In the mostly autobiographical TV version of Shrill, Lindy West — through the main character Annie (Aidy Bryant) — takes on a lot of the same topics as she did in her book version of Shrill. Unlike the book version though, we get to see up close and personal just how shitty people are to a woman of a certain size. The slights that Annie deals with aren’t exclusively due to her being fat, but they’re all exacerbated because of her weight. They also aren’t exclusively from people who dislike or don’t respect her; the concern trolling from her mom, for instance, is as detrimental as the trolling from a commenter at the online magazine where she writes about being fat. There’s also the “this would be concern trolling if I weren’t so brazenly open about my concern for my own pocketbook and my blatant disgust at larger bodies” that comes from her boss. And, maybe worst of all, there’s the concern trolling from her best friend and roommate Fran (Lolly Adefope), who insists Annie change her wants, needs, and personality to better conform with Fran’s understanding of demanding respect. It’s a balancing act that requires Annie to shrink herself emotionally to “make up for” the fact that she can’t shrink herself physically, while still asking that the people she chooses to have a relationship with respect her.
It’s also total and complete bullshit.
Shrill works best when it’s pushing back on that bullshit, but not in ways you might expect. Annie does experience a metamorphosis, built largely around the radical acceptance of her body as is. It makes her stronger and more confident, but (despite the show’s title) it doesn’t really make her louder or bitchier. It’s an important point to be made against a society that tells us that people who look or act a certain way have to demand respect in order to receive it. If you are a woman, if you are a fat person, if you’re a person of color, if you are gay, or (god forbid!) a fat woman, you can’t expect to be respected just for being a person. You have to demand that people treat you as if you’re an actual person with real thoughts or feelings. You have to be a badass bitch for people to not treat you like garbage.
And this is also total and complete bullshit.
This is where I take a quick break to highlight one particular form of “demanding respect” that makes my skin punchy. It’s the scene where Ryan (Luka Jones, who does in fact look like a Bigfoot on acid) — after blowing off Annie’s work party in order to throw a Pencil Party of his own — defends his said blowing off of Annie and the discovery that he’s sleeping with other people by claiming that “[they] never said [they] were exclusive.”
It’s one of the stupidest, most bullshit excuses that has ever existed, and absolutely no one who is smart enough to breathe should ever use it. Notice how Ryan only used that excuse after he was already caught doing something shitty besides sleeping with other people? That’s because no one who isn’t being an openly deceptive coward has ever used “we never said we were exclusive” as an excuse. You could maybe say, “We never said we were exclusive, and since we just started dating, I wanted to be upfront and tell you I’m still seeing other people.” Or, “We never said we were exclusive, but I would like to have a discussion where we clarify if we’re still seeing other people and would like to change that.” But what you absolutely cannot say is, “I was doing this thing that I knew you wouldn’t like, so I intentionally hid it from you and am now trying to avoid your scorn by asserting that you never told me not to hide this from you.” It’s a defense that says, “You can’t be mad at me because you didn’t do a good enough job of ensuring that I wouldn’t treat you like shit.” And when you’re acknowledging in your defense that you did, in fact, treat someone like shit, YOU’RE NOT DOING A GOOD JOB.
What that excuse, and many other instances in the show, is trying to say is, “I will flagrantly disrespect you unless you make me not. Because just being who you are is not enough to make me treat you with dignity.”
To be fully repetitive, it’s absolute bullshit.
Annie isn’t particularly loud or bitchy, but those things aren’t the same as being a pushover. Sure, she started the series as someone who is willing to accept whatever those around her are willing to give, but she doesn’t end the series that way. She also doesn’t suddenly morph into a person she’s not. She learns to expect respect and decent treatment from everyone not because she’s thin or loud or bitchy or demanding it. She learns to tell people that she is deserving of respect not in spite of all the things that she isn’t, but because of the thing that she is: a human being who won’t be treated like shit by anybody.
All six episodes of Shrill are available to watch now on Hulu.
Header Image Source: Hulu