Written by: Lindy West
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
“Women matter. Women are half of us. When you raise every woman to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint and smallness; when you pit women against one another, keep us shackled by shame and hunger, obsessing over our flaws rather than our power and potential; when you leverage all of that to sap our money and our time—that moves the rudder of the world. It steers humanity toward conservatism and walls and the narrow interests of men, and it keeps us adrift in waters where women’s safety and humanity are secondary to men’s pleasure and convenience.”
The moment I saw that Lindy West was writing a book I was excited. I had heard her on This American Life, confronting the troll that impersonated her dead father, I had read her articles on Jezebel, and I had read about her debates on rape jokes. I like her. She’s funny. She can make you uncomfortable and make you think. Did I mention she makes me smile. After I read her I feel motivated and oddly empowered.
I read Shrill again after the election and after the holidays. I needed to remember some things, like “You can’t take good care of a thing you hate.” And “We're all building our world, right now, in real time. Let's build it better.” Obviously these things resonate with me on so many levels; on a world we are facing for the next four years, and how cruel we can be to ourselves.
You probably know Lindy even if you don’t think you do. A few years ago Lindy’s rape joke debates made her famous, but it all took its toll. What should have perhaps sparked discussions instead makes her hate standup comedy now. “My point about rape jokes may have gotten through, but my identity as a funny person – the most important thing in my life – didn’t survive.” That is rough. It also made the trolls come out in full force, to the point where one impersonated her father that had died months before. Her entire being was on display, ridiculed and joked and threatened. She writes about these things and more. She writes about her husband and the death of her father. She also writes about re-watching Garden State, and the outfits in Troop Beverly Hills. She writes about her body, on how she views it and how others view it. In fact her opening chapter begins with the way heavier women are depicted in pop culture and not having too many cool representations when she was growing up. These stories are raw, humorous, and may make you uncomfortable. Maybe that is a good thing.
Things I liked: “Maybe you are thin. You hiked that trail and you are fit and beautiful and wanted and I am so proud of you, I am so in awe of your wiry brightness; and I'm miles behind you, my breathing ragged. But you didn't carry this up the mountain, You only carried yourself. How hard would you breathe if you had to carry me? You couldn't. But I can.”
Obviously I really like Lindy. I think most women who find so many imperfections in our bodies can relate to some of the things that she writes about. Such as, “The “perfect body” is a lie. I believed in it for a long time, and I let it shape my life, and shrink it—my real life, populated by my real body. Don’t let fiction tell you what to do.” You do not have to be fat or thin for that to resonate. How about this one: “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. I am also not a uterus riding around in a meat incubator. There is no substantive difference between the repulsive campaign to separate women’s bodies from their reproductive systems—perpetuating the lie that abortion and birth control are not healthcare—and the repulsive campaign to convince women that they and their body size are separate, alienated entities. Both say ‘Your body is not yours.’ Both demand, ‘Beg for your humanity.’ Both insist, ‘Your autonomy is conditional.’ This is why fat is a feminist issue..”
As a woman it resonates and lingers. It hits me because I have body image issues like most women in this nation. We are never thin enough or perfect enough. We find worth in the way other people see us or how we want them to see us. We are always searching for perfection. We are mean to ourselves and our bodies. You do not have to be Lindy’s size to have what she writes hit you. It hits me. It hits me the way that sticker says: ‘WARNING: Reflections in this mirror may be distorted by socially constructed ideas of beauty.’ It hits me as I hit the gym for the 4th time in a week and wonder why I can’t be just a little bit thinner, why I need to cover the grey beginning to show in my hairline, and why it is so hard for me to go anywhere without just a little bit of makeup. Lindy’s memoir is more about body image, but they are the ones that linger the most of late. Sexist culture is not going away anytime soon. Especially not with a new President who believes a woman’s worth is based on her looks, that if you are strong and courageous you are a bitch, and god forbid your body is not something he can grab whenever he feels like it. Maybe it’s an echo chamber, but I dig what Lindy writes. I feel uncomfortable and powerful at the same time.
Her stories are humorous. Sometimes it is acerbic, sometimes it is cutting, but all of it feels real. But I think what I liked about it is that even when she has her biting humor that makes you smile, it also makes you painfully apparent on what all of this has cost her. There are victories and losses within. There is laughter, anger, and even some tears. When she writes about humor and comedy, you can see her conflicting emotions. When she writes about her father, her husband, and just her life in general you can see the vulnerability. You can see the honesty. You can see the rawness of it.
And you know what she is funny. Still funny. Maybe that is not her only trait that people see now. Now she is many more things. Things she may not have expected to be known for, but is known for in any case. Considering what has gone through for being herself, for being political and outspoken, for being feminist…you name it really, a person could easily become bitter and cold. They could break and shut everything away. But she is not and did not do any of those things. I am not sure where the state of my mental health would be if my inbox was constantly flooded with rape threats. It is why I try not to be political on my blog. I don’t want to go through what she went through. Ever. Does that make me weak. Yeah, a bit perhaps. And it also makes me sad. Sad that I cannot express those thoughts and feelings and fears without worrying about repercussions. Lindy did express all of that. I don’t know if I am that strong. Strong in other ways perhaps, but maybe not in that way.
She does say that: “This is the only advice I can offer. Each time something like this happens, take a breath and ask yourself, honestly: Am I dead? Did I die? Is the world different? Has my soul splintered into a thousand shards and scattered to the winds? I think you’ll find, in nearly every case, that you are fine. Life rolls on. No one cares. Very few things—apart from death and crime—have real, irreversible stakes, and when something with real stakes happens, humiliation is the least of your worries.”
I appreciate her honesty and for writing this book. I laughed, I cried, and I even wanted to punch things. I felt uncomfortable. I pondered if I was a good or bad feminist. I found new appreciation for the body I live in. All of these are good things. It’s been a long time since a book made me do that.
Her quotes will linger with me. I even have one above my desk, just for a reminder. “The breadth of my shoulders makes me feel safe. I am unassailable. I intimidate. I am a polar icebreaker. I walk and climb and life things, I can open your jar, I can absorb blows—literal and metaphorical—meant for other women, smaller women, breakable women, women who need me. My bones feel like iron—heavy, but strong.”
Things I didn’t like so much: Some may have read many of the stories in here if you are an avid Lindy fan. And yet why wouldn’t you want to have this in your library.
Sometimes the humor isn’t always my style. Sometimes she is a little too in your face. She made me uncomfortable, but like I said maybe this is a good thing. It made me think. This is always a good thing.
Yeah, that is all I have got.
Buy or Borrow: Buy. Or at least pick it up from the library. I would be interested in your thoughts.
Part of: Standalone.
Also Recommended: For more feminist and/or memoir books try: Sex Object by Jessica Valenti, pretty much anything by Roxane Gay, The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley, and You Can’t Touch my Hair by Phoebe Robinson.
4 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks