Why Aidy Bryant's Hulu Adaptation of Shrill Will Be The Most Important TV Show This Year
By Elizabeth F. Olson
Lindy West is one of the most outspoken voices on life as a fat woman in a fatphobic society. In her memoir, Shrill, she writes about her abortion, internet trolls, and being a fat, female semi-public-figure. [Side note: if you haven’t read Shrill, make that a priority.] A few months ago, it was announced that Lorne Michaels and Aidy Bryant were teaming up with West to adapt Shrill for a Hulu show. I don’t know how they expect me to move on with my life knowing that a Shrill adaptation is coming but hasn’t arrived yet, but I’ll do my best. Here’s why I think Shrill has the potential to be the most important TV show this year.
Like others in the fat acceptance movement, West uses the term “fat” simply as a descriptive word rather than a slur (similar to the way women have reclaimed terms like “slut” and “bitch”). That alone is groundbreaking—while activists have been working to destigmatize the word “fat” for decades, almost nowhere on television do people refer to themselves as fat without subsequently enduring hasty denial and shallow reassurance from a friend: “no, sweetie, you’re beautiful!”, as if they can’t be both. A major part of West’s own journey to accepting and celebrating her own body was filling her social media feed with images of fat women wearing crop tops and being unapologetically themselves. She writes: “Studies have shown that visual exposure to certain body types actually changes people’s perception of those bodies—in other words, looking at pictures of fat people makes you like fat people more.” On a platform as large as Hulu, viewing fat women as beautiful, funny and smart as opposed to, say, ugly and uninspiring, has the power to change the way we as a society think of and treat fat people.
The narrative of a fat person (specifically a woman) who is happy with their body is practically nonexistent in media. In scripted TV, fat women actors are typically cast as sexless, matronly characters. West devotes the first chapter in Shrill to naming all twelve fat women role models she had growing up, which include Lady Kluck of Robin Hood, Ursula the Sea Witch of The Little Mermaid and The Sexual Tree from The Last Unicorn. Reality TV takes it a step further. Shows like The Biggest Loser, My 600 Pound Life, etc. all revolve around the same central message: fat people aren’t capable of leading happy, fulfilled lives because they are fat, and the only solution is losing weight. Mainstream media works tirelessly to keep the stigma of being fat intact by intentionally exposing fat people’s most vulnerable moments to validate thin people’s worst biases, thus perpetuating fatphobia and diet culture. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Hulu adaptation of Shrill will be about “a fat young woman who wants to change her life, but not her body,” subverting the narrative that all fat people are just thin people stuck in a body they hate.
Shrill isn’t just about body politics: West also writes poignantly about the importance of sharing abortion stories, of her experience dealing with internet abuse, and about her father’s death from cancer. Some of my favorite essays in Shrill are about her complex relationship with comedy. In “Death Wish” and “It’s About Free Speech, It’s Not About Hating Women,” West gives a brilliant feminist analysis of why rape jokes aren’t funny and writes about breaking through the unfettered misogyny that the world of comedy is riddled with. She also happens to be one of the funniest writers I’ve ever encountered, and considering she’s working with Lorne Michaels and Aidy Bryant, the television adaptation of Shrill is bound to have just enough humor to ensure that her searing feminist analyses can reach many different audiences.
Shrill was a life-changing book for me and many of my peers. Lindy West’s voice is essential to the fat acceptance movement and to feminism as a whole. In a society in which discrimination against fat people is not only socially acceptable but is institutionalized and encouraged, the Hulu adaptation of Shrill will expand the way we think about fat women inspire viewers to cultivate compassion and empathy.