Lindy West

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    I cringed my way through the first half of the “Shrill” pilot. It was all too close to home – the “Thin Menu” pancakes Annie (Aidy Bryant) eats out of a plastic container, Tonya the trainer hitting Annie with a “There is a small person inside of you dying to get out,” Ryan, Annie’s not boyfriend who won’t wear a condom and won’t buy a second pillow for his bed and makes her sneaks her out through the back door so his roommates won’t see her.

    Then there’s Annie’s boss, who refuses to let her write anything, but who she douses in compliments anyway. I could barely keep watching. Because even though I had heard rave reviews from trustworthy sources and I knew the brilliant minds involved wouldn’t sign off on any more bullshit fat narratives, my skepticism runs deep.

    When you’ve never seen authentic or positive representations of your body in mainstream media, you become a bit jaded. As a fat woman, I’ve been burned too many times by the media meant to represent me.

    One of my first views of a fat person in the media was in “Shallow Hal,” in which Hal is hypnotized into only being able to see his fat girlfriend, Rosemary, played by Gwyneth Paltrow in a fat suit of course, as thin. We are meant to believe that he is becoming a better man because he is able to see her “inner beauty” despite her being a disgusting “wooly mammoth.” Us fat women are meant to be so grateful to men like Hal for seeing us as pretty and for treating us like people.

    I almost have the same warm fuzzy feelings towards “Friends” as the next millennial except I skip the Monica-in-a-fat-suit episodes and every time a joke about her sad fat previous life sneaks in, it stings as if I’ve been betrayed by a loved one. We are meant to see fat Monica as a “before.” Before Monica was a living, breathing, thin human, she was just a joke.

    I really truly wanted to love “This is Us,” but I couldn’t get past the fact that the initial major storyline for Kate was weight loss, and even though she had a romantic prospect, their fatness was what brought them together. Because fat people are only fat and nothing else, right?

    The list of botched fat representation goes on and on.

    I know it’s nothing new. But I really really wanted “Shrill” to be different and I wasn’t quite ready to open myself up to the possibility of being hurt again. So when our first glimpse of Annie is paired with diet food and she responds to every fatphobic comment with niceties and self-deprecating humor, and she rests her head on Ryan’s chest instead of demanding that pillow, I threw my own pillow at the TV. When she says to her best friend, Fran, “Ryan loves to raw dog.” How could I take away his favorite thing?” and when she doesn’t follow through with confronting her mother’s nonstop diet talk, I screamed, “NOOOO, ANNIEEEE, NOOOO!”

    I understand where the nice, people-pleasing, fat girl thing comes from, and believe me, I have been there.

    The fat narratives in the media that precede “Shrill” shows fat women settling for less than they deserve. They portray us as undesirable, so if any romantic prospect looks our way, we best not complain. We best not advocate for ourselves during sex because we should be so lucky to be getting laid.

    Ableism and fatphobia in the health field have inaccurately trained people to associate fat with poor health, and poor health with immorality. In reality, fat people can be healthy. Fat people can have health problems unrelated to weight, which are often misdiagnosed due to fatphobia. And, no matter the state of one’s health, we all deserve respect and human rights.

    However, fat women often internalize the perspective that we are a work in progress, and that our “goodness” depends on health and thinness. We’ve been taught to accept fat-shaming under the guise of concern for our health, that if our friends and mothers and doctors and strangers at the coffee shop comment on our bodies or lifestyles, we must stand by idly. We must apologize, even, for our “disobedient bodies.”

    God forbid we fight back and defend our right to exist without our bodies as fair game for debate. Because it’s bad enough to be called “fat.” Much worse to be called a “fat bitch.”

    But what if we could untrain ourselves? What if we could become immune to words that are meant to hurt us? What if fat was just a descriptor and “bitchy” was a synonym for “powerful?”

    Thanks to her best friend, Fran, Annie begins to find out.

    Fran is a black queer woman and Annie is a white, presumably straight woman, but they are both plus size. In some ways, Fran’s character verges on “sassy black friend” territory. Though her lines are sharp and she is multidimensional, most of her air-time centers around building Annie up, and we don’t see Annie doing the same for Fran.

    Fran is the catalyst for Annie’s fat bitchdom.

    When Annie gets pregnant by dickwad Ryan, she and Fran have a frank talk at the flea market. Annie tells Fran that she thought, “maybe if I was just sweet enough and nice enough and easygoing enough with any guy, that would be enough for someone.”

    Fran says, “we need to untrain you from thinking of yourself in such a brutal way.” Easier said than done, but this is when I finally stopped cringing and throwing pillows.

