Lindy West ’04

By Andy Faught
Lindy West is executive producer of the Hulu TV series "Shrill," which is based on her bestselling memoir. She speaks out with her pointed and frequently funny observations on feminism, social justice and self-image.

A contributing writer to GQ, Jezebel, The New York Times and The Guardian, West is well-known for remonstrating against online misogyny, racism, and hate. But West's visibility—she has more than 90,000 followers on Twitter—comes at a price. It puts her in the crosshairs of trolls, people who post hateful and abusive diatribes online. It's something West describes in her memoir, Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman (Hachette Books), which was adapted into a TV show that premiered on Hulu in March 2019.

West lives in Seattle, where she was raised, with her husband (musician, writer, and comedian Ahamefule J. Oluo) and two stepdaughters. West's outspokenness sometimes comes as a surprise to those who have known her, and even to West herself. She grew up shy and "fat" (a topic she gives unstinting due in “Shrill”) and not entirely sure of her place in the world. She enrolled at Oxy for its size and location, a quick two-hour flight from her Pacific Northwest roots.

West's "strength and bravery are second only to her genius and wit," says Lisa Wade, associate professor of sociology at Oxy and author of American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus, a treatise exploring everything from brain development to gender inequality.

"Lindy is a testament to Occidental's tradition of encouraging students to make a mark on the world and giving them the tools with which to do so," Wade adds. "She has been fearless. Whereas many high-profile thinkers cultivate a group of like-minded followers, Lindy has taken her battles to the front lines."

An English major, West graduated from Oxy with no clear career plans. She'd always wanted to be a writer, but she lacked confidence. She took work with a San Fernando Valley parenting magazine ("the experience was terrible in most ways") before she landed a data-entry job at Seattle's alternative weekly, The Stranger. A charitable editor assigned her a theater review, which drew plaudits. In what she describes as "a stumbling, weird course," West became the weekly's film editor.

In 2011, West butted sensibilities with The Stranger's Dan Savage, an LGBT activist and nationally syndicated sex-advice columnist. In response to an Iowa Republican delegate's claim that homosexual behavior cuts life expectancy, and gay people shouldn't have the right to marry, Savage opined, "Why stop with gay people? Iowa should ban fat marriage. … The odds that the skinny spouse will ultimately be seduced into the risky obese lifestyle are simply too great and the potential health consequences too severe."

Savage's backhanded polemic was only his latest dig against fat people, but it proved both catalytic and cathartic for West. In response, she posted a photo of herself ("28 years old, female, 5'9", 263 lbs.") and wrote her own blog entry, "Hello, I Am Fat," rebutting Savage:

"This is my body. It is MINE. I am not ashamed of it in any way. In fact, I love everything about it. Men find it attractive. Clothes look awesome on it. My brain rides around in it all day and comes up with funny jokes. Also, I don't have to justify its awesomeness/attractiveness/healthiness/usefulness to anyone, because it is MINE. Not yours."

"That was really the moment where my style and philosophy of writing changed," West says. "I was declaring, 'This is who I am.' The response that I got was so profound. I heard from people who said, 'I feel the same way and I've always been afraid to speak up.' Some people said it had a major impact on their mental health. There's just nothing more validating than that, and it also starts to feel like a responsibility."