In the fourth episode of Hulu’s new comedy series Shrill, our main character Annie delivers a powerful monologue about the trials of living as a young woman with the audacity to be fat in a fatphobic society.
One of the beautiful things about this show is that it took four whole episodes to deliver such a direct message about body diversity. Because Shrill, for the most part, doesn’t need to yell about the importance of body diversity outright; the show lives its message just by letting Annie be herself.
This shouldn’t be a radical concept, yet it is.
Shrill is based on the eponymous memoir Shrill: Notes on a Loud Woman by Lindy West and stars SNL‘s Aidy Bryant as Annie, a young aspiring journalist. Annie struggles with a number of familiar issues: a condescending boss who constantly stifles her creativity, a man-child of a boyfriend who can’t commit, and the paradigm shift that comes with your parents getting sick and getting older.
As a full-figured woman, Annie navigates these issues from a unique perspective, one that is often conspicuously absent in the media. While Annie is honestly just out there trying to live her life, society around her is constantly reacting to her size in a variety of ways.
In one episode, a personal trainer she runs into at a coffee shop makes unsolicited comments about her body under the guise of being helpful. In the same episode, Annie finds out far too late that the regular dosage of the morning-after pill is ineffective for women over a certain weight, something that her pharmacist never bothered to tell her. In a later episode, after Annie publishes her first article, she acquires a troll, who feels the incessant need to leave gross comments on her article, all of them fixated in some way on her weight.
By giving us a full-figured lead, Shrill illuminates the everyday hurdles of living as a fat woman and the ways in which those hurdles are (upsettingly) simply a part of life. At the same time though, Shrill is about so much more than this. It’s about Annie’s journey of figuring out who she is; a journey that is often funny and messy, but always engaging.
It’s a perfect example of why diverse storytelling is so important. On the one hand, it provides an opportunity to tell the stories of people who are so rarely represented but deserve to be. In a world that still constantly struggles with portraying fat women on screen, a character like Annie is an incredible breath of fresh air. There’s something amazing about watching her get to be the leading lady — a fun, fully fleshed out character full of complex emotions and relationships. There’s a brief moment in the first episode where Annie and her best friend Fran just lay in Annie’s bed after a difficult experience. I don’t think I’ve actually ever seen a moment like that on TV before. Two women, both of them fat, just sharing a moment of quiet comfort that has nothing to do with their weight. Again, it shouldn’t be radical, but it is.
At the same time, when the experience portrayed on screen isn’t exactly your own, diverse storytelling also allows us the opportunity to relate to those different experiences. So much of Annie’s journey is also about the difficulty of dealing with insecurity, something that is especially present in the one-sided relationship with her not-quite-boyfriend Ryan. He’s a terrible romantic partner in pretty much every way imaginable, and yet Annie gives him chance after chance.
As a viewer, it’s both incredibly frustrating but also incredibly believable. It’s something that any woman watching the show can relate to, whether it be from their own personal experience or that of a friend. Diverse storytelling not only gives us more representation, but it also does the important work of humanizing difference. In a society that still doesn’t know how to handle women who deviate from the thin, cis, white, pretty “norm”, that’s important.
Shrill is a great win for women of all sizes, but of course, especially for women who happen to be fat. It delivers the one-two-fuck-you punch of being a comedy by a fat woman, but who’s comedy isn’t because of either of those things. And that’s something we definitely need more of.