West is a defender of bodies: womenís bodies, fat
bodies, every bodyís right to exist in whatever way,
shape or form, unjudged and unassailed. "Everyone
has a body," she says. "We havenít developed
brain-in-jar technology yet." Her writing puts
forth the unfortunately radical proposition that each
personís body is that personís own business.
is the thing that most belongs to them. Itís not
yours," she points out over sake bombs and edamame
dip, pot stickers and ahi tacos. Itís the most basic
of truths, but, again unfortunately, it bears pointing
West is a Seattle native, but with her column in The
Guardian, sheís become something of an international
hero. Lindy West and I worked together at the
alternative weekly The Stranger, where I had the vast
pleasure of watching her scathing, incisive and
hilarious powers unfold.
West is also my friend, and witnessing how some treated
her along the way made me feel angry and helpless ó
and, by implication and inaction, like part of the
problem. My own bodyís deviation from the norm,
through absolutely no virtue of my own, has garnered
wondering approval ("How can you be a food writer
and stay so skinny?"). Lindyís bodyís deviation
from the norm has earned her not just opprobrium, but
threats of rape and death, more times that she can
count. Working with her ó reading the kind of online
comments that she would ultimately attack head-on ó I
didnít know what to do.
just realized that this thing had been eating at me for
so long, and it also had felt like something I needed to
keep a secret for so long," she says. "ĎOh,
donít write about your body, people will be mean to
you, people will make fun of you.í" Which, she
notes, did happen ó and in an "acutely
if people are going to be mean to me and make fun of me
anyway, why not take control of the narrative and say
something? If you let those people silence you, then you
canít advocate for yourself. And you canít make your
life better. And you canít own your own life.
also, on a really practical level," she says,
"once you stop obsessing over being broken and
wrong, and you stop starving yourself, and you stop
worrying about how many calories youíre eating and how
many sit-ups you did that day, it literally frees up
time and energy."
began her crusade against the notion that the shape of
your body dictates the worth of your being.
changed my career, for sure. There was just no going
back," she laughs. "Since then, thatís kind
of the cornerstone of the kind of writing that I do Ö
trying to be really clear, and uncompromising, and stick
up for people who arenít being heard."
leaving The Stranger, Lindyís also written for Jezebel
and GQ; sheís been a key part of the #ShoutYourAbortion
campaign. She still spends, as she puts it, "a lot
of time getting yelled at on the Internet by people ó
mostly men ó whoíre very threatened by noncompliant
women Ö Mostly it seems to be because I exist as a fat
person without apologizing. And because I talk back to
them, and am argumentative, and strident." Until
recently, her tagline on Twitter was "Why fat lady
so mean to baby-men?"
reaching the people who are threatened by her ó and
who threaten her ó and changing some minds in very
surprising ways. One of her many, many fights against
individual trolls ó real people, with bodies, who use
the anonymity of the Internet to be cruel while
remaining hidden ó ended with a startling, humanizing
and even beautiful confrontation documented on
"This American Life."
she has a brand-new book ó her first ó called
"Shrill." The subtitle is "Notes from a
Loud Woman." Itís a memoir, she explains, "a
book about growing up feeling like you donít fit, in
both a literal and figurative way. So itís just
stories from my life about coming to terms with my body,
and learning to live my life not feeling like a work in
progress. And learning about feminism, and learning
about how to be a partner, just all these things that
young women, especially, struggle with Ö I wrote the
book that I needed 15 years ago, that I didnít
not much in the book about food per se, but Lindy is a
vocal critic of the diet industry. "Itís all a
scam Ö it drains women of money, and money is power or
whatever ó that seems like a clichť, but itís true
ó and it also keeps women locked in this eternal
battle against each other, where weíre ranking each
other Ö it saps your brain-space, and it doesnít
(expletive) work. Which is why itís such a successful
industry. It doesnít work."
food culture also doesnít work, with food porn on one
side, the obesity epidemic on the other, and not much in
between. You can be fat and left alone, Lindy notes,
"but you have to be a good fat person whoís, you
know, doing their penance. You have to post pictures on
Instagram that prove that you eat salad; otherwise, youíre
the bad kind."
assertion: "You canít tell people what to eat and
what to do with their bodies. And lives are huge and
complex Ö Why donít you just campaign for healthier
school lunches? Why donít you campaign for longer
recess? Why donít we raise the minimum wage so that
moms ó or dads ó donít have to work three jobs,
and they can be home and cook food for their families?