    Fran appears to have already done the work that Annie has yet to do. She is kind, in the sense that she does not leave Annie’s side when she gets an abortion, literally strokes her shoulder throughout the whole procedure. But Fran also knows how to stand up for herself.

    She says “I don’t apologize to white people,” after macing dickwad Ryan when he shows up unannounced at their front door.

    Annie has a lot to learn from Fran about standing up for herself, and the difference between niceness and authentic kindness. Niceness is tiptoeing around the people that hurt you so you don’t get more hurt. Authentic kindness means being there when people need you, calling people out on their shit, and setting boundaries, no matter the consequences.

    After Fran gives Annie a red dress and one of many pep talks, Annie finally begins “feeling herself,” and goes on an epic quest for the respect she deserves.

    She goes to Ryan’s house to tell him about the pregnancy and the abortion, and to finally advocate for herself in the relationship. She goes to work and demands a story assignment, causing her boss to tell her that she is kind of a bitch, and he likes it.

    Then, she mumbles for Tonya to fuck herself.

    Tonya finally ditches the peppy, cheerful, health-shaming and says “I was just trying to help you, you fat bitch.”

    We see Annie’s face as she walks away. At first, she is stunned, but then, as the theme song swells, she begins to smile. Annie has been called the ultimate insult. Not only is she fat, but she’s a bitch, too. And she’s still alive and okay and powerful.

    Annie is just beginning to accept her fat self after years of apologizing for her body. She has a long way to go and her journey is still quite selfish, even by the end of the first season, which, by the way, is only six short episodes.

    Later in the season, she learns about bleaching assholes and being a confident woman with tits and ass from the strippers she meets while on a work assignment. Then she attends her first body positive pool party and sees women of all sizes in bikinis, and she finally strips off her jeans and allows her fat to jiggle with abandon. She is still learning from the women around her, many of which are women of color who don’t get enough credit.

    I am grateful for Annie because we have never seen anyone like her on screen. She is nothing like Rosemary or Monica or Kate. She is a full human who is beginning to discover her inner bitch.

    However, this show desperately cries out for a second season, and a third, and a fourth. We need to see Annie grow beyond the initial selfishness of her body positive journey, especially as a white woman interacting with women of color. We need to see her lift up and make space for her friends. We need to see her provide Fran the same support on the journey to bitchdom that Fran has provided her.

    This show is a huge step in the right direction. Now let’s get some mutually uplifting fat bitch friendships.

     

     

    Top photo screenshot from Hulu's Shrill via Youtube

     

     

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    Fat acceptance writer and activist Lindy West has been wielding her pen like a sword for over a decade. Here, she dishes on her new Hulu show, writing large characters who actually get laid, and ranking the judges on Chopped.

    Author and humorist Lindy West is a refreshing and complex contradiction. Best known as the author of the popular memoir Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, and for her New York Times opinion columns where she often tackles topics surrounding both feminism and fat positivity, she’s a frequent divulger of vulnerable and heartbreaking realities, while also fearlessly deflecting all attempts to silence her. 

    For example, after appearing on FX’s Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell in 2013 to discuss rape culture in comedy, West made a video for Jezebel titled, “If Comedy Has No Lady Problem, Why Am I Getting So Many Rape Threats?” in which she read out loud—with a flat affect—the multitude of violent rape threats she received after the show aired. All were saturated with promises of physical violence, fat shaming, and other revolting disparagements. And all were written by men who, ironically, were outraged by her televised assertion that comedy isn’t a safe place for women. 

    West’s work continues to be controversial, but it has also earned the 37-year-old legions of fans. So many, in fact, that a new TV adaptation of Shrillstarring SNL’s Aidy Bryant is coming to Hulu March 15, and she has two more books and an independent film she’s co-producing with her husband in the works as well.

    When I caught up with West via video chat at her home in Seattle, WA, she was still in her pajamas, but even sleepy-eyed, her answers were pure gold.

    The new Shrillseries is based on your memoir, and you were one of the writers on the show as well. Tell me what you prioritized when it came time to turn your life story into a script.
    We really wanted to emphasize the reality of a fat person’s life, which is a familiar story to a lot of people. It’s about a person who feels like she doesn’t deserve the life she wants. She’s hanging back and apologizing for her body and waiting until it’s “fixed” to fully live. Viewers are meeting her in the moment when she’s just about to break through that wall and start living the way that she wants to, and deserves. Obviously it’s a fat show. But it’s not just a fat show, because we’re allhumans with complicated lives and that often becomes flattened in mainstream representation. We only see weight loss story arcs or failed weight loss arcs, and this creates the illusion that we only have two options: you can either be happy because you lost weight, or sad because you can’t lose weight. And that’s not the full spectrum of fat humanity. Aidy and I talk all the time about how it’s not really a thing for most fat people to move through the world constantly thinking, “Fat, fat, fat, fat. Here I am walking down the street while fat today! I’m a fat lady buying groceries! Fat, fat, fat, fat!” The reality is that I would never think about it if I didn’t live in a fatphobic society that reminded me all the time. 

