The Hulu show starring Aidy Bryant was the first time I saw myself represented on screen.
In many ways, Hulu's Shrill—the TV adaptation of writer Lindy West's memoir, which premiered in 2019—was the first time I saw myself represented so fully on-screen. Throughout its three seasons, it has followed the lives of protagonist Annie (played by Aidy Bryant) and her bestie Fran (Lolly Adefope), both of whom, like myself, are fat women. Scene after scene, we watch experiences that most fat people living in Western cultures are bound to recognize.
The bad stuff (of which there is plenty) depicts what everyday life genuinely can be like for those of us whose bodies don't align with our culture's idea of beauty, and therefore acceptability (after all, what is beauty in our culture if not a form of currency?).
What's been quite wonderful about this show, however, is that it isn't all bad. We get to observe a whole lot of joy as well: the joy of strong female friendships, and of fat friendships in particular, of romantic and sexual experiences that are nothing but fulfilling, of creating work and art that one can feel proud of, of families healing, and of the cultivation of self-worth. The latter is not depicted as a linear journey, though, which is arguably all the more compelling. This isn't a fluffy story about a woman who hops aboard the body-positivity train and never looks back, but of a person who has good days and bad days and everything in between; who makes choices she's proud of, alongside ones she regrets.
My own daughters are young, only 4 and 2. I have no way of knowing how their bodies will change and grow over time (apart from knowing that they'll change a lot, as all bodies do). I don't know if they'll be fat or thin "in the long run;" nor do I know if they'll take on board the values my partner and I hope to teach them. What I do know, however, is that a show like Shrill is exactly the kind of thing I cannot wait to watch with them when they're teens, regardless of what they do or don't look like themselves.
It's true that many fat folks will see our own histories mirrored in the narratives depicted on Shrill, and I hope that those of us who are still struggling to believe in our worth might take some very valuable lessons from characters like Annie and Fran. Ultimately, though, fat people aren't really the main ones who need a lesson into the consequences of anti-fat bias. We live it every day; most of us already know.
Shrill shows viewers, regardless of who they are, how the expectations we place onto our bodies and those of others begin to consume us from the time we are children. It shows us the ways thin people, even those who might consider themselves fat-positive allies or who have fat friends, end up hurting the fat people they supposedly care about. It shows us some of the consequences of medical fat bias. It shows us the limitations of "good intentions." Annie's mom, for instance, who has struggled with her own weight throughout her life, begins placing Annie on diets when she's still just a kid. She probably doesn't want her daughter to be fat because she knows what it's like to be fat firsthand; but the way she treats Annie is no less cruel than a playground bully who "moos" at her.
It also shows us the ways in which fat people defy stereotypes. In Shrill, we see fat people falling in love. We see them having casual sex. We see them wearing slinky outfits on nights out. We see them killing it at work. We see them standing up for themselves. We see them laughing loudly. We see them eating in public. We see them swimming in bikinis. We see them doing so many of the things we're told we can never do, unless we lose weight of course.
Part of teaching my daughters to accept both their own bodies and those of others is helping them understand that, historically, our world hasn't been all that accepting in the first place. It still isn't. We can each make a conscious effort to do better, though. Shrill can undoubtedly serve as a wonderful tool within our arsenals for parents and carers who are hoping to teach their little ones the same.
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