Columbia City–based writer Lindy West got her start as an arts reporter for The Stranger, and now focuses on topics that include pop culture, social justice and body image for GQ and The Guardian. Her first book, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman (Hachette Books, $26) is released May 17.
Why did you decide to title your memoir Shrill?
It’s a pejorative that is assigned only to women.... A lot of the book is about facing these expectations that we have for women and the ways that I do not fulfill those expectations—and then claiming that space anyway. “Shrill” is something we’ve heard a lot this election season applied to Hillary Clinton constantly. It’s not a word that we apply to men; it’s a way to devalue what a woman is saying with absolutely no substantive critique. It’s also a word that’s applied to women who are funny and loud, and who are not meek and quiet and small. So it’s something that I feel is applied to me in a way that’s intended to diminish me. I wanted to reclaim that.
You use the term “fat positive” in your book. What does that mean?
Other people might have their own interpretations, but to me it’s just the notion that I have the right to be happy now and to not think of myself as a work in progress. I do not have to feel that my body is inherently shameful or bad or something that I have to apologize for. I think that there’s this notion that it’s OK for fat people to not hate themselves, but they still need to be doing this penance to try to conform to the way society thinks their bodies should look. To me, fat positivity is just saying that I’m still a human being no matter how my body looks.
Why do you think some people shy away from the concept of feminism, or even using the term?
I think a lot of people are uneducated about what feminism actually means. There’s a very successful disinformation campaign to tell people that feminism means female supremacy or whatever, but also we raise women to be compliant and quiet and to sort of take a backseat to men, so people find it threatening when women refuse to do that.
What would you like people to take away from this book?
First of all, that they’re OK; they don’t have to change for other people. And that it’s much more fun to conquer the world as yourself than to try to twist and shrink yourself into someone that you’re not to fulfill other people’s demands. And also that being “cool” isn’t that important. It isn’t considered cool to be sincere or vulnerable or to stick up for people that maybe aren’t saying such fashionable things. There are all kinds of things that people avoid doing because they’re not cool, but in the long run, it’s just so much more fulfilling to be good than to be cool.
*this interview has been edited and condensed.