    In the pilot episode I saw, I also witnessed a more neutral representation of abortion than I have ever seen on any other TV show.
    My original dream was to have an entire episode around the clinic, but it came down to: Do we do that, or do we make sure the abortion clinic makes it into the pilot? We obviously chose the second, but it was a powerful experience all around. There have been other abortion scenes on TV, but it’s really rare to have it treated with so little drama. The main character goes in for a medical procedure and is taken care of by health care providers who are good at their job. While her romantic relationship may be complicated, she’s not conflicted about the procedure itself. There isn’t the questioning of beliefs, and that’s something I’m really proud of. While we were in the middle of writing the season, Justice Kennedy announced his retirement from the Supreme Court and it became clear that the show was going to come out in a world where Roe v. Wade was in peril, so it meant a lot to me to be able to put an abortion scene in the pilot of our comedy show.

    How was it for you to watch your memoir—which was heavily edited—become a show—also heavily edited—and to then watch it on screen?
    Honestly, it was fucked up, man. [laughs] It was a seriously fucked up and weird thing to go through. Again, it’s not really my life. We pulled from all the writers’ experiences. However, of course a lot was pulled from my real life. It’s been tailored to mirror a lot of the exact emotional situations I’ve been in. The parent part was the hardest though; I stupidly wrote several lines of dialogue for the dad that were real things that my real dad said when he was dying of cancer. That was rough, but also a beautiful gift. So yes, the whole experience is bizarre and scary and vulnerable and fucks with your mind but also—what a cool thing to be able to do, right?

     

    “We only see weight loss story arcs or failed weight loss arcs, and this creates the illusion that we only have two options: you can either be happy because you lost weight, or sad because you can’t lose weight. And that’s not the full spectrum of fat humanity.”

     

    Were there any non-negotiables for you that you insisted on while making the show?
    The thing that I made clear from the very beginning—even while I was shopping the show around—was that at no point in this show would the main character step on a scale, then look down and sigh. There will be no scales. It was also important that she had sex. Maybe not a perfect sex life, but a relatively robust one. [giggles] It was also really important to me that the cast was diverse, because if that’s something you believe in, you have to make those decisions on purpose. When you’re making something in a racist, broken system, diversity doesn’t just conjure itself up out of nothing. You actually have to actively make it happen and build the kind of world that you want.

    There arecomparativelymore fat bodies in shows and movies lately. I’m thinking about Dumplin’, Nailed It!, Dietland…and while I’m seeing a lot of celebration, they’re also being met with copious amounts of criticism. What are your thoughts on this?
    Obviously, not everyone is going to do the job that you’d like them to do, and nothingis ever diverse enough; everything is always too white, too straight, and too small! Small-fats are everywhere, even in our show. There’s always room for expansion and representation. Those of us who have been talking about these things for a long time know that the real work is in representing the most marginalized bodies and identities, because that’s where real change comes from. When you’re working within a capitalist system, which we all are, that’s a challenge because you have to get these projects through a million focus groups and executives and PR teams. It’s easier right now to get a small-fat, white woman on screen—which is really difficult to come to terms with for me. Ultimately, I think it’s important to remember that in this moment, this is just the first step. I don’t think that the work being done is without value—it does change people. But at the end of the day, it’s the firststep towards changing the world, not the last. 

    Amen. OK, last question. I know you’ve been doing a lot of interviews around Shrill. What is a question you wish people would ask you that they haven’t yet?
    Well, to be honest, no one has ever asked me to rank the judges on Chopped. Which is kind of rude!

    Lindy West, will you please rank the judges on Chopped?
    Finally! It’s hard, though, because they’re like my family. I have to go with Alex Guarnaschelli as number one because I’m obsessed with her and she’s the indisputable boss. Then, probably, Amanda Freitag as number two because she’s kind, precise, and great at articulating nuance and giving constructive criticism. I also love Maneet Chauhan because she brings a needed sweetness to the show, so she’s gonna be third. I’m basically putting all the women first because we gotta put women first, y’know?

