When I was a little girl, people said awful things about fat women, and I believed they could see my future. Comedians told jokes about how a fat girl will never cheat on you (with who?!) or about how we put up with any amount of nonsense a partner dishes out, because we are so grateful to get any attention at all.

This is the world I was promised.

By the time I became a teenager, I had learned my lesson, and I was ready. I knew that to get dates I had to be funny, vivacious, and above all, agreeable. I was supposed to wear a tent that covered my body and draw the focus to my “pretty face.”

As an adult, the world turned upside down.

It happened little by little, and it’s still happening now. Comedians keep using the same tired, stereotypical material for fat jokes, and lazy people keep laughing. But something else happened. Fat fashion got better, and tents went out the window. Plus-size models like Tess Holliday and Katana Fatale started posting their gorgeous selfies and megathirst traps on Instagram. Fat people — fat women in particular — started to speak up about their lives. The internet made it possible for all kinds of new ideas to reach people like me. My early adulthood was defined by fat voices like Lindy West, Samantha Irby, Roxane Gay, Virgie Tovar, and Lizzo. I had role models! They gave me images I’d never seen before and a point of view I’d never heard before: fat people are valid. Fat people are hot. Fat people fuck, like all the time. Even Nicki Minaj started calling my fat ass to the dance floor. At least one small corner of the world was playing my song. Hell yeah, I was going to dance.

When I started dating seriously at 19, I was wracked with the same insecurities that every fat femme feels. I wanted to ask my dates if they were really attracted to me, and if they answered in the affirmative, to then demand they tell me why. I wanted to know if they had ever dated a fat person before. I wanted to rule out a fetish and figure out whether or not they liked me as a person.

The key to success in dating is to believe you’re hot AF.

These questions aren’t fun for anybody. And they don’t tell me anything. Because asking miserable questions is the wrong approach to dating while fat and, for that matter, dating at all.

Moving toward fat positivity is work our whole culture has to do, but it starts within. I learned a Jedi mind trick that changed the dating landscape for me forever. I took those models, writers, and musicians at their word: fat people live large. I believe it because I’ve seen the evidence, not just in my life but everywhere I look.

A lot of people say that the key to success is to follow your dreams with the confidence of a mediocre white man. I would like to introduce a corollary: the key to success in dating is to believe you’re hot AF. Dating while fat should never mean settling or apologizing or putting up with anything less than what I want. Dating while fat isn’t the horror show of settling down people told me it would be when I was a fat kid. It’s what all my heroes told me it would be: AWESOME.

Dating while fat means I maintain an expert-level Tinder profile. I have multiple photos, including several full-body shots. I study the way my role-model hot, fat women shoot their pics — in good lighting, from an angle that isn’t designed to hide or distort anything, and in a posture that signals confidence and comfort — and I emulate them. Despite the way I was taught to hide, I want people to know exactly what I look like before they decide whether they’d like to take me out. I have a sense of humor in my bio, and I don’t shy away from calling out that I’m fat. I’ve written, “I’m fatter than god in real life,” and “Come for the ass, stay for the sass.” I receive incoming messages with a critical eye — I’m looking for someone who understands they’d be lucky to go out with me. I negotiate the way a person does when they’re hot AF: with an understanding that my options are always open and that I don’t have to settle for anything less than what I deserve.

This isn’t a case of “fake it ’til you make it.” This is the result of a long process of unlearning the toxic garbage I was taught as a fat kid and relearning to value myself and enjoy my body the way that every person should. This is the way dating works when I know what I’m worth. It’s fun, it’s fair, and it’s fat AF.

Meg Elison is a science fiction novelist and feminist essayist living in Oakland, California. Find her at megelison.com or follow her on Twitter.