Book review: Shrill by Lindy West

accreditation

Shrill by Lindy West (first published in 2016 by Quercus)

My first experience with Lindy West’s writing was when I discovered the world of Jezebel, which was an eye-opening encounter to my feminism-starved self. 

Of course, now I am more aware of the site’s problematic nature, but at the time it was a good introduction for my high school self to the world of feminism.

Shrill covers Lindy’s childhood, coming of age and career as a woman who is classified as ‘big’. It doesn’t go into boring autobiographical detail, but rather includes observations and experiences relating to feminism and our culture’s obsession with weight. 

The book is also an easy read – not in terms of the content matter, which will probably make you alternately angry, despairing, and ‘RRRRR girrrrrl power’, but rather in terms of the writing style, which is fairly colloquial – Lindy has an approachable, conversational tone which is perhaps a little over the top snarky at times.

"In a certain light, feminism is just the long, slow realisation that the stuff you love hates you."

I cannot tell you how much the above quote resonates with me. Ever since I’ve become more aware of social justice issues, it is so difficult to consume movies, books and other forms of media without observing the sexist/racist/homophobic elements. Much of the book is focused on body size, and the author’s experience in a world which constantly polices female appearance. 

So, what do you do when you’re too big, in a world where bigness is cast not only as aesthetically objectionable, but also as a moral failing? You fold yourself up like origami, you make yourself smaller in other ways, you take up less space with your personality, since you can’t with your body. You diet. You starve, you run till you taste blood in your throat, you count out your almonds, you try to buy back your humanity with pounds of flesh.

I could feel the hurt pouring off the page at some points, and some of her words really resonated with me. While I perhaps don’t qualify as plus-size, the emphasis on making yourself ever-smaller certainly struck home.

She also makes a number of salient points, a few of which I have quoted below:

"I dislike ‘big’ as a euphemism, maybe because it’s the one chosen most often by people who mean well, who love me and are trying to be gentle with my feelings. I don’t want the people who love me to avoid the reality of my body. I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable with its size and shape, to tacitly endorse the idea that fact is shameful, to pretend I’m something I’m not out of deference to a system that hates me.

"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.

"Privilege means that it’s easy for white women to do each other favours. Privilege means that those of us who need it the least often get the most help.

"The fact that abortion is still a taboo subject means that opponents of abortion get to define it however suits them best.

"We don’t care about fat people because it is okay not to care about them, and we don’t take care of them because we think they don’t deserve care."

I didn’t even realise until I read this book that West originally started out in comedy – which has been overshadowed by her activism in response to the trolls and prejudice she’s encountered. 

An honest, unflinching collection of essays with some excellent critique.

WATCH: Lindy West chats about Shrill and quitting Twitter

Read more of Hannah’s reviews on her blog.

Purchase a copy of the book on takealot.com.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Do you think it's important to get married in this day and age?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Yes, it's important in order to create a family unit and for companionship
23% - 952 votes
Not at all. Being single is far more liberating
9% - 383 votes
There is no general answer to this, it's each to their own
49% - 2081 votes
Yes, society still frowns on unmarried people, especially women
1% - 58 votes
It depends on whether you are able to find a compatible partner
18% - 740 votes
Vote