Jan 28, 2017

Shrill, by Lindy West

It's difficult to understate the importance of voices like Lindy West's, not just for fat women, but for all women, all bodies, all humans. By being incontrovertibly who she is - fat, funny, loud, smart - West opens the door for other marginalized voices and bravely challenges the status quo for assuming its in the right just because it's the status quo. Hers is a fight against privilege, and it could not come at a more decisive time.

West's humor is what makes her commentary so accessible. She is very, VERY funny. I giggled. I chuckled. I laughed. I guffawed. She is proof, too, that humor doesn't have to be at the expense of someone else to be funny. Sure, some of it is. Satire is pretty much only that. But there's truth to the notion that shock value for its own sake isn't inherently funny, and when it comes in the form of marginalizing already marginalized voices, it's okay to speak up and say it's not right. West's milieu is the comedy scene, which is notorious for misogyny and blatant sexism ("women aren't funny"). But when anyone, particularly a woman, stands up to say that no, some things just aren't funny, the trolliest trolls of the InterWebs come for her en masse, and in the most horrific ways possible. For West, that moment came because of rape jokes. Her argument: millions of women are raped and sexually assaulted each year. It is one of the most vile, demeaning, violating, soul-sucking acts that can happen to a person (man or woman). Telling a rape joke in front of an audience in which most certainly sits at least one woman who has been raped is a violent act of victimization and cannot, in any way, be construed as funny. If you got mugged at gunpoint, your friends wouldn't greet you with a toy gun in your back, because that's not funny, it's cruel. Picking out the one thing that is a person's weakest psychological link and using it for a few cheap laughs is not just harmless kidding around.

"But self-selection/free speech/thin skin blah blah blah whine whine whine!" Sure, there's some nuance. There's nuance to every situation. But when Daniel Tosh says to a woman at his show, "Wouldn't it be funny if five guys just got up and raped you right here?", that's beyond the pale. You're punching down, as West would say, victimizing the already less powerful for your own glee. And that's fucked up.

West's other battle is against fat-shaming, and her writing was an integral early voice towards the body positive movement of today. Even in the most accepting, loving households, girls in America internalize the notion that any body that isn't thin, tall, long or lean is bad. And not just ugly, morally bad. Fat people MUST be unhealthy so they're causing our high insurance premiums, they MUST be smelly and unclean because obviously they don't care about their appearance, they MUST be incapable of self-control because fat people just eat whatever they want all the time. Nevermind the fact that there are plenty of fat people out there who are perfectly healthy, or who's weight gain was caused by a physical or mental illness. Some people are just fat, and that means nothing about their moral state of being. I mean, seriously, like we think Paris Hilton and Charlie Sheen are masters of self-control and practitioners of the highest form of morality? Please.

All this makes it seem like a super serious book, but I promise you, it's completely hilarious. Lindy West is the kind of person we need more of: smart, brave, funny, thoughtful. I want to be her friend, but since that's probably not going to happen (call me, Lindy?), I'll settle for supporting her work and making as many people read her book as possible.

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