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21 August 2017Last updated
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Real Women

“Why fat isn’t a bad word”

We sit down with Danish comedian and body positivity activist Sofie Hagen to talk about accepting yourself and tackling fat-phobia

Tabitha Barda
8 Feb 2017 | 06:11 pm
Sofie Hagen, winner of the Edinburgh Festival’s Newcomer of the Year, UK-based Danish comedian and body-positivity activist, took a break from her Middle Eastern tour with The Laughter Factory to chill poolside and tell us how she’s reclaiming the word ‘fat’... 
 

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Swimsuit and cover-up  from Yours Clothing, Sandals from New Look, Bag and hat from Sanddollardubai.com

 

If you read our January issue, you might remember Sofie from our feature ‘These Women Will Change Your Life’. We all loved her blunt stance on women’s issues and body positivity and very quickly became obsessed with her fab podcast Made of Human, in which she interviews interesting women (and men) who have something to say about the often-controversial aspects of society. So when, on her recent trip to Dubai, Sofie invited us to spend the day with her mulling over some of these topics, we jumped at the chance. Here is what she said: 
 

What does the word ‘fat’ mean to you?

“On the one hand it’s a neutrally descriptive word; I’m a brunette, I have brown eyes, I’m relatively tall, and I’m fat.
 
It’s one of the many words that describe me. But on the other hand, ‘fat’ is a word I used to fear and hate. I was terrified of hearing it. If I heard someone say it, I’d automatically think they were talking about me and ‘fat’ would suddenly mean unworthy, lazy, stupid, unattractive.
 
“I have now reclaimed the word. Now, it means what it means – that there is fat on my body. It’s a powerful word for me, and I try to use it a lot. If I’m trying something on in a clothes store and I need a bigger size, I’ll say to the sales assistant ‘Have you got a bigger size? I’m too fat for this one.’ They’ll freeze and go all awkward and say, ‘N... N... No, you’re not fat!’ And I’ll tell them, ‘Yes, I am – we’re not discussing whether or not I’m fat, just whether or not you have the other size… You can tell how ridiculous that is if you transfer it to another fact about my appearance – like if I said ‘I’m a brunette,’ and someone said, ‘Oh no, you’re blonde.’
 
You know? It’s obvious, it’s there, I can’t hide it. I’m just reclaiming it from all of those childhood bullies, from the doctors, from those who used to whisper it about me. It’s very weird seeing people react to me using the word ‘fat’ about myself and them feeling so uncomfortable and me saying ‘No, I am fat and it’s OK. I’m fat. We’re fat. It’s an OK thing to be.’”  
 

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Swimsuit from Yours Clothing, Towel, hat, sunglasses, all from Sanddollardubai
 

When did you first become aware of size?

“I was eight years old when I was first called fat by the school nurse. She told my mum to be very careful because I was getting fat and it was very dangerous, and ever since then it’s just been there as a presence, a shadow, my whole life – ‘remember you’re fat, remember you’re fat’. I mean, I was just eight years old! Don’t tell an eight-year-old to lose weight. An eight-year-old should be having fun being a child, not associating food and exercise with a need to lose weight. That was when my eating disorder started, and then I had a full-blown eating disorder for pretty much the rest of my life.” 
 

Why did you want to do a swimwear shoot?

“I must have been 25 when I finally had the courage to go to a swimming pool by myself. I was so nervous, just because of my body. But this other fat woman came into the pool area and I could tell she was even more nervous and uncomfortable than me. I saw her catch sight of me and she relaxed a bit. And that made total sense to me. So I quite like the idea of people seeing a fat person in a bathing suit. I would love to see a shoot like this myself, so I thought I would just do it myself instead of wanting other people to do it for me. And it’s just really fun to get to be ‘the pretty one’.”
 
Are there any other situations that have been particularly anxiety-ridden for you?
“I used to be a size 20, so I was a small-fat. Now I’m a size 24, and the bigger you get, the harder it is to fit into plane seats, to get cinema seats or go to a theatre, to go shopping... to find any clothes to wear at all, let alone nice clothes. And, actually, I feel lucky, because even though I can’t go into a lot of physical shops and find clothes to wear, I can buy online. But I know there are people bigger than me who can’t even do that, and it’s just so hurtful. 
 

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Swimsuit from Yours Clothing, Sunglasses are stylist’s own
 

“Plane seats are awful – I have to always carry around my own extender because if I don’t, I might not be able to close [the seatbelt]. I could ask for one, but if I’m already sitting next to this man in a suit who’s ramming his elbow into my side to make a statement about why I shouldn’t be there, then I don’t also want to have to ask for an extension, so it’s easier bringing my own.
 
