Updated: May 20, 2021
Olivia Gilmore is a comedienne, teacher, Cancer sun (Sagittarius moon and Leo rising) and part-time plus-size model who has called Bangkok home for the past two years. As part of our Rebellious X series, we sat down with Olivia to discuss her unique perspectives on self-love: how media affects self-worth, the challenges of the body positivity movement, representation, the one-size-fits-all narrative and being on stage.
I’ve always seemed like a confident person. This can be attributed to the fact that I grew up on the stage: I’ve been dancing and performing since the age of two. Being so visible in front of an audience pushed me to act like I’m comfortable in my own skin. Acting put me in touch with my emotions and taught me how to express myself.
But, despite my confident persona, I sometimes felt a disconnect between how I presented myself to others and how I felt on the inside. Because I never thought of myself as a conventionally attractive person, I shied away from dramatic roles and looked towards comedy instead.
As a comedian, you have to be hyper-aware of your position relative to the audience.
Around the time I started comedy, I was the skinniest I had ever been. In spite of this, whenever I reviewed recordings of my early sets, I only saw the flaws in my body. My internal monologue would go: “I can see a fat roll there. Oh my god, why did I wear that dress!” and so on and so forth.
While doing an internship at Parliament in London, I remember sitting in a crowd and listening to an average-sized comedian call herself “an elephant in the room.” It was an off-putting moment for everyone in the audience because thin people were thinking, “I don’t know if I’m allowed to laugh at that,” and fat people just didn’t find it very funny.
This moment led me to realise that, as a comedian, you have to be hyper-aware of your position relative to the audience. It’s kind of ironic, but comedy requires a higher level of self-awareness to execute well compared to more “serious” performance arts.
After this experience, I sought out more work created by fat comedians, which eventually led me to Fortune Femster and Nicole Byer. Byer wrote a book called #VERYFAT #VERYBRAVE: The Fat Girl’s Guide to Being #Brave and Not a Dejected, Melancholy, Down-in-the-Dumps Weeping Fat Girl in a Bikini. She is wearing a bikini on the cover, and as every fat girl knows, when you wear a bikini, people will always comment on how “brave” you are.
I’m not brave at all. I’m just like any other person wearing a bikini.
In her stand-up set, Nicole has a joke about how whenever she says “I’m fat,” other people will reply saying, “No, you’re beautiful!” as though she can’t be fat AND beautiful at the same time. I can relate. Anytime I acknowledge the fact that I’m fat, people tell me: “No you’re not, don’t say that!”
Even though they might mean well, what this comment does is enforce the idea that only thin people can be beautiful. It amazes me how so many people still think that “fat” is a bad word. This all goes to show that representation is important. Visibility and surrounding yourself with like-minded people can be the first step to manifesting radical self love. Instagram hashtags, like #fatgirlstraveling and #plussizepoledancer, have shown me a way beyond the limiting stereotypes shown in mainstream media. They even encouraged me to try pole dancing!
[Editor’s Note: If you’d like to find out more about pole dancing, read our article on Burlesque, Belly Dance and Pole Dance: 3 Sensual Ways to Love Your Body]
I find that Facebook groups can have both positive and negative elements, so it’s important to seek out supportive groups because you can encounter a surprising amount of toxicity and fatphobia with the wrong crowd.
It amazes me how so many people still think that “fat” is a bad word.
Positive groups such as Fit Fatties can really help to shift your mindset for the better. There is a huge misconception that fat people don’t exercise. I like to follow groups that promote the idea that health is not dependent on size.
On Diet Culture, Media and Body/Fat Positivity
When I was younger, I fell into dieting and cycled on-and-off through a variety of diets, even when they were unhealthy. At one point, I tried limiting myself to only 800 calories a day. Even at my thinnest, I disliked the way I looked and felt, and still thought that I was too fat.
Things only started to change once I started to accept myself for who I am and realized that diets are never a sustainable way of eating.