    I’m shocked that people don’t ask you to rank Choppedchefs more often. You are clearly an expert judge of judges.
    I know! I’m really, really good at this. And I could go on forever, but we’ve got a world to change. So let’s get back to that, shall we?  

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    Story by Jes Baker
    Photography by Victoria Kovios
    Makeup by Belinda Leybold // Hair by Jenny Slay

    This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!

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    As far as most of us at BUST are concerned, women are always making the best art—but this week is truly a standout. Including Hulu’s two addictive new shows about complicated women and new books by Claudia Rankine and Siri Hustvedt, here’s our can’t-miss list.

    MOVIES/TV

    Shrill

    Aidy Bryant stars in this adaptation of Lindy West’s memoir, all about a woman navigating her journalism career, some seriously shitty men, and fatphobia. Out on Hulu March 15, and review (and interview with West, who executive produced the series!) to come soon on BUST.com.

    The Act

     

    Based on the viral story of a mother with Munchausen by proxy—and her daughter who then helped kill her—Hulu’s other latest series highlights Patricia Arquette and Joey King. Premiering exclusively on Hulu, March 20.

    MUSIC

    Bird Box by CupcakKe

     

    CupcakKe’s newest track, released March 8, is timely, punchy, and so badass. Streaming now.

    Lux Prima by Karen O and Danger Mouse

    This collaborative album is full of psychedelic indie rock goodness from Danger Mouse and Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O. Out March 15.

    DJ Sheila B on BUST's Poptarts Podcast

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    On the latest episode of Poptarts, DJ Sheila B discussed the cultural significance of girl groups, from the Ronettes to the Shangri-Las. Listen now!

    BOOKS

    Putting Out: Essays on Otherness by Samantha Mann

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    BUST contributor Samantha Mann’s debut essay collection discusses mental illness, friendship, love, and sexuality. Out March 19.

    The White Card: A Play by Claudia Rankine

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    We love anything Claudia Rankine writes, and her first published play is sure to be no different. The White Card, comprised of just two scenes, is about race, representation, and America. Out March 19.

    Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

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    This novel, dubbed Bridget Jones’s Diary meets Americanah, centers around a young Jamaican British writer figuring out her meaning and place in the world. Out March 19.

    Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt

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    Award-winning writer Siri Hustvedt is back with this coming-of-age story about New York, memory, sexuality, and the patriarchy. Out March 19.

    Top photo via Hulu / Shrill

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    We’ve made it to the end of May! And what better way to celebrate the start of summer than with a new book by Lindy West, two movies about complex female relationships, and the return of She’s Gotta Have It? Check this list for the rest of our recs this week.

    MOVIES/TV 

    Booksmart

    Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, starring Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, is a refreshingly female-focused coming-of-age comedy about two best friends trying to make the most of their final days as high school students. In theaters May 24, and you can find our review here.

    She’s Gotta Have It

     

    Spike Lee’s series, based on his 1986 film of the same name, returns to Netflix for a second season following a year-and-a-half time jump. Streaming May 24.

    The Perfection

     

    Starring Allison Williams as a troubled cello prodigy and Logan Browning as a star on the rise, The Perfection is a new thriller ripe with revenge, drama, and music. Out on Netflix May 24. 

    MUSIC 

    Reward by Cate le Bon

    Cate le Bon’s fifth LP is self-described “maxi-minimal deconstructionist music” with traces of art rock and new wave sounds. Out May 24, and check out our forthcoming review on BUST.com. 

    “Decoration/Currency” by Girl Friday

     

    L.A.-based quartet Girl Friday just premiered a video for “Decoration/Currency” off their EP, Fashion Conman, to be released June 28. You can jam to the single now.

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    Alyse Vellturo—a.k.a. pronoun—has previously made waves at SXSW and with a string of singles, and her debut album, i’ll show you stronger, is out May 24. Stay tuned for further coverage on BUST.com.

    BOOKS 

    The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West

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    The phenom behind Shrill returns with another book all about the patriarchy, the 2016 presidential race, and American culture today. Out May 28, and check out our interview with West here. 

    Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered by Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff

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    Hardstark and Kilgariff, whose hit podcast “My Favorite Murder” has earned the duo legions of fans, tackle mental illness, trauma, and—of course—murder in their dual in memoir, out May 28. Stay tuned for our review on BUST.com.

    PODCASTS

    Let's Get Civical on Poptarts

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    This week on BUST Poptarts, our hosts were joined by comedian Lizzie Stewart and political strategist Arden Walentowski of the podcast Let's Get Civical for a conversation equal parts fun and informative on the government - and the countless Democratic candidates running for President.

    Top photo via Booksmart / United Artists Releasing

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