Writer Lindy West is one of our long-time favorites — and a feminist firebrand. We are excited to see her move into television with Shrill (based on Lindy’s bestselling memoir and starring Aidy Bryant), which debuts tomorrow, March 15th! Here, Lindy tells us about talking to teenagers about beauty, the bar soap she uses on her face and how she reclaimed the word ‘fat’…
First off, the trailer! Shrill starts tomorrow on Hulu. Lindy, here’s a big question to start with: What’s your take on beauty?
Oh, boy. That is a big question. When I was young, I tried to conform to the prevailing Hollywood standard of beauty. I spent a lot of time trying and failing to look the way that I’d been taught girls were supposed to look.
How did that evolve?
As I got older, I started to think about bodies — and the beauty and diet industries — in a more critical way. I spent a lot of time looking at diverse bodies, and thinking about this idea we’ve been sold that there’s only one path to beauty — and therefore to happiness and fulfillment and success, as well. It took me until my late 20s to start thinking about what I actually liked. And, of course, it was complicated by the fact that there were very limited fashion options for fat women when I was growing up, so I didn’t have the ability to express myself through style.
Even now fashion options are limited.
Extremely limited. It almost never happens that I see a picture of a fat woman and I can’t tell you where her dress came from. There are a small number of designers and retailers doing great work, but there’s still no such thing as comparison shopping for us. So, then it becomes a challenge of trying to express who you are, and show individuality, with a narrow range of choices. I actually kind of like that challenge. I’m resentful that I’m forced into it, but it’s fun. Now I wear a combination of plus-size clothes, those stretchy ‘baggy fit’ straight-size clothes, the rare vintage piece.
What about makeup?
Makeup has always been a mystery to me. I’ll be like, ‘Okay, today, I’m going to master eyeliner!’ I’ll try for 15 minutes, and then my arm gets tired and I’ll give up. And so now I’m 37 years old and cannot do my own eyeliner.
That surprises me, because when I think of your ‘look,’ I immediately picture you with a bright red lip and glamorous almost 1940s-style hair.
You know, it’s interesting: I absolutely love that look, but it’s not actually my look. Whenever I do press or have my picture taken, people just tend to style me that way. And I do think it has to do with size. I think folks can have such a hard time imagining that fat women can be beautiful that they think the way to make it happen is to over-style them. When it comes to beauty for fat women, it has to be this super exaggerated hyper-femininity. I’m always styled like ‘old Hollywood glamour.’ I have this fantasy about going to a photoshoot and having them say, ‘We’re gonna do a natural look. And you’re not going to wear a bombshell, pin-up dress. We have this weird smock for you.’ I dream of someone saying that to me. Just put me in a smock and do something weird with my face! Fat women don’t really get to be glamorously androgynous, you know?
So, what is your skincare routine?
Okay, I have some bad news for you. You can’t get mad at me.
Okay. I’m so embarrassed saying this. My morning routine is…nothing.
I brush my teeth. And I floss.
But wait, your skin is amazing. What do you use?
Bar soap in the shower! Literally, Dove bar soap. On my face and body.
I am floored.
I spent last summer in L.A., working in the writers’ room on Shrill. I lived with another writer, Samantha Irby, which was really fun. When we first arrived, we were like, ‘Okay, we’re having our big summer in Hollywood. We should probably try to be fancy and, like, take care of our skin.’ Also, I’m 37 and starting to get wrinkles. So, I went with Sam to Sephora, intending to buy maybe one moisturizer, and of course I walked out with 18 things from Sunday Riley. I used them religiously, because we were having our big Hollywood summer. And then in the fall, I came home to Seattle and put my bag of L.A. toiletries in the cabinet and haven’t used any of them since. And I have to say that my face looks exactly the same!
I know! This is not me calling out Sunday Riley, by the way. Because I liked using the potions; they smelled nice and made my skin feel good. But in terms of how it looked, there was no difference whatsoever. Honestly, I think it’s just that my skin has a chill attitude. It’s fine with Dove bar soap.
Do you use a moisturizer?
I have a basic Neutrogena moisturizer that I put on if my face is feeling tight and dry. I try to put on sunscreen if it’s sunny. But, listen, I know I’m being cavalier about this right now, and who knows what my face is going to look like in 10 years? I will probably regret not sticking with my potions.
Do you wear lipstick?
When I have professional stuff going on, I’ll wear lipstick. I really like MAC’s line of corals. But actually, there is one lip product I’ve been hunting for since last year.
What is it?
When we were pitching Shrill, I spent two days running around L.A. for meetings with Aidy Bryant and Elizabeth Banks — who is a producer on the show. And I noticed that Elizabeth had some kind of lip situation going on where it just looked like her natural lip color, but turned up a little bit? It was a very natural, sheer but enhanced pink. I’ve been chasing that ever since, and I can’t find it. I should have just asked her what it was.
I bet I know what it is! Dior Lip Glow. It goes on basically clear, and then subtly amps up your own lip color.
That’s it! Wait, I’m writing this down. Dior Lip Glow? I’M BUYING IT. Thank you!
You’re a stepparent to two teen girls. Any thoughts on how to talk to young girls about beauty?
Kids are obviously inundated with messaging, and there’s a lot of pressure to look a certain way. But kids are also smart, and they’re listening even when it seems like they’re not. I think just living the example sends the message. I don’t talk negatively about my body or other people’s bodies in front of my kids — or at all. I also think it’s crucial to tell girls that they’re smart and funny and capable of things, beyond being pretty. It seems to have worked out in our family. Both girls are super defiant and resilient and totally self-possessed in a way that I was not as a teenager. I’m proud of them.
Speaking of self-talk, you’ve embraced the word ‘fat.’ But it still makes some people uncomfortable. What are your thoughts?
People should describe themselves however they feel comfortable. But for me, it’s been perhaps the most revolutionary change in my life — reclaiming ‘fat.’ Because it’s the thing that people have used to hurt me the most, my whole life. It made me afraid to draw attention to myself, which held me back in my career. So, I started to think, okay, what if I just say, ‘Yes, I’m fat’? It’s a descriptor and there’s no reason it should be stigmatized. By being afraid of it, I’m kind of endorsing this idea that there’s something wrong with it, and I should be ashamed. You know? So, if I start saying, ‘Yeah, I’m fat and it’s fine,’ then if someone tries to use it against me, it doesn’t work. It immediately takes the teeth out of that insult.
In the show, did you make a conscious effort to use ‘fat’ in a consistent, neutral way?
Yeah, that was the plan from the beginning — and that’s the way that both Aidy and I talk about ourselves. The whole point of the show is to get away from all these false narratives about what fat people’s lives are like: That we’re all ashamed, that we’re all trying to lose weight, that we’re miserable and hate ourselves and no one has a good relationship. That’s just not true. Dancing around the fact that we’re fat — it’s kind of the same impulse. The whole point is that we can live real, healthy and happy lives. So, if we’re using the word ‘curvy,’ there’s some level of shame and avoidance in that term, and that’s the opposite of what we’re trying to do with this show. If I call myself ‘fat’ in a non-judgmental way, that’s where change comes from, you know? Making people uncomfortable and making them rethink their assumptions.