I was stumbling along on IG and saw this woman in a gray sweatshirt posing in a cute way. I can’t pose to save my life, as you can so clearly tell from all my posts and reviews, so this cute pose caught my eye. I also love a sweatshirt dress. Ask my child-of-the-80’s heart, or my sister. The second picture in the series was of the same woman in the gray dress in a side-by-side comparison with the designer of the dress. The difference in where the hemline hit on each was quite different. I was even more intrigued, so I investigated the IG account. That’s how we learned about Dawn Ellerbe, a 2000 US Olympian and 16-time National Champion.

I opened my Notes app and started to compile a message asking if she’d work with us at Fat Girl Reviews. Before I could think about it too long, I copied it, pasted it, and hit send. I figured no harm done, I’m sure she gets inquiries all the time, I’m not going to look too dumb, get over it. And then she wrote back saying she’d love to chat with us. Yay!

I stepped out of my comfort zone and boom, we all get to learn about a new perspective. Here’s an intro to Dawn and if you can help her find high-waisted skinny jeans, I’m sure she’d be thankful! There’ll be much more to come. We have a lot to learn from Dawn, so stay tuned.

FGR: How did being an athlete affect the way you thought of your body and your relationship to it?

DE: When I first started participating in sports I’m not sure I saw myself as an “athlete.” It wasn’t until I got to college I saw myself as an “athlete.” I think that was because other people first called me an athlete, like my coaches and teammates. I think that athletics is like anything else, while your biggest competition comes from within, there is a lot of external approval and validation involved and that can affect our body image. I thankfully excelled at a sport where my size and strength were huge assets. It was not an overnight thing, but once I saw myself as an athlete it helped with my body image. I walked taller and was unapologetic of the space I took up in the room. It seems as if athletics helped make room for who I really was.

In your blog you say that you didn’t always love your body, what changed that?

When I was a little girl and got teased about my height or weight my mom would always tell me “Honey, you are beautiful. If they don’t like it, tell them don’t look.” So, after years of worrying if “they” liked it, I decided it didn’t matter and I started to not only like how I looked, but I started to love it. Anytime I get down about myself I remember this one experience I had. I was on a panel of female athletes in Phoenix AZ as part of a program for the Women’s Sports Foundation. I must have taken a negative shot at myself or my size and after the panel was over a young girl about 12 years old came up to me and asked me how many national titles I won and asked me how it was to go to the Olympics. I told her and then she looked puzzled and said, “There’s nothing wrong with your body, you won 16 National titles and went to the Olympics. How is there anything wrong with a body like that?” I stood there with my mouth open for a few minutes, she was right. There was nothing wrong with my body!

Your blog is called “6 Ft Above LA.” Is it particularly challenging to be a woman who doesn’t have what some may (wrongly) call the standard body in LA?

I don’t think I have the standard body in any city in America.  I think it’s particularly challenging to be outside of the size norms in a number of areas, dating, dressing, driving, you name it. I try to think of it as less of a challenge and embrace it as uniqueness.

Have you felt that you’ve been treated differently based on your location? LA vs. Long Island vs. Sydney, etc.?

I have not really tested the social scene in LA, so I will have to get back to you on that one. I do think the cultural norms change from region to region in our country and the interactions are different. I’ve lived in New York, South Carolina, Wyoming, the Bay Area of California and now Southern California, and every place is really different. The way people treat each other in general is different in each of those places.

Have you ever felt frustrated about how you fit in spaces as you’ve traveled? Last time we chatted on the phone, you mentioned some experiences you had in a hotel recently. Can you tell us about them again?  

The most frustrating part about traveling is the flight. It just simply costs more to travel when your bigger. For example, they charge now for an exit row seat, even if the seat in front of you is digging into your knees and causing bruising you have to pay for those extra 3-4 inches of leg space that you anatomically need. Renting cars is more expensive. I am a baller with a budget, so I get really excited about the $15p/day rental deals that pop up in my email, only to get to the rental car office and become a victim of the bait and switch because I can’t turn the steering wheel of the economy car because my knees are in the dashboard. Some cars I can’t even sit in because my afro puff won’t fit. Hotels are great when you get a queen room instead of a king and your feet hang of the edge of the bed and the water in the relaxing hot shower you were dreaming of while your knees were getting bruised, hits you right at your chest because of the low hanging shower head.

