One of the earliest scenes in Hulu’s captivating new series Shrill finds our heroine Annie Easton (Aidy Bryant) watching a plus-sized woman confidently strut out ahead of her into the street as traffic appears to yield only to her.
Annie, having been following the woman ever since her assertive sway and bold fashion choices caught her eye, moves timidly into the street, apologizing to the cars as if her attempt to cross the road was somehow an affront to them. She said she was sorry for something as pedestrian as walking across the street. For a moment, I was incredulous. But then I realized I do the exact same thing.
It was then I saw myself in Annie, as I flashed back to all the times I had said “sorry” myself — endlessly, needlessly apologizing for things that were neither things I could control nor things anyone should ever conceivably be made to apologize for. When I didn’t hear what a coworker expressed in a meeting, I said, “Sorry, but can you repeat that?” too many times to count. When I didn’t receive payment for a freelance job, my first instinct was to apologize before asking for the mistake to be corrected — as if asking for the money I deserved for completing work indicated an apology.
I’m not sure where my constant need to apologize came from, but I understand Annie’s. But throughout the span of the show’s first six episodes (the beginning of what I hope is far more to come) Annie accomplishes something I haven’t yet been able to: changing the way she reacts to her situation rather than falling into a slump. By the end of Shrill, Annie has become a much more powerful person, and all she had to do was stop saying sorry and accepting less for herself.
It isn’t always that simple, but it’s necessary. What if you could stop apologizing for taking up space and improve your life tenfold? Is it really that easy? Once Annie stops making excuses for others’ behavior and realizes she has a right to be present, heard, and appreciated, it certainly looks that way.
Annie is constantly assaulted by a world that wants to control her body in one way or another. It’s as if she is, as a larger woman, collectively owned by the public instead of able to live her life the way she wants to. Her apologetic nature is a learned behavior that has come about after years of dealing with this kind of treatment, day in and day out.
While visiting a coffee shop, Annie is accosted by a chirpy personal trainer who insists on offering her services. Annie, who spends enough time being lambasted (in admittedly underhanded ways) by her own mother about her weight, declines awkwardly, but the trainer continues to come on strong. “You could be so pretty,” this stranger gushes to Annie, implying that she’s somehow devoid of worth or beauty as she is. Annie laughs it off, but is visibly uncomfortable.
Not long after that, she meets the woman again, who excitedly runs out and flags Annie down, asking why she hasn’t called to set up an appointment. When Annie declines once more and the woman returns to the café she came out of, Annie murmurs “fuck you,” under her breath. It’s clear she feels as though she must immediately take it back — because when she doesn’t, she’s verbally assaulted and called a “fat bitch.” It’s difficult to learn to assert yourself when something as simple as standing up for yourself can result in hateful language. So we apologize — for our thoughts, our opinions, and taking up space. For our feelings and self-worth. Because it’s easier than the pain that comes with owning who we are when others want to push us down.
Luckily, Annie grows tremendously after this encounter. She opts to attend a body-positive pool party hoping to promote beauty at all sizes. But there’s a “mandatory” work event that day focused on getting fit. Annie goes to the pool party, has a blast, and sheds her day clothes to reveal her swimsuit bod, living it up with the other women there. She ends up arriving late to the work event because she was attending the party (part of her assignment to begin with) and her editor berates her, implying that she’s lazy and that she doesn’t take her work seriously — at least, in part because she’s overweight.
What does Annie do? She apologizes, and gives in. Slowly but surely, however, Annie begins to change — in tiny ways, at first.
She makes gradual alterations to the way she approaches situations. Instead of meekly accepting a “no” from her editor when she asks to submit an assignment, she interrupts him in the middle of a non-work-related conversation to assert herself with a pitch, no apology necessary. She also takes it upon herself to track down a troll who won’t stop leaving hateful comments on her articles.
But perhaps her greatest moment of triumph is when her ex-boyfriend (Friend with benefits? Fuckboy?) Ryan comes crawling back to her, telling her how much he misses her after completely disrespecting her. She doesn’t need him, she’s decided, and leaves him on the street. I’ve been in relationships where you give and give and get nothing in return but frustration. And to see Annie taking steps to change this instead of making apologies for herself or someone else was liberating.
Over the course of the season, Shrill manages to drive home an important sentiment: No one has to be sorry for being themselves. And you can absolutely change this if you can work up the courage to try.
You can’t change your jerk of an editor. You can’t magically transform a terrible boyfriend into a model beau. But you can change the way you react to those situations, which Annie does begin to do. I hope that when we see Annie again, she’s learning to flourish with this maxim in mind, and that she finally learns to embrace a “sorry”-less world, one where she’s only apologetic when it’s warranted.
I also hope she’s never sorry about eating delicious, home-cooked spaghetti in the middle of her kitchen after hooking up with a seriously hot guy. Because I wouldn’t be, either.