There’s a moment in an early episode of Shrill season three that will resonate with fat viewers. It’s when Annie (Aidy Bryant), newly single and feeling better than ever, is set up on a blind date by her coworker Amadi (Ian Owens). She enters the restaurant confidently—and looking gorgeous—but is instantly thrown off when she sees her date, Will, is also fat.
She’s hit with a million emotions at once—anger, confusion, embarrassment—and they’re all palpable on her face. Did Amadi set them up only because of their bodies? She can’t shake this thought and ends up torpedoing the date, looking really bad in the process.
It’s a humanizing moment for Annie. She’s spent the last two and half years working on herself, on her own body acceptance, and rebuking culture’s notion that fat is bad. But when faced with the idea of dating another fat person, she recoils. Maybe, perhaps, she’s not as enlightened as she thought. “To me, it was the most emotional thing to perform,” Bryant tells me on Zoom in late April.
Spoiler alert: Annie and Will do end up dating by episode six but only after she shows him her cards. She comes clean about why their first encounter went so horribly: her own self-loathing, as Bryant astutely puts it.
“She meets [Will] in the second episode. That could be the season, but she stops herself from trying,” she says. “I think it’s because there’s something embarrassing about it or something self-loathing about it. When they do eventually connect, it’s because she’s really been vulnerable with him and faces the fact there was self-hatred that she put on to him.”
In a way, this moment is a thesis for Shrill‘s third and final season: Progress, especially toward one’s self-image, isn’t linear. Annie’s obviously grown leaps and bounds since season one, when she was willfully sneaking out of her ex-boyfriend Ryan’s house after secret hookups. She’s no longer taking shit from coworkers and strangers and isn’t afraid of the word fat. But that doesn’t mean she’s immune to the very real and damaging beauty standards that still permeate our daily lives.
“I think there’s a practicality about our show and a realism that isn’t all, ‘You go girl! Love yourself!’ That oversimplification,” Bryant says. “There’s a way our show has gotten under some of that nitty-gritty of [body acceptance]. Let’s get under the hood and talk about the pressure and the pain and the shame.”