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  The fat of the matter

The fat of the matter

Published : Aug 13, 2016, 10:54 pm IST
Updated : Aug 13, 2016, 10:54 pm IST

Not caring about how you look is lot many a time simply a fad. A kind of phase you go through, or else a pretence. To be genuinely indifferent is a gift.

Lindy West (Photo: Jenny Jimenez)
 Lindy West (Photo: Jenny Jimenez)

Not caring about how you look is lot many a time simply a fad. A kind of phase you go through, or else a pretence. To be genuinely indifferent is a gift. And Lindy West is not sure when she developed that. She too was once a girl who tried to hide her body because she’s fat. And through the years, there isn’t an insult she hasn’t heard. But then somewhere along the line, she turned the whole thing around. She wrote. She expressed. And she won the hearts of many that read her, and came forward to offer support. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman is a memoir of a girl who grew up in a world that expected its women to be sickly thin, and who turns from a silent young one to a loud and expressive adult.

Once when Lindy wrote a story in the Guardian about her wedding, it was widely read and inspired many plus size women around the world. She hopes her book will do more. “Women dump so much time, energy and money into this fiction that a thin body is the gatekeeper to happiness, that only thin people have earned the right to fully participate in the world, and it’s incredibly debilitating. Live your life. Be happy now. Your humanity is not conditional,” says Seattle-based Lindy.


You’d think things might be better off in places where everyone is forward and accepting, regardless of your looks. But no, Lindy has been a victim of a lot of abuse throughout her life. And she can’t say it’s entirely stopped bothering her. “It bothers me that there are so many human beings who enjoy hurting others for sport or catharsis. That’s deeply upsetting, just on a broad, abstract level. But I stopped being hurt on a personal level around the time I recorded my interview with the troll who impersonated my dead father. It was such powerful evidence that trolling is a symptom of incredibly deep failure and sadness. When you realise how pathetic these people are, it’s hard to be angry or afraid. I just feel sorry for them. Beyond that, I just got used to it. I’ve now heard every iteration of every possible insult about a thousand times. At that point, it becomes noise — easy to tune out. And I engage less and less. I step away from the Internet for long periods of time. I focus as much as I can on just doing my work, because that feels like the best revenge. What they want is to stop me, so I will keep going.”


And she kept going, writing her way through all this. She believes it is incredibly therapeutic. “Writing about myself has forced me to do a lot of introspection, a lot of mental organisation, a lot of tough reckoning about my mistakes and my assumptions. It’s also helped me connect with thousands of people who have been through the same things, making it clear that not only am I part of a massive, strong community, my work has a function. It means something to people. It makes a difference.”

Growing up from a timid little girl into a confident young woman had been a long and slow process. She used to dig into the work of fat positive activists and writers. And then she simply matured as a human being, questioning the assumptions and expectations that society had dumped on her back. At some point she just snapped. “Not only did I not want to hide anymore, I couldn’t quite even remember how to hide.”


When Lindy decided to put all of that into a book, she sketched a list of the issues and experiences that were most important to her, and realised what held them together. “This arc, from quiet to loud, small to big. That transformation — and the commitment to empathy I developed along the way — applies to my interactions with Internet trolls, with fat-shamers, with comedians. The blanks just filled themselves in. The message is this: I want people to be kinder to themselves and others. There are things I left out, of course. When you’re doing personal, confessional writing, you have to be incredibly rigid about your boundaries. I have to keep some of myself to myself, so I don’t stop being mine.”