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The priceless win a teenager gave everyone who’s been body-shamed

What Olivia Julianna achieved after Rep. Matt Gaetz targeted her was a colossal victory for abortion rights activists. It was also more than that.

Abortion rights activist Olivia Julianna. (Callaghan O'Hare/For The Washington Post)

Of course, he went there.

Of course, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), 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.

I know we’re not supposed to admit this, but those body-shaming messages can sting. They can slip just below the skin like a splinter, proving bothersome and distracting, if only temporarily.

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.

They call themselves ‘fat cyclists’ — and they want to get more people, of all sizes, on bikes

When you’re a columnist, getting critical messages is part of the job. You expect people to disagree with your opinions. I try to respond to as many emails from readers as possible, including the cutting ones, because I believe we grow from having respectful dialogue with people who think differently from us. I’m also not easily offended. I once wrote to a reader, “It’s obvious from your email that you feel strongly about this issue, which is why I’m taking the time to write you back (and overlooking that you called me an idiot).”

But when I receive fat-shaming, sexist or racist emails, I immediately delete them. I do that not because they make me feel insecure. I don’t give them that power. I delete them because they are void of respect and usually come from misogynistic trolls who believe the best way to make a point is to claw at a stranger’s skin.

Those trolls, of course, have reason to believe that tactic will work. They’ve been empowered by high-profile figures who openly resort to it.

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.”

If you have been following what happened after that, then you know Olivia Julianna, who publicly goes by her first and middle names for privacy reasons, turned his comments into a colossal win for abortion rights.

Gen Z activist mocked by Gaetz raises $1M for abortion access in 72 hours

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 nonprofit Gen Z for Change. 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.

“This movement, this mobilization, this collective action — has truly left me in awe,” Olivia Julianna said in a statement Thursday night after the fundraiser passed $1 million.

She also addressed her relationship with her body in that statement.

“I have struggled with eating disorders and body image issues my entire life, being hospitalized last December in part because of this,” she said. “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.”

Of course, this one event won’t stop body-shaming.

Of course, much more work is needed to change that part of our culture.

After Olivia Julianna took on Gaetz, a woman who is a professional in a field aimed at protecting people tweeted about how she is often fat-shamed. When I reached out to ask her if she would allow me to share that tweet with you, she agreed, with hesitancy. But what she said next made me decide it wasn’t worth it. She knew it would likely bring her more attacks.

Of course, it would.