How about when you are just out on the town, maybe getting dinner and drinks?

I rarely have problems with dinner and drinks unless I am in a booth with someone equally as tall. There have been a few times where I’ve asked for a chair with no arms to give my hips a little extra room.

When you were training in college and for the Olympics, did you find any equipment or facilities that didn’t accommodate you?

No, very few problems here. The good thing about being an athlete in athletic facilities is that most of them are made with athletes in mind.

Do you feel people’s perceptions of you changed once they learn you are an Olympian? Yes or no, how do you feel about that? How do you respond?

The older I get the more surprised people are to find that out, maybe it’s unexpected. I am not sure people treat me different, but they love to tell other people. Like standing in line at Starbucks and someone says, “Hey everyone, did you know she was an Olympian?” People are just glad to not be at the end of the line waiting on their cappuccino, they couldn’t care less. It always amazes me when some ask, “Did you medal?” and I respond, “No I placed 7th”.”  They always look at me in pity and say, “Well at least you went.” I can never understand that, like what did you go to the Olympics in Fred? Couch surfing?

Have you always been a fashion lover? How did your personal style and approach to fashion evolve as you learned to love your body?

YES! Always! I have always loved clothes and fashion. I have always loved to shop, even as a little girl I could not wait for Saturdays. That was when my mom would take me to the mall and I’d spend ALL my little allowance on whatever my $5 could buy. As I got older, that love grew but I found it harder and harder to find clothes that fit me. Even as I got fit when training and competing, finding nice clothes that fit was hard. It’s much easier now, my $5 just doesn’t go as far. I don’t think I let my size limit what I wear now. If I see something I like on someone, I just google it and can usually find a match or something that comes close that looks great on me too.

Now that you work in education, do you often interact with young women and even men, who struggle with how society in general, and their peers in particular, judge them physically?

What I love about the youth today is that a lot of them don’t give a darn what anyone thinks of them. I am not sure they stress over who is judging them or who isn’t. I think they have more inner struggles that deal with how they are thinking and what is going on in the world around them. They come and talk to me about social issues, how they are being treated on campus, how to deal with tough professors. In the past few years, I don’t think I have met with a student where body image was a topic.

If you could meet the decision makers at the top popular fashion brands, what would your advice be to them?

I just received a shirt in the mail from a straight sized company that added plus. It was so big and so short.  I would advise them to add a little length not only width. I have ordered a few things from this company and the size is huge, but the length is really short. I would love to see a national brand with a size inclusive campaign that includes models that exceed the normal plus sizing.  Hint! Hint! Like one who is 6’2 and a size 20/22. A lot of the castings I see call from 5’9 – 6′ and up to size 16/18.

Are there brands that you think are doing a good job or a better job than most when it comes to what they offer women outside a certain body profile? Size range?

My options are a little different than simply plus. I look for clothing that can accommodate size 20 and a 36 inseam. For trendy clothing and jumpsuits, I love Pretty Little Things. I have ordered a few things from them; their sizing is consistent and inseam in their jump suits is great for me even with heals.

I go to Eloquii and Lane Bryant for work clothes including suits, as they have long length pants. I just started shopping online with ASOS Curve and the sleeves on their blazers make this tall girl very happy.

Standard and Practice makes great jeans. I like jeans that don’t have a lot of stretch because I think they fall better on me. Standard and Practice has great boyfriend jeans so does Lucky Jeans.

I recently tried the Fabletics 2 for $24 and their leggings are all they say they are. The fabric is nice and they stay in place, even on curvy backsides and thick thighs. I ordered a crop pair and an ankle length pair and they both fit great.

I am trying to find a good racerback sport bra that works for DDD, and a pair of skinny jeans that are both long enough for me and high waisted. Help!

So, it’s a new year which is always exciting! What are you most looking forward to this year?

I didn’t make any New Year resolutions this year. I am calling this year my new year Evolution. I look forward to stepping into a new chapter of life and making room for all that God has for me. I am looking forward to living free and moving away from anything or anyone that tries to infringe on my freedom or dim my shine.

We love your perspective and your positive outlook on your experiences Dawn! 

– LanaBare @ FatGirlReviews.com