Growing up, I never thought there was a woman like me on TV. The actresses on my favorite Disney Channel and ABC Family shows neither looked nor sounded like me. Their personalities, like their bodies, held no weight.
In her newest comedy series “Shrill,” writer and comedian Aidy Bryant brings a female character to the screen that the likes of Hollywood haven’t seen before. She’s not a character who is unapologetically herself or a woman who loathes her body; she’s just trying to figure everything out. She’s less concerned with fitting into jeans and more concerned with how she fits into this world.
Based on Lindy West’s 2016 book “Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman,” the Hulu series follows a young journalist named Annie, played by Bryant, as she sarcastically and uncomfortably wades through life. As a bottom-tier writer for a magazine, her talents go unnoticed by her cruel boss. And it’s no surprise that she’s in a relationship with a clueless “man-imal” who forces her out the back door after their casual afternoon delight hookups.
Aidy Bryant as Annie
Bryant’s innate comedic timing and witty delivery bring the show to life. And she’s not funny by accident. She’s honed her skills on “Saturday Night Live” for seven years, after becoming a featured cast member in 2012. But being a seasoned SNL veteran isn’t the sole reason Bryant’s style stands out from the rest; she’s gotten her bearings in plenty of minor roles, appearing in shows like “Broad City,” “Portlandia” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”
Although Bryant’s inherent likability and smooth sense of humor lend themselves nicely to Annie’s character, there’s more to her than being “funny…for a fat girl.”
While the show undoubtedly prides itself on its plus-size protagonist, the narrative focuses on more than Annie’s weight. She decides within the first episode that she’s done letting people make her feel like crap about anything: her weight, her ambitions, even her sh—ty attempts at romance. Bryant gives TV a character that stands up and says, “F–k this, I’ve had enough!” Annie decides she’s going to do things her way, and the revelation couldn’t be more refreshing.
When the audience meets Annie, she’s stuck. She’s where I find myself in life right now: lodged between responsibilities, expectations and the desperate desire to just live life. But, during the first 60 minutes of the series, Annie has an awakening. After being demeaned by her coworkers, her mother and some random yoga teacher at a coffee shop, Annie’s had enough.
At first, it’s a little jarring that Annie’s ultimate moment of empowerment stems from her extremely controversial decision to get an abortion. Faced with an incredibly difficult decision, Annie is scared out of her mind, but ultimately chooses to abort the pregnancy and carry on without a child. By getting the abortion, Annie takes control of her own body and sees it in a new light; it’s not about how thin or dainty a body is, but rather, how strong and capable it can be.
Journey Toward Acceptance
With that stems the core of Bryant’s war-cry to every woman who doesn’t realize or appreciate their body. Happiness isn’t found in a decreasing number on a weight scale or measuring tape. Strength, confidence and power are found through shifting your perspective on what your body is here for. It’s not here to please anyone; it’s here for you and you alone.
I don’t consider myself fat, but I struggle constantly with feeling like my body is “enough.” Am I thin enough? Strong enough? Tan enough? The list of standards and expectations goes on and on. “Shrill” is the first piece of entertainment where I saw a character look at herself and ask those same questions. And then something caught me off guard.
What most shows get wrong is that they portray an insecure character finding confidence in the matter of one episode. These characters’ “transformations” are underwhelming and off-putting to people like me who truly struggle with insecurity on a daily basis. “Shrill” showed Bryant as a woman who didn’t discover a profoundly positive outlook with the snap of a finger, but as a woman on a journey toward acceptance.
“This is not a show about someone struggling to lose weight, West said. “At no point in the course of this series will the protagonist step on a scale and look down and sigh. She’s not miserable all the time. It’s about her shrugging off those expectations.”
More Than Just Body Positivity
The show is honest when it shows Annie struggling to accept her body, but I think some people may be fooled into thinking physical body positivity is the sole subject of the series. “Shrill” separates itself from mainstream situational comedy by investing quality writing and ample screen time in a character who struggles to accept who she is, not what she looks like.
Bryant breaks the stereotypical victim trope down and smashes the remains in the gravel, all while wearing Annie’s sensible flats. It’s 2019 and the “trapped in a tower, guarded by a firing breathing dragon” female archetype is obsolete. Annie doesn’t need a promotion, a man or a diet plan to save her; she saves herself.
“Shrill” made history for millennial women who’ve been waiting for a heroine worthy of their affections. Instead of fixating the plot on Annie’s weight, the story revolves around how her relationship with her body affects her relationships with family, friends and society. Life is beautiful, but you’re not going to appreciate its beauty unless you realize your own.
Celebrate yourself. You are beautiful. You are flawed. You are succeeding and failing and figuring your way through life. Don’t make yourself quieter or smaller to make others more comfortable.
Take it from a loud girl who has been told her whole life that she captures too much attention. Don’t stop talking or occupying space. Existing is a beautiful thing in itself, and you should exist as big, creatively and noticeably as you want. Thanks, Aidy for reassuring me that I don’t need to apologize for being here and being who I am. I exist beautifully, and I’m going to celebrate it!