“Any seat on public transport is terrifying. You know people view you as being ‘in the way’, regardless of where you are. Even if you’re walking in a big street and there’s plenty of room, people will look at you and somehow make you feel like you’re taking up their space.”  
 

We often talk about how women are represented in films and in TV shows. What about ‘fat’ women?

“I have a tattoo of Ursula the sea witch from The Little Mermaid on my thigh, because she was the only representation of a fat person I saw growing up. I’ve been offered three movie roles, always to play characters way older than me who are asexual, desperate, lazy, stupid or unattractive. I grew up watching Friends – Monica and Chandler are depicted as having a lovely relationship and being perfect together. But then you see flashbacks to how they met at university when Monica used to be fat, and how Chandler – who’s this insecure sort of geeky guy – wouldn’t talk to Monica when she looked like that. So I grew up learning that’s how we’re meant to think about fat people.”
 

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Swimsuit from Yours Clothing
 

Where do you think this negative attitude to weight comes from?

“We’re all victims of this fat-phobic culture. It’s not just fat people who are on diets, everyone is on a diet! I am just so lucky I discovered body positivity. The woman who taught me about it didn’t have to, but she did and I want to pay it forward. To be that person in a restaurant laughing and eating whatever they want, or that person in a swimsuit feeling totally comfortable in their body... We need to kill the shame associated with our bodies. As soon as we get rid of shame, we are indestructible.”
 

What are your thoughts on thin-shaming?

“Every time you talk about fat positivity, people talk about thin-shaming. It’s true that people can be negative about thin people’s bodies, but that also stems from fat-phobia... People wouldn’t make harsh comments about people who are thinner than them if they didn’t feel insecure about their own body. Just because I love my body, doesn’t mean that I must hate yours.
 
In fact it’s the opposite. I can love all bodies, regardless of ability or size or colour or shape or whatever.” 
 

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Striped tankini from TKD Lingerie, Sunglasses and Watermelon inflatable, both from Sanddollardubai.com
 

What’s your favourite thing about your body?

“I like my arms because I used to hate them. I have long black hair on my arms and when I was a teenager I would shave it off, try to bleach it, I always wore long sleeves, I was always very ashamed of my very dry elbows and these little red dots on my upper arms. I think the more I used to dislike any part of my body, the more I’m coming to like it now. My stomach is the hardest thing for me to like. A year ago I couldn’t even begin to imagine I’d ever show anyone my stomach. And then three months later I took a photo and put it on Instagram, and three months after that I took another one, and now I’ve done this swimsuit shoot. So my stomach is next on the list of places that I need to show a lot of love to. Because it’s been through very mean comments from myself and from others. But I’m 90 per cent there, I think.”
 

We find that people can be insensitive about weight even when trying to be complimentary. Have you experienced that?

“Yes, totally. When you’ve lost weight, people will say ‘Oh, you look so much better’, or ‘Oh you’ve lost weight, congratulations!’And I just think ‘No! No! No! You’re encouraging eating disorders, you’re ruining people’s mentality.’ If I’ve lost weight it’s probably because I’m going through heartbreak and I haven’t been eating properly.
 
“People think body positivity is a small issue, but teenagers kill themselves because they are constantly told they have to be thinner. And all this time that we spend focusing on how we look is all time that could be spent on us acting, on us rebelling against the capitalist forces that make money from constantly making us feel unworthy. 
 

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Striped tankini and black bikini bottoms from TKD Lingerie, Sunglasses from Sanddollardubai.com
 

“If you’re totally happy with yourself, you won’t need to keep buying new things. Companies sell these dreams of happiness, but they don’t actually care about us. We need to stop being acquiescent in this culture, stop giving them all of our money, and we need to act. Even if it’s just tweets, angry emails. Love yourself openly, show other people that you won’t take it. It’s not enough any more just to be aware. Anyone who doesn’t know about this movement, join us and let go of all that exercise and weight-loss evil.
 
“Mental health is as important as physical health. Move your body because you think it’s fun to move your body, not because you want to lose weight. Eat an orange because you love the taste of orange, not because you know it has 53 calories. Nothing should ever be about weight loss. I wish I could go back and make my eight-year-old self understand that.”  
 
To find out more about Sofie, visit www.sofiehagen.com. To keep up-to-date with her shows, podcasts and what she is up to, follow her on Instagram (@SofieHagendk), or on Twitter (@SofieHagen). To listen to her podcast Made of Human, visit mohpod.libsyn.com.
 
All photos by Stefan Lindeque
Styled by Chee Smith
Hair and makeup by Sophie Leach
Location courtesy of Le Méridien Hotel and Conference Centre

Tabitha Barda

Tabitha Barda