Lindy West writes a coming of age book as she immerses herself in a culture that holds high expectations for women. The current society demands of women to be small, compliant, and quite which is contrary to what West’s upholds. Shrill takes readers on a journey of self-discovery as West reflects on her experiences as she grew up. The book depicts the challenges of a big bodied woman who goes through an excruciatingly shy childhood as she tries to swipe opinions about women her size under the carpet. Her efforts are futile especially when she tries to topple rape jokes by stand-up comedians. The public war with stand-up comedians gains her notoriety, but one that lasts as long as the lifeline of the argument.
In the book, West explains how she struggles to convince herself, and in consequence, the world, that big-bodied women have worth. She plunges into what one could describe as accidental activism and a battle with internet tyrants that has no end in sight. She narrates her life merging it with humor, hardcore experiences clothed in pathos that present making a trip to the abortion clinic as a day-to-day encounter. For those that have gone through similar experience, West appeals to their sense of reasoning and understanding through tapping into their bottled-up emotions concerning their status as big-bodied women.
Shrill calls women to rise up and face their vulnerability to explore boundless opportunities. West shares tips on how to maneuver in this rather cruel world where being big-bodied is considered an abnormality, and to some extent, an outcome of one’s desire. As if big-bodied individuals would not wish having eyes turn away from when in public spaces, West provocatively debunks what it means for one to be self-aware, but the hard way. She goes from wanting to remain silent and, ironically, out of sight, to becoming a staunch advocate against the handicapping effect of being a big-bodied woman.
West says nothing new in terms of the experiences of big-bodied women. They are commonly called fat, a term that is shockingly insulting, let alone demeaning. However, for all the right reasons, West takes on the mantle of accepting such a title and audaciously rises from within the confines of discriminative and prejudiced perception. With joyous vulgarity and peerless humor, West incorporates charm and wit to show how to survive in a world that is not shy of degrading big-bodied women. Her identification with the term “fat” presents a certain degree of realism that echoes her potential eruption from a rock bottom that society has pushed her into, to emerging up and above such backward thinking.
West is not shy to take war to stand-up comedians who are fond of making insensitive rape jokes about big women. Not only are these money-oriented and shameless persons shallow in their thoughts, but also depict a culture that is largely embedded in the society. While launching an attack on their jokes seems like the right thing to do, West is forced to consider whether she will win such a war; she would have to direct the battle toward the consumers of such impervious content. Therefore, unknowingly, West is forced to unabashedly call out her oppressors and their audience in disparaging big-bodied women in such negative light.
Through addressing the issues that big-bodied women face, West reveals the grim power of shrewdness engraved in fatness, a tentacle for character that is able to thrive even in the event of physical change to one being skinny. The reality is that going through fatness exposes women to a kind of insight that cannot be erased easily even as one transitions from being in such a state to adorning what society expects, a skinny body. But for a big-bodied woman, there is no degree of skinniness that can erase the gruesome experiences of cruelty lodged against fat women.
The word “fat” is used loosely in describing various things such as a “fat cheque”. Within such circumstances, there is widespread acceptance of such usage. However, it is quite unfortunate that the meaning entrenched in how the word is used in different contexts has been projected against big-bodied women. For West, not only does being a woman render one vulnerable to dominion by men but being fat worsens one’s experiences. The toxicity and bluntness associated with the term is what provokes West to remain steadfast in her pursuit of respect and appreciation for big-bodied women. She is deliberate in her approach to awaken the “body politic” of women suffering similar treatment.
For any sane reader, West expresses the absolute reality of being fat, which appears to earn women in this particular category a front-row seat to cruelty and shaming. West innocently writes, “I never wanted internet trolls to be my beat. I wanted to write feminist polemics, jokes about wizards and love letters to John Goodman’s meaty, sexual forearms”. Instead, West is thrown into a world where she has to write and defend her being. She has to convince a conservative and trend-driven society that big-bodied women embody a beauty that is unparalleled regardless of her size.
Through an engaging conversation writing technique, West is able to keep her readers entertained and moved at the same time. She echoes her own experiences and how they have shaped her being as a big-bodied woman. She captures her readers’ attention with the following statement: “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. I am one piece”. For those that hold conservative ideals toward body size, they are likely to be humbled by West’s dose of reality.
On a more critical level, Shrill exposes readers to the harsh encounters of a woman struggling to permeate the minds of the public; she is convinced that a journey into the world of a big-bodied woman can not only be eye-opening, but also liberative. However, West is audacious in her approach to anticipate that she will change views, especially of those that have had negative experiences with weight. For instance, those who have had medical complications due to having too much weight are likely to argue otherwise. Therefore, one ought to appreciate the angle from which the other party is coming from; that is, being fat or thin are relative terms.
Undoubtedly, West does take caution in limiting her discussion to being majorly about body size. In fact, she considers the word “big” as being condescending and should not be a replacement of the word “fat”. With such hardcore truth, West is likely to win herself the attention of an audience that would otherwise consider overlooking the non-fiction book. Unapologetically, West does not really care about the opinion of those who are quick to lodge negative criticism provided her message is loud and clear – being fat is a reality.