Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast, biography, body image, body issues, Book Review, Fat Woman Stereotype, Feminism, Guest Author, Lady Kluck, Lindy West, Mother or Monster, Mrs. Potts, Queen of Hearts, Robin Hood, Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman, The "Perfect Body", Tiffany Blue Lancaster
If, unlike me, you already know the glory that is Lindy West’s humor and wisdom, please forgive my ignorance, and understand that I am too often a lax feminist and mother, who has been living within academia focused on learning from the past and often forgetting to take sojourns into the present. For those that don’t know, West is “a Seattle-based writer, editor, and performer whose work focuses on pop culture, social justice, humor, and body image.” Her writing is featured in GQ, and The Guardian, just to name a few of the numerous other publications her work is featured (Author Bio-Hachette Book Group). I wish I had found her “Loud” words sooner. Her writings are full of humor, wisdom, understanding, and compassion that with one broad stroke empower me with courage and show me that it is okay to have a voice among those I always fear will view me as nothing more than an imposter. *imposter syndrome-West talks about this! She discusses body image, rape culture, comedy, abortion, bullying, and sorrow with a grace that I hope I can mimic in some way, large or small, one day.
I had read a few blurbs about Shrill when it released in May, and my interest was piqued, but not enough, sadly, to rush out and purchase a copy.
I have become a very passive reader, and by this I mean I read something if it happens to cross my path and I can justify spending the money it costs to obtain a copy. I have, self-admittedly, become a mom that can spend money on everyone else and deny myself.
I am working through my issues (where is a twelve step program for recovery when I need one?), but in my own way, through tiny steps, I am well on my way to correcting my selfishness and stupidity, which leads me back to the focus of this review-West’s Shrill.
As part of my ‘spend money on myself’ goal, I recently joined The Book of the Month Club, and one of the selections for June was Shrill. Seizing the opportunity because it was already paid for, I quickly selected it, and awaited its arrival. I swiftly devoured all 258 pages and by the end, I finally felt the needed bravery to actually write one of these reviews that Jammer has repeatedly reminded me he would be happy to publish (Thank you for the opportunity, Mr. Smith!) (Mr. Smith interjects: “De Nada”)
Each topic West covers resonated with me in some way, even if I cannot directly relate to the practice of standup comedy, the cultured existence of Hollywood connections, and the want for nothing financial stability that comes from a place of means within our society. What I can relate to is being funny when all else fails, to being a woman with body image issues, to the fear of rape and the anger at rape culture in America. I can understand the shame and stigma attached to abortion, the mental and physical effect bullying has on a person, and the feelings of loss and sadness that flourish with death. On this alone I think Shrill is successful. While the subtitle is Notes from a Loud Woman, West’s words seemed whisper to parts of me that have too long shut out the positive effects of someone finally standing up and refusing to cower to the crappy parts of society. It made me think about my inner self, my relationship to those close to me, and my relationship with society—I grew as a person from her words whispering to me. I am going to try and discuss a few of the stand out moments from Shrill, but for length I am going to omit her journey toward and away from comedy. If you want more on this look up her debate with Jim Norton or read any of the blog posts she has made about the subject, or check out her twitter feed, or just Google it and you will find a plethora of information about it.
“Why is, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ the go-to small talk we make with children? ‘Hello, child. As I have run out of compliments to pay you on your doodling, can you tell me what sort of niche you plan to carve out for yourself in the howling existential morass of uncertainty known as the future? (p. 1)” West’s opening lines of “Lady Kluck” start the work off with a humorous tone that as a parent made me question why on earth I ever thought to ask my kid this same question (An inventor is always his answer, by the way.) Pointing out that adults have a hard time figuring out what they want to be after they grow up, yet we expect children to often rattle off their hopes and dreams and to have it all figured out before they even learn to add 1+1, sets the tone for the humor and thought-provoking ideas that are spread throughout the remainder of the book. “Lady Kluck” sets the tone for the body positive message that West expresses throughout the book, as well. She lists the various fat lady role models children had when she was growing up in a hilarious way that brings forth the realization that what she is saying is completely, horribly true, which is that Fat women are not attractive and must be delegated to being either the loud mouth rage queen or the motherly figure that often makes vary little sense; the “Mother or Monster (p. 11)” stereotype, which I feel I could do an entire article length paper about now that the idea is stuck in my head.
