Home > Most Popular > Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman
Author:Lindy West

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman

Lindy West

For Dad

Lady Kluck

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? Also, has anyone given you a heads-up that everyone you love will die someday?” That’s like waking a dog up with an air horn and telling it that it’s president now. “I don’t know, Uncle Jeff. I’m still kind of working on figuring out how to handle these weird popsicles with the two sticks.”

There was a time, I am told, when I was very small, that I had a ready response to the question. The answer was ballerina, or, for a minute, veterinarian, as I had been erroneously led to believe that “veterinarian” was the grown-up term for “professional animal-petter.” I would later learn, crestfallen and appalled, that it’s more a term for “touching poo all the time featuring intermittent cat murder,” so the plan was abandoned. (The fact that ANY kid wants to be a veterinarian is bananas, by the way—whoever does veterinary medicine’s PR among preschool-aged children should be working in the fucking White House.)

That period—when I was wholly myself, effortlessly certain, my identity still undistorted by the magnetic fields of culture—was so long ago that it’s beyond readily accessible memory. I do not recall being that person. For as long as I can recall, anytime I met a new adult—who would inevitably get nervous (because what is a child and how do you talk to it?) and fumble for that same hacky stock question—my imagination would come up empty. Doctor? Too gross. Fireman? Too hard. Princess? Those are fictional, right? Astronaut? LOL.

While we’re interrogating childhood clichés, who decided that “astronaut” would be a great dream job for a kid? It’s like 97 percent math, 1 percent breathing some Russian dude’s farts, 1 percent dying, and 1 percent eating awesome powdered ice cream. If you’re the very luckiest kind of astronaut ever, your big payoff is that you get to visit a barren airless wasteland for five minutes, do some more math, and then go home—ice cream not guaranteed. Anyway, loophole: I can already buy astronaut ice cream at the Science Center, no math or dying required. Lindy, 1; astronauts nada. (Unless you get points for debilitating low bone density, in which case… I concede.)

Not that it mattered anyway. Astronaut was never on the table. (Good luck convincing a fat kid that they should pursue a career in floating.) Thanks to a glut of cultural messaging, I knew very clearly what I was not: small, thin, pretty, girlish, normal, weightless, Winona Ryder. But there was precious little media telling me what I was, what I could be. For me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was subsumed by a far more pressing question: “What are you?”

I’d squint into the future and come up blank.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I can’t tell. Static? A snow field? A bedsheet? Sour cream?… Is sour cream a job?

As a kid, I never saw anyone remotely like myself on TV. Or in the movies, or in video games, or at the children’s theater, or in books, or anywhere at all in my field of vision. There simply were no young, funny, capable, strong, good fat girls. A fat man can be Tony Soprano; he can be Dan from Roseanne (still my number one celeb crush); he can be John Candy, funny without being a human sight gag—but fat women were sexless mothers, pathetic punch lines, or gruesome villains. Don’t believe me? It’s cool—I wrote it down.

Here is a complete list of fat female role models available in my youth.

Lady Kluck

Lady Kluck was a loud, fat chicken woman who took care of Maid Marian (and, presumably, may have wet-nursed her with chicken milk!?) in Disney’s Robin Hood. Kluck was so fat, in fact, that she was nearly the size of an adult male bear. Being a four-hundred-pound chicken, she wasn’t afraid to throw down in a fight with a lion and a gay snake* (even though the lion was her boss! #LeanIn), and she had monstro jugs, but in a maternal, sexless way, which is a total rip-off. Like, she doesn’t even get to have a plus-sized fuckfest with Baloo!?

(It’s weird that motherhood is coded as sexless, by the way. I know most of America is clueless about the female reproductive system, but if there’s one thing most babies have in common it’s that your dad goofed in your mom.)

Baloo Dressed as a Sexy Fortune-Teller

In order to assist Robin Hood in ripping off Prince John’s bejeweled decadence caravan, Baloo adorns himself with scarves and rags and golden bangles and whirls around like an impish sirocco, utterly beguiling PJ’s guard rhinos and incapacitating them with boners. Baloo dressed as a sexy fortune-teller luxuriates in every curve of his huge, sensuous bear butt; self-consciousness is not in his vocabulary. He knows he looks good. The most depressing thing I realized while making this list is that Baloo dressed as a sexy fortune-teller is the single-most positive role model of my youth.

The Queen of Hearts

I do not even know this bitch’s deal. In Alice in Wonderland, her only personality trait is “likes the color red,” she doesn’t seem to do any governing aside from executing minors for losing at croquet, and she is married to a one-foot-tall baby with a mustache. She is, now that I think about it, the perfect feminazi caricature: fat, loud, irrational, violent, overbearing, constantly hitting a hedgehog with a flamingo. Oh, shit. She taught me everything I know.

That Sexual Tree from The Last Unicorn

This fine lady was just minding her biz, being a big purple tree, when Schmendrick the garbage sorcerer came along and accidentally witchy-pooed her into a libidinous granny. Then he’s all mad when she nearly smothers him twixt her massive oaken cans! Hey, man, if you didn’t want to get motorboated to death by a fat tree, you should have picked something thinner and hotter to transform into your girlfriend. Like a spaghetti noodle, or clarinet.

The sex-tree that launched a thousand confusing fetishes taught me that fat women’s sexuality isn’t just ludicrous, it’s also suffocating, disgusting, and squelchy.

Miss Piggy

I am deeply torn on Piggy. For a lot of fat women, Piggy is it. She is powerful and uncompromising, assertive in her sexuality, and wholly self-possessed, with an ostentatious glamour usually denied anyone over a size 4. Her being a literal pig affords fat fans the opportunity to reclaim that barb with defiant irony—she invented glorifying obesity.

But also, you guys, Miss Piggy is kind of a rapist? Maybe if you love Kermie so much you should respect his bodily autonomy. The dude is physically running away from you.

Marla Hooch