Book Review: Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman
By Magdalena Medley
Lindy West, an accomplished writer, feminist, and social justice activist, is committed to creating change in the world. In her recently published memoir, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, she makes readers laugh, think, and question existing ideas about women and body image. The book is not just a personal story, but also a provocative and inspiring read. With her honest and passionate writing, West brings awareness to important issues that resonate with women everywhere.
One of the main themes of the book is the lack of realistic examples of women’s bodies in popular culture and the media. “As a kid, I never saw anyone remotely like myself on TV. Or in the movies, or in video games, or at the children’s theater, or in books, or anywhere at all in my field of vision. There simply were no young, funny, capable, strong, good, fat girls.” For years, West struggled with her own body image and feelings that she had somehow failed as a woman. She took extreme measures to try to fit in and live up to an unrealistic standard of beauty.
Eventually, West decided to stop waiting for the amazing life she would have—if only she were thinner. Instead, she decided to embrace her body. In Shrill, West makes readers question not only society’s views, but their own beliefs, about female beauty. She also wants to be a positive example for other women and girls plagued with insecurities about their physical appearance.
The author explains why she dislikes the use of the word “big” to refer to her body, and embraces “fat” instead: she does not want people to deny the reality of her body. “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. I am one piece. I am also not a uterus riding around in a meat incubator. There is no substantive difference between the repulsive campaign to separate women’s bodies from their reproductive systems—perpetuating the lie that abortion and birth control are not healthcare—and the repulsive campaign to convince women that they and their body size are separate, alienated entities. Both say, ‘Your body is not yours.’ Both demand, ‘Beg for your humanity.’ Both insist, ‘Your anatomy is conditional.’ This is why fat is a feminist issue.”
In Shrill, West courageously addresses certain topics still considered to be controversial, including her own abortion. The experience led her to create the international campaign #ShoutOutYourAbortion, which encourages women who have had the procedure to discuss it openly and honestly, and make conversations about abortion “as normal as the procedure itself.”
West also talks about the fear and shame surrounding discussions of menstruation. “The most significant source of my adolescent period anxiety was the fact that in America 2016 (and far more so in 1993), acknowledging the completely normal and mundane function of most uteruses is still taboo. […] The active ingredient in period stigma is misogyny.”
West brilliantly articulates the thoughts and feelings about body image that many women and girls struggle with on a daily basis. With often witty, even humorous, prose, Shrill offers intelligent arguments on serious and frequently sensitive topics. It is a must read for both women and men.
TOP PHOTO CREDIT: Jenny Jimenez