Lindy West identifies herself as fat, female, and feminist. In Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, she unleashes her wrath on stereotypes, internet trolls, rape jokes, sexist men and airline passengers. Most of the book, however, deals with her struggle with being fat from birth. After suffering through the stigma of a fat childhood, she has accepted her adult body and become a spokesperson for “fat acceptance.” West uses humor and pointed barbs to make her points on intolerance of and discrimination against fat people. She even rejects the concept of “overweight” questioning the right of any person or organization to set the right weight for any person. Although the author concedes that some people may be to blame for being fat, she categorically rejects that fat people are merely victims of a lack of willpower. CAUTION, if this book were listed on the MPAA scheme for movies, it would be rated R for strong language and sexual content. Not only is West loud, she has strong opinions and is not afraid of offending her critics.
Rather than using the rather innocuous term ‘obesity’ throughout the book, her in-your-face style does not shy away from the more highly-charged word ‘fat’. For anyone who fails to see the distinction, I was urged to rename the first chapter in my book from “Why is America So Fat?” to something less polarizing like “What are the Causes of America’s Obesity Epidemic?” The idea may be the same, but the emotional impact is not. Although the simple explanation for becoming obese is eating more calories than we burn over time, many scientists in the field conclude that obesity is just not that simple. There is some evidence that the propensity for obesity in a given person is pre-programmed by the age of 2. Certainly that is an age before we should hold a person responsible for their degree of fatness.
Shrill indicts thinner people on their treatment of their fatter counterparts. Thinner children make fun of fat playmates. When choosing up sides, fat players tend to get picked last. It’s uncool to be seen in public with fat friends. The last thing a thin person wants is to be seated next to one of them on an airplane or in a theater. Thinner people are less likely to date, develop a relationship or marry a fatter person. Everyone is expected to laugh at fat jokes even when it means that certain members of the audience are stigmatized and offended. Even well-meaning thin people who engage fat friends, try to help by recommending the latest diet or encouraging rigorous exercise programs. Too often the thin among us fail to look beyond body size and shape to relate to the person who resides within.
For anyone trying to come to terms with their own obesity, Shrill shows why it is necessary to accept yourself and accept your body. For people who are not so fat and are disgusted with fat people they meet, the book may help us rethink our stereotypes and help change society’s view of fat people. We live in an era where we are constrained to say what we really think to someone’s face, while the internet rages with unrestrained trolls. Lindy West urges us to think before we act, openly engage in public dialog, and refuse to let threats and vitriol dominate our online conversations. She gives us much to ponder regardless of where we fit on the fat-to-thin continuum. Shrill is a book that should be read by anyone concerned about America’s obesity situation.
Next week: Emulsifiers and cancer
Unfinished business: As one still unable to accept my “overweight” condition, I went to the doctor yesterday and weighed in at 156.6 pounds for a BMI of 25.18.