Fat Representation Shouldn't Be This Revolutionary

Last week, I sat down to watch the first episode of Shrill, starring SNL’s Aidy Bryant and based on the memoir written by Lindy West. And I cried. Not in a sad way, mind you. It wasn’t a sob-fest. But as the closing credits rolled, I couldn’t hold back the tears that gathered in the corners of my eyes. Why? Because it was the first time in my life as a fat person that I’d ever seen someone who looked like me portrayed as the heroine. Plenty of plus-size people have existed in TV-land, of course, but they’re always limited to very specific roles. Fat sidekick. Villain. Idiotic slob. Annoying neighbor. Overly jolly stranger. Never, in all my years of living while fat, has the star of the show - the person I am most supposed to sympathize with, identify with, root for, and love - had a body that resembles mine. Not once. While I’ve long understood that representation matters, and that fat people are grossly underrepresented in mainstream media, nothing could have prepared me for the shock of seeing a fat, beautiful, funny, vibrant, sex-having, skin-showing heroine on that screen. It stood out in stark contrast to every other TV show I’ve ever seen and made me see exactly what I’ve been missing. Now, I’m only four episodes in (so no spoilers, please), but I’ve witnessed some truly noteworthy things about Shrill so far, including but not limited to the following:

  • Annie, the main character, exists as a fat woman who is not on a diet and is not trying to lose weight.

  • The show insinuates that change needs to happen around Annie’s circumstances (career, relationships, etc), rather than her physical appearance.

  • It also highlights seemingly unimportant micro-aggressions that fat people face on a regular basis and that, when added up, aren’t quite so micro at all.

  • Annie routinely wears dresses that cut off above the knee.

  • Annie appears on-screen in her underwear and swimsuit. (Also, can we talk about the pool party scene??? So much fat love!!! And yes, more tears from me. I'm not sorry.)

  • Annie’s sense of style and dress is quite unapologetically feminine (many fat female characters are portrayed with more masculine qualities - think Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids).

  • Annie has sex - and when I say she has sex, I don’t mean that her sexual activity is alluded to. There are actual fat sex scenes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before. Ever.

  • Not only that, the people she has sex with actually find her desirable and - dare I say - attractive!

All this is why I cried. None of this should be revolutionary - but it is. And it’s not that I didn’t already know this stuff. Look, I’ve known for a long time that my weight doesn’t have anything to do with my worth. I’ve spent years teaching women that they are allowed to be fat and also be successful, strong, beautiful, desirable, sexual, scantily-clad, empowered, and feminine beings.

It’s just that this is the first time mainstream media has agreed with me.

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© 2020 by Ali Owens​