Source: Elizabeth Jones/Flickr
About 8 years ago was the first time I heard the phrase fatshionistas. At first, I thought the article had simply misspelled the phrase fashionista, but then I realised it was correct. Here was a plus size fashionista, who was making her voice heard about the fashion she wanted to wear and inspiring others in their quest for self acceptance and fashionable clothing for the larger lady. I have forgotten the name of the fatshionista or even how I stumbled across that article; I have not forgotten the awakening and realization of the fashionable plus size and body positivity revolution that was beginning online.
For years plus size, fashion had been… well, lacking in terms of being on trend and variety. Yes you could find plus size clothes but they weren’t always on trend or cheap and as internet shopping wasn’t as popular in the 90’s and early 00’s as it is now, it meant that options were limited. Being a plus sized teenager in the late 00’s meant shopping trips with my friends were not always enjoyable as I couldn’t buy clothes in all the shops my friends went to and at the time, I would have to go to the shops that their mums would have shopped in.
The rise of blogging, youtube, and social media has led to an online community where those who are plus size can feel accepted and also express their character and charm through fashion, advice, and beauty. As Emerson said. ‘Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.’(Emerson). It seems that social media has allowed plus sized influencers, and body positivity activist to develop and inspire others to find themselves. It would appear that for the first time, that if you felt alone in being larger, you could find an online community of others who understood you and could give you advice. However as always with the internet; as the community has grown, the trolling and hatred of the plus size have continued their tirade on those who are just living their lives and trying to inspire others to be body positive.
The average dress size in the UK is now a size 16 meaning the average British woman is considered plus size. In 2015 alone the plus size market constituted ‘12.4% of all clothing sales and is worth in excess of £5 billion.’’(Rutter,2016)
The growth in the popularity of online shopping has allowed for plus size shoppers to have increased choice. It has also meant the shoppers can tell clothing brands what they want from their clothes. One example of customer led change has been Evans clothing, as it has revamped its clothing from frumpy to modern and has enlisted shoppers and influencers in shaping the needs in regards to clothing made for certain body types.
Plus size brands have realised the importance of plus size bloggers in driving transformation and also increasing awareness of their brand.
Bogenrief (2013) put it this way;
Empowered itself through the power blogger and, frankly, grapevine inherent in fashion gossip. Instead of simply accepting the fashion industry’s refusal to acknowledge this marketplace, these key players have created a community that rewards those retailers eager to cater to the plus size shopper while punishing those shops that fail to live up to traditional consumer standards.
Clothing brands can’t ignore the profits to be had. For example, 2016 saw the launch of River Island plus. Marks and Spencer have recently launched its new Curve range 2018.
Plus size fashionistas have also been making waves on the runway.The Design Collective for Evans show at London Fashion Week SS15, was the first of its kind, have a plus size catwalk of pieces that could then be brought in store. Ashley Graham debuted her latest range during New York fashion week 2016 and only used curvy models.
In 2015 Ashley Nell Tipton became the first plus size designer to win Project Runway in America and to launch her own plus size collection in JC Penny’s. It seems that baby steps are being made in the industry to improve inclusivity, but it is being driven by the plus size community rather than from the fashion industry itself.
While there has been an improvement in the presence of the plus size model in the fashion industry, however, there seems to be an appropriate size a plus size model should go up to.
Many see that though below a size 22 are more acceptable than those over that size.
This year in response to a Lane Bryant ad campaign, Plus size bloggers got together to release a lookbook for those who are over a size 22(Whelan,2016). It would appear that even within the plus size community there is some division between the curvy and other larger women who may not have the desired plus size shape.
So while curvy fashion and models are being seen in the mainstream media more, with Tess Holliday being the largest model to be signed to a mainstream agency; it related would to her social media influence within the plus size community and how much of a known figure she was already within the community, that has brought about the opportunity for her to be signed as a model.
Another example of the ideals of plus size can be seen in the comparison between Gabourey Sidibe’s character Becky in Empire, in particular, the sex scene and the response to Ashley Graham and Joe Jonas in the DNCE music video. Many fat shamed Sidibe for the scene and created memes mocking her (Dadds,2015). While many men were wishing they were Joe Jonas because Ashley has been seen as an ideal curvy type.
The “plus privilege” has been used in describing models who are often used as the model plus size clothing, but don’t consider themselves to be plus size such as, Dounia Tazi and Mina Mahmood. Thus due to the fashion industries labeling of plus size, it limits the diversity in the size of the models being used to those who would wear a medium size in most stores.
The Plus Size community wants to be acknowledged and has diverse representation. The Lane Bryant ad campaign, #ThisBodyIsMadetoShine, showcase different curvy plus size women and shows how they celebrate who they are regardless of the online shamers or shape of their body.
Questions must be asked as to whether we will get to a point when we do not need separate fashion shows or shops. I think personally having separate stores doesn’t make plus size fashion any less important but allows for those who are plus size to get together in a celebration of them. However, there is no reason why clothing stores can’t extend their ranges to include more sizes, as we have seen many stores do already. The mainstream fashion industry is unlikely to ever really accept the fatshionista but it definitely can no longer ignore plus size fashion and social change influencers.
Instead of waiting for the mainstream to accept them, the plus size community has flipped the script meaning that brands have to accepted by them, and those who catered for large women are celebrated when the clothes are right. This celebration of the Big Beautiful and Fabulous lifestyle has seen the development of such conventions as CurvyCon (New York) and Curve fashion festival(UK). Both conventions celebrate and showcase plus size brands and give talks that inspire and give insight. The CuvryCon; the brainchild of Cece Olisa and Chastity Garner now in its 4th year is always a sell out. The event is marketed as a chance to chat curvy, shop curvy and embrace curvy” (CurvyCon, 2016).
While body positivity is seen as a good thing; many see those who promote being comfortable being larger are feeding into the obese epidemic that many western countries are facing. Those who promote being comfortable in their own skin regardless of being plus size raise question about the health implications. People state that the message and promotion of plus size models leads to an unhealthy society and issues with obesity by making the larger body more acceptable.
However the plus size community is about more than celebrating being fat, it is about building each other’s self-esteem and learning to love whatever body you are in, regardless of whether you chose to lose weight or not, the message is to love you for your and not for anyone else.
The inspirational work of plus size fatshionistas has seen so many barriers broken in regard to fashion and media perceptions. However in the battle for body positivity, while some fight for the plus size girls; we have to fight for the representation and diversity of all bodies, races, and abilities to be represented in the media.
Whatever is next in the plus size community, what is clear that they can no longer be ignored or considered taboo, the bloggers and influencers are carving out the deserved space the should have received to be able to inspire others to love themselves first regardless of what they look like and in the ever more superficial and “insta” age we live in I for one think that is an important message for all of us to hear.
The development of the plus size and curvy community is a great example of 21st century public sphere. By using social media platforms to challenge societal norms, create a platform for discussion and action and make way for a more body positivity society. This is just one of the ways in which civil society, has been able to adapt from the physical realm to the virtual realm.
By Yetunde Ishola