On fatness, 'Shrill' and taking up space

tv review

<p>Aidy Bryant plays Annie Easton, a fat woman navigating a hostile world, in Hulu's new series "Shrill."</p>

Aidy Bryant plays Annie Easton, a fat woman navigating a hostile world, in Hulu's new series "Shrill."

I’m fat. When I was younger, I preferred to use descriptors that minimized my body like chubby or curvy or plus-sized, but now I’m 20 years old, five-foot-ten and weigh over 250 pounds. My fatness is undeniable.

I’ve hated my body for as long as I can remember. After I wedge into a seat on a bus or subway car, I flash a sad smile to the passenger beside me that I hope says I’m sorry my fat ass is taking up so much space. I layer strapless dresses with T-shirts because I can’t stand the sight of my upper arms. And when I let a man close enough to touch me, I’m overcome with melancholy at the thought that he’ll be the last person to ever want me.

Maintaining this fraught relationship with my body is exhausting. I’m trying to be nicer to myself. All of those things I thought I wasn’t allowed to have — fitted clothes, sleeveless dresses, sex appeal, confidence, space — are beginning to seem attainable. On some days I can claim this is because my body no longer repulses me, but mostly, I’ve stopped giving a shit. If it’s hot, I’m baring dimpled thighs and stretch-marked skin. Look away if you don’t like it.

When I first saw advertisements for “Shrill,” the newly-debuted Hulu series starring SNL darling Aidy Bryant, I was spellbound. In one ad, Bryant stands in a large seashell, dressed in a purple swimsuit and encircled by lush vegetation, an all-American image of Botticelli’s Venus. Her body reminded me of mine. The tagline, “Be loud,” hinted at a brash, fearless, fat-woman-led show that would upend media’s narrow beauty standards.

Perhaps my high expectations were unfair. “Shrill” was adapted from writer Lindy West’s memoir of the same name and follows Annie Easton (Aidy Bryant) as she navigates journalistic aspirations, a non-committal boyfriend and existing in a world that is hostile toward fat bodies. In many ways, the show is revolutionary — in the first episode, Annie has an abortion, a decision that she makes easily and feels no remorse about, and there are multiple sex scenes where Bryant’s lingerie-clad body is on full display. One much-discussed scene shows Annie at a “Fat Babe Pool Party,” where she dances alongside fat women in bikinis, her face displaying nothing but pure bliss.

And while much of Annie’s struggle for self-acceptance is highly relatable — she rebukes family members who equate weight loss with happiness, stands up to her fatphobic boss and wears clothes that show off her body — it’s almost too saccharine, less of a struggle and more of an unwavering thrust forward. The writing often comes off as heavy-handed: At one point, Annie’s friend tells her, “Honey, you’re being so mean to yourself. We need to untrain you from thinking of yourself in such a brutal way.” It’s a platitude I’ve heard from countless therapists and friends, as if unlearning is the same as loving. Really, it’s a trajectory as unforgiving as self-hatred. Love ebbs and flows, strengthens and weakens and, sometimes, disappears into thin air.

Then again, how many imperfect shows about skinny people are there? Admittedly, representation will never be fully realized in a way that centers the marginalized, at least while money is a factor in the equation. That doesn’t negate how downright good it felt to watch a fat woman bare her skin and have sex onscreen, to see bodies that look like mine on TV, to suspend reality for a few hours and dream of a world that allows me to take up space. “Shrill,” like self-love and my relationship with my body, is imperfect. Why does that have to be a bad thing?  


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