe this person's body in the first place?" Also, stop telling fat women they have beautiful skin. Yes, it is a universal experience, and it’s weird.
Fat women deserve spaces that aren’t co-opted by skinny bodies or trying to sell them something in the name of empowerment. Fat women do not exist as the butt of the joke in male-driven comedies or as a reference point from which skinny women can distance themselves. I don’t need to occupy my time convincing you I go on runs or eat vegetables because even if I didn’t, I would still deserve respect.
The whole conversation is nuanced and requires a level of education about health, society and sociology that not everyone has the privilege to access. I don't necessarily blame the individuals who instantly believe fat people are unhealthy or whose biggest fear is putting on weight. I blame the multi-billion dollar industry that convinces us we are not complete until we shed those extra pounds. And blame the facade our society has created that all of our dreams will come true when our bodies are smaller. I blame the men who write fat women as the butt of the joke and normalize treating them as such. I blame the part of myself that was, and perhaps still is, angry that there are fat women who love their bodies more than I love mine. We need more fat stories, and not big, curvy, plus-sized stories or stories about fat women loving themselves by shrinking themselves. Stories about women taking up space, in whatever iteration that may be, are important.
This is the opinion of Gabriella Jeakle, a sophomore English and History major from Seattle, Washington. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow and tweet comments to @LALoyolan on Twitter, and like the Loyolan on Facebook.