I’m talking a lot about body image these days because frankly, it’s been on my mind so much. Fitness has become an important part of my routine. It’s the one thing keeping me sane while dealing with all the instability in my life right now: I’m in my final semester of grad school and dealing with end of term papers and projects, on top of researching my thesis, is driving me insane. I’m also still working full-time, freelancing and starting my post-graduation job hunt. With so much in my life that’s up in the air, it’s nice having one stable thing that I can control, that I’m doing just for myself. I feel better after I go to the gym, where I get to see trainers and gym buddies that I genuinely care about. I feel good about eating well, because I know it’s bringing me closer to my goals. Seeing myself transform feels so good and it makes me more confident, but also brings up a lot of insecurities.
When I heard about Shrill – starring SNL’s Aidy Bryant as Annie, a fat woman who likes herself and accepts herself for who she is and realises that the world isn’t treating her the way she deserves – I was so excited. Fat women are so rarely seen on TV or in movies, and if they are, they’re the comic relief. Think “Fat Monica” from Friends, a sexless loser who is constantly eating candy bars. Her friends make frequent references about how fat she used to be. They never let her forget it because, even though she’s skinny now, she still used to be fat and she should always feel ashamed of it.
Throughout the short, six-episode Season 1, Annie deals with a narcissistic boss who underestimates her (and at one point, insinuates that she must be stupid and lazy due to her weight) and a shitty kind-of boyfriend who takes advantage of her. Initially, she puts up with it because she feels like she doesn’t deserve any better, but a few epiphanies in the series make her realise that she deserves so much more than what she’s getting.
There were a few moments in the season that stood out to me and made me burst into tears (some spoilers, but not too bad):
- When a woman in a coffee shop advertising an exercise class grabs Annie and says, “You could be so pretty.”
- After Annie finds out her shitty kinda-boyfriend Ryan has been sleeping with someone else, she tells him off and leaves in a fit of rage. She swears she’ll never see or speak to him again, but then he messages her the next day and asks her to come over and talk and she agrees. On the way to his house, she tries to cross the street as a car starts to drive, so she backs up and apologises. The car tries to go, she tries to go. She keeps apologising. She’s so used to apologising all her life – she feels like she needs to apologise for taking up space. Women aren’t meant to take up space. They’re not meant to be big. They have to be as small as possible so everyone can forget they’re there. Then, a glamorous fat woman crosses the street. She walks like she owns the world and carries herself with a confidence I still haven’t gained. Annie is fascinated by her, by the way she lives so boldly (because when you’re fat, being happy is bold) and she follows her to a flower shop. Ryan sends her a text asking where she is, and she ignores it, choosing instead to buy herself a bouquet of flowers and walk around. She’s put up with Ryan’s bullshit for so long because she felt like she doesn’t deserve any better, but seeing that woman makes her realise that she does.
- Annie goes to a “Fat Babes Pool Party” in a t-shirt and jeans. She’s not used to showing her body. It makes her uncomfortable. She’s ashamed. But when she’s there, she sees dozens of other fat women in swimsuits. They’re talking, swimming, laughing, they’re just living their lives. She realises that she doesn’t have to hide herself, and she strips down to her swimsuit and jumps in the pool, swimming around fat legs, with a look of pure happiness on her face.
I wish there had been a show like this when I was an insecure teenager and young adult. I wish I could have seen someone be confident in themselves, instead of only seeing skinny people who still somehow thought they were overweight. I wore baggy jeans and hoodies until college because I was so ashamed of my body – it was only after a lot of effort from my best friend that I finally warmed up to dresses. I stayed with guys that treated me shitty because I thought I didn’t deserve better – including ones that bought my groceries for me so they could control what I ate, bitched me out if I ate something they didn’t approve of, or made cruel comments about my thighs. I spent years feeling like the unattractive fat friend, the one everyone put up with because of my hot friends.
I do feel a lot better about myself at 29 than I did at 21. However, to this day, my resting state is “everyone hates me, they just tolerate me because they’re nice people. No one wants to hear about my problems. I’m an annoyance and people would prefer if I weren’t around.” (To be fair, I can only blame some of this on body image issues: most of this comes from my childhood). A few things have happened this past year that have really shaken my confidence: grad school, being cheated on and, most recently, falling for someone hard and fast, who seemed to feel the same way about me, only to find out he had a long-term girlfriend that he had repeatedly failed to mention.
Shrill came at a good time for me. It gave me a dose of sunshine when I’ve been lost inthe fog. No matter how much weight I’ve lost, I still feel like a fat girl who doesn’t deserve love or praise, like there’s no way to call me beautiful because I still have stomach rolls and can’t fit into a size 2. Seeing women who don’t conform to society’s norms be comfortable in their own skin was a revolution to me. I even went out and bought myself a crop top the other day, and while I was crazy nervous to wear it (and almost changed three times) I wore it out and I rocked it, something I never thought I’d do. It’s crazy how a show about a woman simply existing happily can have a huge impact on my mind.