Mrs. Potts for instance, “Chip is a four-year-old boy, but his mother, Mrs. Potts, is like 107?…As soon as you become a mother, apparently, you are instantly interchangeable with the oldest woman in the world…(p. 10).” Just a few of the role models (Disney) she lists:
Lady Kluck from Disney’s Robin Hood (1973)
The Queen of Hearts from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Mrs. Potts from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Another topic West centers on is abortion, which she discusses under the “when life gives you lemons” idiom. The phrase is an idiom, right? Or just a proverb? Either way-doesn’t matter. Women’s reproductive rights are something West continually supports, for example she helped launch the viral #ShoutYourAbortion hashtag in defense of women’s reproductive rights. By talking openly about her experience with abortion, West compassionately highlights the fact that not only are women who choose abortion often clueless about the process, they do so with too much stacked against them. Women are not educated about the process, but that is not entirely our fault. We are shamed, we are shunned, we are taught abstinence or suck it up and do as I say about your own body-even today when we have protections, yet laws by the conservative patriarchy-okay, I’m going to stop or this could be a million word post- Moving right along…
I did say not all of the book is funny, right?, but the parts that are raw and touch the opposite end of the spectrum- Sadness and Fear, read just as honest and open as the other topics and become examples of how each person experiences various aspects of humanity and either rises above the hardness or sinks into despair. She talks about dating, losing, and marrying her husband; acknowledging that not being grown up enough to handle an adult relationship is often the source of pain and heartache. Later, she discusses the experience of losing her father to cancer and what a child feels to lose a parent that is such a vital part of their existence.
Above all, throughout the book, West focuses on the feelings of shame and ideal body image that many women struggle. The familiar ‘hide and hope no one sees you,’ the ‘you are not good enough’, the ‘you are disgusting’, the ‘if you want to be accepted you must agree to let everyone put you down and laugh when it happens,’ the dirty looks and extra fares for flying in smaller and smaller seats (see her ‘The day I didn’t fit”) are central themes West breaks down and shreds with a body positive, look what I did and so can you attitude, which are packaged nicely in humor. I personally, have felt that I needed to do exactly as she describes, “fold yourself up like origami, you make yourself smaller in other ways, you take up less space with your personality, since you can’t you’re your body (p. 13).” I have felt shame because I have forgotten that, “Women matter. Women are half of us. When you raise every woman to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint, and smallness; …It steers humanity toward conservatism and walls and the narrow interests of men, and it keeps us adrift in waters where women’s safety and humanity are secondary to men’s pleasure and convenience (p. 19).” It is nice to be reminded that “The ‘perfect body is a lie” (p. 22), and to know I am not the only one that “believed it for a long time, and I let it shape my life, and shrink it—my real life, populated by my real body. Don’t let fiction tell you what to do (p. 22).”
Overall, I was a giant cliché of laughing and crying while reading Lindy West’s Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman. I have been that woman she describes or I have witnessed friends experience heart ache and fear as she describes, and I think those that want to understand a bit more about life should read West’s work.
West, Lindy. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman. Hachett Books: 2016.
About the Author:
Tiffany Blue Lancaster wears many multi-colored hats each day; a few of which include researcher, mom, wife, and reader. She is an anticipative life-long learner with degrees in English (B.A.) and History (B.A and M.A.) and hopes to complete a PhD in Public history or archival work. In her spare time she, chases her fantastic 10 year old son (Lawson), walks her kitty fur babies, plays video and board games with her hubsman (David), travels, reads, and researches the past to understand where humanity has come from and where we are headed.