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Thank You, Olivia Dade!

I grew up in a world that punished me for looking the way I did for my entire life. I can remember as young as four holding on to the ballet bar in my pink leotard and white tights looking at all the other little girls and sucking in my tummy and wishing there was a way I could suck in my thighs too. That is my first memory in what would be a lifetime of wishing my body didn’t look the way it did. I remember in second grade going to bed wishing my skin had a zipper so I could get it off of me like a sleeping bag and magically have the body everyone thought I should have. 


When I got into middle school, it only got worse. My days were filled with people pretending to feel an earthquake anytime I walked by them. They would make walrus sounds at me because my last name was Warren, and school bullies are oh so clever. Boys would ask me out as a joke, because the mere idea of me being worthy of them was a punchline to send them all laughing and running away. And god forbid if this got to me and I cried. There was no greater crime than admitting my weakness to these 10-year-old predators. They would pounce, and it would be relentless. I learned to be quiet. I didn’t ask for help because, in my family, being liked was one of the most important things… and I definitely wasn’t liked. I became an observer of my own life. I learned how to move through life in a way that caused the least amount of damage to myself.


In junior high I became the funny girl. I became the girl who’s good for a laugh and a fierce best friend. I leaned into that heavily, and it became my identity for most of my life. That was who I was. I found a role for myself that made me tolerable to other people. I pushed away the parts of me that garnered ridicule. I preempted the cruelty by making myself the butt of the joke; then at least I had some power over the pain. Being someone I wasn’t for most of my life was a slow torture. When I was pretending, I was only reinforcing what the world was telling me, that I am not enough. Who I am deep down is not enough for anyone to like. I am too much. Too much emotion. Too much noise. Too much fat.


A lifetime of being someone you aren’t makes it impossible to know the real you. I could no longer recognize my own needs and desires within the caricature I had become. I developed more and more methods to lean deeper into this false persona. They were never healthy and often unhelpful, but they kept the pain and the ridicule away. They taught me to give people what they needed to keep me around, even though it came at the cost of my own identity.


This story can not be unique. I would wager that there are many women who grew up in bodies that look like mine who developed ways to cope. Our experiences and how we dealt with them may look different, but at its core it is the same experience. And that experience is the world telling us that we are not ok the way we are. There is something wrong with us. We all tried so desperately to fit ourselves into the molds we did not fit into. Despite the pain and the bruising it did to us, we all found ways of fitting into something smaller and more palatable to the world around us.


That said, I have managed to have a wonderful life, thus far. I have a loving husband, and wonderful family and friends. There isn’t much to complain about, except that on some level, I am still living and existing in a way that prioritizes the comfort of others over mine. The coping mechanisms from the traumatic years of bullying are still with me today; still giving away pieces of myself and forcing me into uncomfortable shapes so those around me have their needs met. Trauma is a hateful bitch that way.


It wasn’t until I was almost 40, in the middle of the introspection of a pandemic that I had time to pause and take stock of my life. It was also then that I found Olivia Dade and read her book Spoiler Alert. In this book I read about April Whittier. She was a fat woman who was sex positive and confident, but she also had some of the same hang-ups I have. She was leaning into her true self and learning to demand that others treat her better and letting other people experience her true self. All the parts she had hidden away, she laid bare for the first time. It was so important to read. Also in this book, April wrote an email about fat shaming to some of her peers. She gave voice to the hurt that I had been white-knuckling and smiling through my whole life. She gave me permission to feel my pain. Feeling that pain isn’t fun, but feeling it and telling safe people that it hurts is healing. 


I then, of course, did a deep dive into Olivia Dade. I read all her books and watched some of her YouTube videos. The way she writes and talks about the fat experience is like a hug. It validates all the fears that I have never spoken out loud. It quiets that shame monster inside me that tells me that I have to change who I am to be loved. That monster tells me that I am not worthy of love as I am. Olivia Dade has quieted that monster in me. Her books have allowed me to do the work to finally exorcise that monster. To look at myself and other fat women and say you are worthy of love right now. You are worthy of your dreams right now. You are worthy of a full existence. Right now. In this body. You are worthy of everything.


So thank you, Olivia Dade.  Thank you for giving me the stories and voice to the words to help me on my path to healing my trauma and banishing the shame monster and living fully. Right now. As I am.

A chalk board that says "A Big Fat (fat girls in fiction logo) Thank You!"