09/22/2015 04:33 pm ET Updated Sep 20, 2016

Sweet Dreams, Mama Cass

That voice - that rich, sultry, gorgeous voice was the soundtrack of my childhood.

I used to gaze at The Mamas and the Papas album covers with fascination, flipping them front to back, reading every word. (Remember album covers?) The casual, 60s, California coolness of that band bowled me over. And it was the 60s and I was in California.

The Mamas and the Papas captured an ethos that I wanted to experience. Me, with my homemade avocado green knit sweater and braces. I wanted to be just like them. In a pool with my clothes on - drinking from a hat! California dreamin'. On such a winter's day.

The strange asymmetry of the album covers, struck me, even then, with the pre-heroin chic John, Denny and Michelle juxtaposed against Mama Cass. She was fat, she was grinning and she was, to me - fabulous.

I often wondered what it was like for Cass, with such a rich contralto voice, to be the fat woman in a band with a token sexy, whisper thin blonde, whose voice, let's be honest, couldn't hold a candle to Elliot's if you poured gasoline on it.

Years later, I heard an outtake from a rehearsal and in a voice laden with sarcasm, Cass, in-between takes, quips that Michelle can do anything she wants, that's why. I read a lot into that but I have no idea what she was on about. I know the band had a lot of tension and drama.

But this is not a history of The Mamas and the Papas and this is not hagiography; I'm pretty sure those guys were up to all kinds of shenanigans that my 10 year old self would have thought alarming and strange but that today would be fairly ordinary; drugs, trysts and such.

Nevertheless, Cass Elliot owned her fat self in an era in which Twiggy was the ideal body for women. That must have been hard. Lindy West owes Cass a debt, as do so many of us women whose bodies do not and never will be the ideal.

But Mama Cass didn't need your sympathy, thank you very much. She was a funny, sarcastic off-the-wall iconoclast. This is Cass in the New Musical Express five years before her untimely death, which has cruelly, lastingly and wrongly said to have been caused by choking on a ham sandwich.

Cass paved the way for West, the acceptance of plus sized models in fashion, but more than that, she paved the way for every woman everywhere who felt as if she didn't look good enough to be seen.

And man, could that lady sing.

September 19th would have been Cass Elliot's 74th birthday. Happy birthday, lady. And thank you.