What Olivia Julianna achieved after Rep. Matt Gaetz targeted her was a colossal victory for abortion rights activists. It was also more than that.
Of course, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), when reaching for a way to insult abortion rights activists, disparaged their looks. Of course, when faced with criticism for his words, he felt entitled to share the photo of a teenage activist, directing his many Twitter followers to look at her. Of course. Of course. Of course.
I know I wasn’t the only woman who felt those two words roll around in her head after learning the congressman targeted 19-year-old Olivia Julianna, leading others to lob hateful words at her. She publicly shared one message she received. It was filled with expletives and a racial slur aimed at her identity as a queer Latina. The part that can be printed in a family publication reads, “I don’t think you need to worry about anyone wanting to touch your body you fat … Here is a tip for your ‘life long’ struggle. Put the fork down and keep your face out of the dorito bag …”
Most people would agree those words are cruel. But if you are a woman or member of the LGBTQ community, and happen to be in a position that takes you onto social media platforms often, they also probably feel familiar. Too familiar.
You’ve probably received similar ones from strangers who felt they had the right to scrutinize your photo and let you know what they thought of your face or body. You’ve probably deleted similar ones from your inboxes and, to your annoyance, found yourself thinking about them later.
If you’re a man reading this and thinking about how you’ve also been body-shamed, that’s not a reason to dismiss the vitriol women and members of the LGBTQ community receive. It’s a reason to empathize. It’s a reason to wonder how often you get those types of messages compared to them.
I know plenty of women who get them regularly. I get them regularly.
The jeans in my closet right now range from size 4 to size 14. As an adult, I have felt confident at all those sizes. Just as the wideness of my nose tells of my Mexican roots, so does my 5-foot-1 height and the thickness of my curves. They are mine. They are me. My stomach may not be flat but it adjusted to accommodate two babies who turned into two little boys who now rest their heads comfortably on it when we cuddle.
Gaetz didn’t whisper his body-shaming insults of abortion rights activists. He said them through a microphone before an audience at a conference last Saturday: “Why is it that the women with the least likelihood of getting pregnant are the ones most worried about having abortions? Nobody wants to impregnate you if you look like a thumb,” he said. “These people are odious on the inside and out. They’re like 5′2, 350 pounds and they’re like ‘give me my abortions or I’ll get up and march and protest’ and I’m thinking: ‘March? You look like you got ankles weaker than the legal reasoning behind Roe vs. Wade.’ A few of them need to get up and march. They need to get up and march for like an hour a day, swing those arms, get the blood pumping, maybe mix in a salad.”
So, Olivia Julianna, who publicly goes by her first and middle names for privacy reasons, turned his comments into a colossal win for abortion rights. After Gaetz posted her photo along with a link to a news story that told of his insults, she called on people to contribute to a fundraiser for the non-profit Gen Z for Change, a youth-led non-profit working to educate our generation and make tangible change on issues that disproportionately affect young people. As of Friday evening, more than $1.7 million had been raised for abortion funds.
What happened between Gaetz and Olivia Julianna will rightfully be remembered as a million-dollar-plus win for abortion rights activists. But it was also more than that. It brought another victory — one that felt priceless. Within that swell of donations and supportive messages that followed Gaetz’s actions was a collective stance against body-shaming. It was a whole lot of people coming together to recognize a line had been crossed and to show they were not okay with doing nothing about it. Olivia Julianna said:
“I have struggled with eating disorders and body image issues my entire life, being hospitalized last December in part because of this. Representative Gaetz’ comments were reprehensible, disgusting, and outright despicable, but I am glad he directed his bigotry in my direction. We have now turned hatred into healthcare, and people across the country will be able to get access to abortion services because of it.”
SOURCE: Washington Post, by Theresa Vargas, 30 July 2022 + PHOTO: Callaghan O’Hare for Washington Post