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How Sofie Hagen turned her traumatic experiences into comedy success

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Sarah Pyper
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Sofie Hagen has turned her experiences with emotional abuse, depression, fatphobia and trolls into award-winning comedy. Now she’s learning to be kinder to herself…

Sofie Hagen’s world is full of laughter, body positivity and baking: it’s a major achievement considering her upbringing was a traumatic mix of emotional abuse and dysfunctional eating.

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The London-based Danish comedian has (to the horror of her therapist) created comedy shows from the tales of her devastating early years. Bubblewrap, about mental health, body image and Westlife, won her the Edinburgh Comedy Award for Best Newcomer in 2015.

She talks to fellow ‘outsiders’ in her podcast Made Of Human and has annihilated the belief that being fat equals being lazy, bad or unlovable in her book Happy Fat (£12.99, Fourth Estate). Yet she is relentlessly trolled on social media and in real life for speaking out on fat and feminist issues.

Now, her therapist must be pleased to hear, she’s taking her new upbeat show The Bumswing – about the magic of memories – to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and can’t wait to get back onstage (“I love Edinburgh so much I’ve told family members and friends, ‘Don’t have any big events in August.’ I missed my nephew’s birth and I stand by that. I was like, ‘Well he shouldn’t be born in August then.’”) 

She’s blocked her detractors, found comfort in a “teeny-tiny” flat in London and is finding new ways to stand up for her beliefs. Stylist meets her to find out how she manages it…

Your comedy shows have found humour in very serious, intimate subjects. What effect has that had on you personally?

My first show was about depression, body image and self-harm. My second show was about anxiety, my third show was about emotional abuse and my psychopathic grandfather. I would do each show a hundred times – write it, film it, talk about it and think about it. So, after three years of these horrible experiences echoing in my brain I was like, ‘I wonder why I’m sad so much?’ My therapist was like, “Are you by any chance talking about trauma every single day for three years?”

So now I’m doing a show that doesn’t drain me because I think the world is draining enough right now. Just living in this world at the moment, things get dark real quick, you know?

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For a lot of people, the idea of getting up onstage to make people laugh is terrifying. Where does your confidence come from?

I love comedy more than I’m scared of standing onstage so it’s not a problem. But it’s when I’m at any social gathering that I want to ask people, “Have you always been so confident where you can just walk up to people and talk to them?” How do you find the courage?

But you’re brave in the way you speak out about fatphobia and feminism. Have you always felt the need to rebel?

I’m a disruptor. Always have been. I staged a sit-in protest at school when I was six because they wanted us to go outside and play for half an hour and I didn’t want to. I demanded to know why I had to and ended up getting most of the pupils in my class to refuse to go outside. Recently, I thanked my mum for sticking up for me every single time I broke the rules at school and she said, “Well, of course. I would never want you to be someone who respected authority.” I was like, “Oh, that’s where I got it from.”

Winning her Edinburgh Best Newcomer Award, 2015

Even so, you experienced eating disorders and anxiety when you were growing up. You’ve said there are hardly any photos of you as a teenager. Why is that?

There are hardly any photos of me between about eight and 22. I lived in such a constant state – and I think many fat people do – of waiting. You think, ‘When I’m thin I’ll take the pictures. When I’m thin I’ll go to that party…’ You miss so much. For a decade of my life I didn’t really exist. Then suddenly you’re 25 and you’re like, “Oh, I’m not thin”. 

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So you stopped waiting?

Yes. But in society we’re still reluctant to take pictures of fat people. I’ll meet people who document every single bit of their lives on Instagram and we’ll have dinner for three hours, but there’s not a single photo of us. I don’t know if that’s subconscious and I’m not blaming them because I know how it works but I’m not often in other people’s photos.

Does that turn you against social media?

Instagram can be horrible if you fill your feed with ‘lose weight’ and ‘nothing’s wrong with me’ messages. I follow people preaching kindness, logic and nice values and there’s no meanness. Most of them are fat people like Stephanie Yeboah (@nerdabouttown), in bathing suits just living their lives, saying really clever things, being honest.

And how do you deal with the trolls you encounter?

I get so much abuse every single day that I’ve put all the filters on just to make sure I don’t really see it. They’re just sad people. Imagine feeling so bad that you write a message like, “Fuck you, die you disgusting bitch,” then press send. When they say, “Fuck you, you stupid bitch,” what they’re saying is, “I’m really, really sad.” That’s not me saying that you should have empathy with them. Not at all. But it is a way of realising that it has nothing to do with you. It’s all about them being desperate for attention. 

It sounds very full-on. Does your therapy help you deal with it all?

I’ve been in therapy on and off since I was 16 and I’ve finally been diagnosed with complex PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder]. I don’t want to brag, but my issues are complex – I’m very special [laughs]. I’m currently seeing two therapists. It sounds like a polyamorous relationship doesn’t it? They do know about each other. I had a shitty childhood and time won’t fix that so it’s my responsibility to fix it for myself so I don’t inflict it on others. If I didn’t go to therapy, it’s not that I couldn’t function, but I would not be as happy as I could be. 

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You recently made The Unexpected History Of Clean Eating, a BBC Radio 4 documentary on the clean eating movement. What was the most interesting thing you discovered?

I made my first documentary when I was 15, where I followed Brian from Westlife around Denmark. But this one showed me how much shame there is about food. I’ve completely removed morality from my food. There’s no guilt, there’s no, “I shouldn’t, I should”, I just eat whatever I want and it’s working out great.

What do you do in your down time?

I’m really into The Great British Bake Off. I started baking and now I’m really into slow cooking. I love the idea of food just getting ready in the corner. I like to clean, I like to cook, I make my bed… I finally live alone in this tiny, tiny flat on the outskirts of London, but it’s my flat. It’s my rats in the garden. It’s my teenytiny kitchen where it’s so small you have to chop one onion at a time. I don’t go out and dance a lot – I dance in the kitchen in my underwear. 

You’ve been living in London for seven years now – does anything still take you by surprise?

Even now, I get it wrong. I went to my friend’s house for dinner and it was going to be a roast. I thought it might take a while, so I brought some snacks because I was hungry. She was livid. Apparently you do not bring snacks to someone’s dinner party. I keep meaning to get one of those automatic email signatures that says, “I’m not rude, I’m Danish.” 

Images: Instagram, provided by PR

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