I started to see the toxicity in diet culture and would cringe whenever I saw before and after “transformation” pictures online. This isn’t to say that people can’t share their progress when celebrating the physical changes that may come with the improvement of overall health - I don’t see a problem with that - but there are a lot of people who lose weight in unhealthy ways, and people still praise and look up to them.
This social media obsession with being thin partly explains why I’d always thought that I couldn’t be fat and also be a model. But lo and behold, last year, this fat girl broke into the modeling world. It was very empowering for me to realize that I can do things that, until recently, I thought that I couldn’t do unless I looked a certain way.
Things only started to change once I started to accept myself for who I am.
Body positivity was originally founded in the 1960’s by fat, black women who were experiencing the distinctly unforgiving brand of discrimination that results from the intersection of racism and fatphobia.
Unfortunately, the movement has been co-opted by conventionally attractive non-plus-sized white women. It comes from a place of insecurity: these women feel fat and that’s why they’re attracted to the idea of body positivity.
But fat is not a feeling. It’s a descriptor, for people that look like me.
I believe that it’s no longer enough to be “body positive” because the terminology is ambiguous enough to allow for the idealisation of attractive bodies. In order to fully acknowledge that fat people deserve love and respect, we need to start thinking about what it would mean to be more “fat positive” too.
As a fat person in Bangkok, you experience things that no one else would think to warn you about. A case in point is my difficulty with taxi drivers in Thailand. When I first moved to Bangkok, I was often made fun of by taxi drivers. For example, a taxi driver once started throwing candy at me when the car was beeping because the person in the front didn't fasten their seat belt.
I also struggle when trying to find clothes that fit. A lot of the malls and markets don’t cater to my size. At markets, the sellers don’t want me to buy their clothes. If I even dare to look at their products, they immediately tell me: “I don’t have a big size.”
I know best what I need for the size of my own body.
But I’ve been fortunate enough to find one market in Bangkok selling plus-size clothing called Krung Thong Plaza. The stores’ names, which feature not-at-all-insulting phrases like “Fatty Girl” and “Piggy,'' are not great, but at least they have clothes that fit me. I am definitely not a one-size-fits-all kind of person, and I still get dirty looks from shop sellers. Even at Krung Thong Plaza, they question whether the size I’m looking to buy is really appropriate for me.
Who would’ve guessed that, in this fat-welcoming space, I would still have to vouch for myself and remind others that I know best what I need for the size of my own body.
Even though I’m generally a positive person, sometimes the negative thoughts and the comparisons to others spiral, and I just need to take time for myself. Usually the best thing for me is to watch a sad movie followed by a movie that makes me laugh, followed by a TV show. I go to sleep, take a nap, or get a massage. This helps me to get a fresh start for the next day.
I think it’s really healthy to indulge your feelings. That’s why I watch a sad movie or have a drink, so that I can let out all of the emotions.
For people struggling with self-acceptance, my advice would be to change the way you think about fat. Fill your newsfeed with fat influencers. Surround yourself with a community of like-minded people.
Change the way you think about fat.
If you only have non-plus-size friends, even if they are very woke, occasionally they will let their insecurities slip out: “I feel big today,” “My belly is fat,” “I need to go on a diet,” and so on. I have great friends who I feel comfortable enough to speak to about these moments and discuss: “Let's think about why you think this way, how we can change it and see what your actual problem with yourself is so that we can fix it.”
In the end, self-love is looking in the mirror and genuinely liking what you see, being able to appreciate yourself and your talents for what they are, and loving yourself unconditionally.
By Becky O'Brien
Becky O'Brien heads The F Word's Rebellious X column. She is a member of the Bangkok Rising Managing Committee, an event organiser, passionate about gender equality and an aspiring storyteller; dedicated to finding untold stories and bringing them to light.
Photography by Adelina Colucci
Adelina Colucci is a documentary photographer and founder of The Love Lab (@the_lovelab on Instagram). As a feminist activist, she uses boudoir photography as a way to empower women and encourage self-love.