I know this because people tell me.
“Wooo, don’t get too big now,” a teen once howled as I perused the snack aisle at a Walgreens. The rest of society has never really been much better.
In films, TV shows, commercials, hell, every aspect of pop culture, fat people have almost always been portrayed as one-dimensional caricatures. They’re either bumbling with physical ineptitude, their large bodies being the prop that cements their status as the butt of the joke, or they’re constantly miserable, just as physically and emotionally burdened by their size as the unaccepting world assumes all fat people are (or should be).
Fat people don’t get to be loved, they get to be laughed at. Fat people don’t get to be sexy, they get to be the sexless sidekick.
Finally, that has started to change.
Lizzo, a flute-playing, pole-dancing R&B singer and rapper from Minneapolis hit the Billboard charts running this spring with her new single “Juice.” While on her whirlwind press tour she has unapologetically flaunted her plus-sized body in the world’s face, donning lacy lingerie in Playboy, dancing in a rhinestone-covered bra and pink mini skirt on Ellen and twerking on HBO’s 2 Dope Queens.
Television is adapting, too. In Hulu’s new show Shrill, based on writer Lindy West’s book of the same name, SNL’s Aidy Bryant portrays a young woman named Annie who’s only just starting to realize that she’s worth a damn — fat and all.
Yeah, shows like This Is Us, Empire and Orange Is the New Black have included plus-size characters for years, but with such large ensemble casts, the fat characters are often relegated to supporting roles. Shrill is different; Shrill is all about Annie.
Like me, and maybe like you too, Annie has lived her whole life hearing about how fat she is and how unacceptable that is. Strangers in coffee shops offer up unsolicited weight loss advice, her mother pushes her to eat bland, pre-packaged diet food — and for what? Annie doesn’t care that she’s fat, her size only seems to bother everyone else. To watch her grapple with that truth, and then ultimately begin to reject everyone else’s standards and live her best life, feels radical. It feels like me. And I’ve never seen anyone like me on TV before.
With only six 30-minute episodes, Shrill might feel like a small step. But even a small step can have a big impact on every person who needs to see themselves portrayed not as a joke, but a real person who’s worthy of love, respect and the unrivaled rush of shoving your face full of cold spaghetti after having the best sex of your life.