Instead Ö we stigmatize them and call them stupid and
fat for feeding McDonaldís to their kids. The whole
system is broken, and the only solution people can come
up with is to punish the people victimized by that
is, however, seeing improvement. "I think itís
incrementally getting better," she says ó more
role models, more academics doing important work, more
revelations about "The Biggest Loser."
what can we all do? "Just be nice to the fat people
in your life, and donít judge them and tell them what
to do," Lindy says. "And listen to them.
donít beat yourself up if you eat a doughnut or
whatever. Itís OK to have a doughnut. Itís OK to
have a doughnut every day, if thatís what makes you
happy. We only have one life, so you might as well live
it how you want. As long as youíre not murdering
people and stuff.
is not OK to force-feed a stranger a doughnut every
day," she laughs.
STORY CAN END HERE)
more of our interview.
Jean Clement: Did you see The New York Times article
about the journal Obesity doing that study following the
people that were on "The Biggest Loser"?
West: The way that they get people to lose weight on
"The Biggest Loser" ó and you can read a
couple of accounts out there from former contestants who
breached their NDAs to talk about it ó they just
torture them. They torture them beyond safe medical
limits for months, and then act like thatís healthy
weight loss, and like those peopleís lives are better
now. And itís just heartbreaking to read the way that
people are treated. And, then, people watching that at
home are like, "Oh, those people are better than
me, Iím a failure because I go to Weight Watchers and
Jazzercise, and Iím still a size 18 or whatever."
And, you know, at a certain point you just have to let
your body be your body. You can pursue health and
fitness independent of what size you are.
And the journal study found that people who lost these
dramatic amounts of weight then gained it back, and
their bodies reacted to this ó
Yeah, yeah! So that happens, and we still define that as
Thatís success. When itís the opposite of health. Itís
CLEARLY unhealthy. It has a negative impact on those
peopleís health. And also, itís important to say
that people are also free to NOT pursue healthÖ lives
are huge and complex, and a lot of people, maybe health
isnít on their priority list. Thatís not your
seeing higher rates of eating disorders in elementary
school kids, because of the war on childhood obesity and
all this rhetoric about fat kids needing to be fixed.
And schools weighing all the kids ó having them stand
in a line and be weighed at school, then sending letters
home to their parents saying that their kids are too
fat. So now you have kids in fifth, sixth, seventh gradeÖ
developing anorexia. And itís just like,
"COOL." Oh, is that help? Does that make our
So can people who are fat reclaim just enjoying food?
Well, people are doing that. Thatís definitely one of
the more prominent principles of fat activism, just
EATING, unapologetically ó consuming food
unapologetically. Which is really HARD. And Iím pretty
much at 100 percent ó Iím fine at this point, I can
eat whatever I want at a restaurant and not feel
self-conscious, MOSTLY. I have maybe like 1 percent of
anxiety. But I used to have nothing but anxiety. I used
to eat performatively. Because you know that people are
watching you, and not just making a judgment about your
health, and whether or not you should be eating that,
but about your moral character and your intellect and
what you contribute to society. So thereís a
tremendous amount of pressure. So, yeah, what Iíve
seen from fat activists ó itís a lot about
reclaiming the act of eating. Like eating for
nourishment and joy, rather than the sort of inherently
negative punishment or absolution thing.
It seems clear that most people in the U.S. ó I think
most ó have quite a warped relationship with food.
Yeah, itís not just fat people. Everyone has a [expletived]-up
relationship with food.
I try to tell stories about politics, and about people,
and also about whatís delicious to eat, but I feel
like thereís something a lot deeper that needs to
happen, where young people ó the people reading your
memoir ó young women, probably more specifically, need
to have a sea change in how we all relate to food. How
do we do that?
I donít know ó itís slow. Itís slow. People are
so quick to mock even just the term, but fat positivity
is so radical, because it intersects with class and race
and economicsÖ and gender and all these things. Itís
what we put into our bodies, and what our bodies look
like, and how much space we take up in the world ó itís
fundamental to everyoneís experience, and to the world
that we build around us to accommodate our bodies and
other peopleís bodiesÖ Itís not frivolous. But
yeah, I think itís incrementalÖ