Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman
I read about Lindy West’s book of essays entitled Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman over at So Many Books, and it sounded so much like my kind of thing that I immediately ordered a copy. This is what I have been doing, in my frustration over not being able to walk–reading and writing and ordering more books to come right to me, here at the house.
Last night I took a few steps and then went up and down the hallway with just a cane, for balance. This morning I tried taking a few more. I’m very wobbly with the cane, but I think I’m just going to have to make myself do it; it’s been so long since I put any weight on my right knee that I think I’m half-afraid to even try. Today I see the orthopedist for a follow-up and I’d be ashamed to walk in there still on crutches. I’d have to admit that I think I can’t put all my weight on the knee yet because there’s so much of it.
Lindy’s essays made me feel better about that.
There are so many little gems in these essays, perfect turns of phrase and expressions of ideas I’ve had but never articulated quite so well. Like this one: “Sincerity is an easy target, but I don’t want to excise sincerity from my life—that’s a lonely way to live.”
And like this diatribe about the use of the word “big” to apply to fat people:
“’Big’ is a word we use to cajole a child: ‘Be a big girl!’ ‘Act like the big kids!’ Having it applied to you as an adult is a cloaked reminder of what people really think, of the way we infantilize and desexualize fat people. (Desexualization is just another form of sexualization. Telling fat women they’re sexless is stil putting women in their sexual place.) Fat people are helpless babies enslaved to their most capricious cravings. Fat people do not know what’s best for them. Fat people need to be guided and scolded like children.”
What she says about one of my favorite books, Fat is a Feminist Issue (published in 1978), makes a lot of sense, too:
“I am my body. When my body gets smaller, it is still me. When my body gets bigger, it is still me. There is not a thin woman inside me, awaiting excavation. I am one piece. I am also not a uterus riding around in a meat incubator. There is no substantive difference between the repulsive campaign to separate women’s bodies from their reproductive systems—perpetuating the lie that abortion and birth control are not healthcare—and the repulsive campaign to convince women that they and their body size are separate, alienated entities. Both say ‘Your body is not yours.’ Both demand, ‘Beg for your humanity.’ Both insist, ‘Your autonomy is conditional.’ This is why fat is a feminist issue.
My favorite essay is entitled “You’re So Brave for Wearing Clothes and Not Hating Yourself!” In it, West points out that “As a woman, my body is scrutinized, policed, and treated as a public commodity. As a fat woman, my body is also lampooned, openly reviled, and associated with moral and intellectual failure.”
She also points out something that I’ve said here on the blog before, except that, of course, she says it better: “Like most fat people who’ve been lectured about diet and exercise since childhood, I actually know an inordinate amount about nutrition and fitness. The number of nutrition classes and hospital-sponsored weight loss programs and individual dietician consultations and tear-filled therapy sessions I’ve poured money into over the years makes me grind my teeth.”
This distinction is wonderfully articulated:
“I hate being fat. I hate the way people look at me, or don’t. I hate being a joke; I hate the disorienting limbo between too visible and invisible; I hate the way that complete strangers waste my life out of supposed concern for my death. I hate knowing that if I did die or a condition that correlates with weight, a certain subset of people would feel their prejudices validated, and some would outright celebrate.
I also love being fat. The breadth of my shoulders makes me feel safe. I am unassailable. I intimidate. I am a polar icebreaker. I walk and climb and life things, I can open your jar, I can absorb blows—literal and metaphorical—meant for other women, smaller women, breakable women, women who need me. My bones feel like iron—heavy, but strong. I used to say that being fat in our culture was like drowning (in hate, in blame, in your own tissue), but lately I think it’s more like burning. After three decades in the fire, my iron bones are steel.”
After five decades in the fire and five knee surgeries, one of my bones is actually made of an alloy of cobalt-chromium and titanium.
Not my favorite, but the essay that says a lot of what I wish I could say is about flying while fat. It’s entitled “The Day I Didn’t Fit” and in it, she describes what it’s like for a person like me to fly in an airplane:
“If you’ve never tried cramming your hips into an angular metal box that’s an inch or two narrower than your flesh (under the watchful eye of resentful tourists), then sitting motionless in there for five hours while you fold your arms and shoulders up like a dying orchid in order to be an unobtrusive as possible, run, don’t walk. It’s like squeezing your bones in a vise. The pain makes your teeth ache.”
She also describes the lengths a fat person goes to in order to fly anywhere:
“Here’s how I board a plane. I do not book a ticket unless I can be assured a window seat—I will happily sit in the very back row, or change my flight to the buttcrack of dawn—because the window well affords me an extra couple of inches in which to compress my body to give my neighbor as much space as possible. It’s awkward and embarrassing to haul and cram myself in and out of the seat, so I also prefer the window because I’m not blocking anyone’s bathroom access. I’ve learned from experience that emergency exit rows and bulkhead rows are often narrower, so those are out.”
There’s more, but you get the gist… Lindy says she asks for a seat-belt extender when she passes the flight attendants at the front of the plane, but I skip this since I’ve discovered that they don’t really look at a fat person’s lap to make sure she’s buckled up.
As Lindy points out,
“I’m sure some fat people are fat by their own hand, without any underlying medical conditions, but a lot of other fat people are fat because they’re sick or disabled. Unless you’re checking every human being’s bloodwork before they pull up Kayak.com, you do not know which fat people are which. Which means, inevitably, if you think fat people are ‘the problem’ (and not, say, airlines hoping to squeeze out extra revenue, or consumers who want cheap airline tickets without sacrificing amenities), you are penalizing a significant number of human beings emotionally and financially for a disease or disability that already complicates their lives. Ethically, that’s fucked up.”
Her conclusion, again, is better articulated than anything I’ve ever been able to say about it:
“Airlines have no incentive to fix this problem until we, collectively, as a society, demand it. We don’t insist on a solution because it’s still culturally acceptable to be cruel to fat people. When even pointing out the problem—saying ‘my body does not fit in these seats that I pay for’—returns nothing but abuse and scorn, how can we ever expect that problem to be addressed? The real issue here isn’t money, it’s bigotry. We don’t care about fat people because it is okay not to care about them, and we don’t take care of them because we think they don’t deserve care.”
There’s more to these essays, of course, but those are the parts that really spoke to me right now, still doing all my knee exercises but feeling pretty crippled up and wondering if I’m too fat to walk.