By Isabel Mohan
Saturday afternoon, and you hit the shops to treat yourself to a new outfit. But in the changing rooms you despair – tiny sleeves suffocate your arms, your boobs make a bid for freedom through flimsy buttons and your bum’s hanging out the bottom of that too-short dress.
And then you hear the girl in the next cubicle loudly complaining the clothes are hanging off her, which only cements your suspicions that the high street is not meant for women like you.
Well, it’s time to sit up and listen, because there’s revolution in the air. Spearheaded by a group of outspoken fashion bloggers, plus-size women are stepping out of the shadows. Proud of their bodies, and lovers of all things fashion, they’ve had enough of being left on the style sidelines.
They’re out to reclaim the word “fat”, using it to celebrate bodies, not slate them. And they’ve coined a term for what they’re doing – “fat-shion”.
Originating in America, the “fat-shionista” movement is growing in strength, with blogs erupting all over the UK. They’re getting thousands of hits a day – which is hardly surprising when you consider that size 16 is the average dress size in the UK. The readers of these websites are fashion lovers who are desperate to see clothes on bodies that resemble their own. These bloggers have scoured high and low for super-stylish pieces to fit a fuller figure – and, from sexy lingerie to ’50s silhouettes and skinny jeans, they’re modelling them, too.
For me, a journalist who’s been everything from a size 12 to an 18 and now, aged 31, is hovering somewhere in between, finding these blogs has been a revelation. Especially on days when I’m surrounded by an army of svelte size 8s in skinny jeans. At times like this, a reminder I’m normal is much needed. And proof that women my size and bigger can look fabulous… well, that’s even better.
Psychologist Dr Courtney Raspin, who specialises in body image, agrees: “For years there’ve been ‘thinspiration’ sites where girls with eating disorders post pictures as they lose weight. “People are obsessed with being thin, but these bloggers show the range of body shapes out there.These women are saying: ‘I’ll wear what I like and I’ll look good because it’s the way I carry it.’ And that’s a great perspective to have.”
A curve ball
Bethany Rutter, a 22-year-old student from north London, is one such blogger. She started Arched Eyebrow: A Fatshion Blog, a year ago because she didn’t feel her size 16 frame and unique style were represented by other websites. “These girls were smaller, richer or dressed differently to me, so I just started doing it myself,” she says. “My style icons are Dolly Parton, Mad Men’s Joan Holloway and Miss Piggy – there was no one like me!”
Bethany’s blog has had 100,000 views since it launched last June, with readers loving her quirky mix of high-street, vintage and designer fashion.“I’m very confident about my body,” she says. “I used to really hate my stomach, mainly because of scars from a childhood operation which I felt were highlighted by being my weight. “But I gradually realised, just by getting older and wiser, that there was nothing wrong with it. I don’t think about it at all now – it’s all I know!
“It’s been really liberating to refuse to hate my body – I don’t use it as an excuse not to do or wear what I want. My body might not be everyone’s idea of beauty, but I totally accept it.” Bethany, who’s 5ft 9in, slimmed to a size 14 four years ago, but soon realised she is naturally bigger. “I stopped caring about being thinner,” she says. “I’m too conscious of my mental wellbeing to try crazy diets, and I know it wouldn’t be worth it.”
Bethany, who’s in a relationship, sees her blog as good practice for the career in journalism she’s aiming for, as well as a way of promoting a message she wholeheartedly supports. “I want to show plus-size women that they have a choice. If you choose to wear black drapey clothes, because they’re supposedly flattering, fine, but be mindful that if you want to wear a pleated green skirt or printed jeans or horizontal stripes, you must! “It’s all about de-programming yourself of the oppressive messages about what women should look like.”
Fellow blogger Georgina Horne, 24, lives with her boyfriend Robbie, 30, in Twickenham. She works as a waitress – but her blog, Fuller Figure Fuller Bust, has been such a success that she now considers it a second job.
The blog, which she describes as “helpful tips and advice from a buxom wench”, gets over 2,000 views a day, and she’s often approached by clothing and lingerie companies desperate for her to showcase their clothes online. She’s even started to make money from advertisers – not bad for someone who used to despair while shopping.
Georgina’s 5ft 7in, size-18 figure oozes sex appeal, but she still finds it hard to believe she’s become a role model for other plus-size women. “At school I was teased a lot,” she says. “I would try to wear whatever was in fashion at the time, but it rarely suited my shape. “It was only when I was older that I realised I didn’t want to be the same as everyone else anyway. As soon as I stopped trying to look like my friends and worked out what suited me, I looked as if the pounds had fallen off me!” Georgina adds: “It’s only now that I’ve found my niche – pin-up style, great bras and belts to show off my waist.”
These days, Georgina buys a few pieces from curve-friendly high-street shops like New Look and Dorothy Perkins, but is mainly an online shopper, frequently hunting for bargains on eBay and advising her readers to do the same. “I started my blog just over a year ago because I was fed up with the lack of plus-size models and clothing options,” she says. “I thought I did pretty well at finding things to wear and making them look OK, so I wanted to share my findings with ladies shaped like me. I tell them you can be fabulous at any size. “It’s funny to think that all through school, I got stick for my weight, and yet now here I am putting myself and my body out there and celebrating my size.”
Meanwhile, Sian Howell, a single 22-year-old sales associate from Dublin, started up her blog – Forever Fabulous In Bows: A Curvy Girl In A Skinny World, three months ago. A size 16, and 5ft 9in, she sends out the message that curvy girls can look good in high-street clothes. “I do think there are a severe lack of plus-size or even average-size bodies in the media,” she says. “I’d love to inspire other girls who aren’t a size zero to be happy and comfortable in their own skin. I’m pretty confident in my body and don’t see the point in hating it. Obviously I’m not perfect, but I’m OK with that and embrace the body I have. As I’ve got older, I’ve stopped feeling pressure to look a certain way, and that’s made me confident and given me a good relationship with my body.”
Some critics have accused blogs such as Sian’s of normalising and glamorising being overweight, but Dr Raspin disagrees with this view. “At a size 16, you can certainly be healthy,” she says. “We should all be promoting health, rather than thinness.Some girls are naturally slim, while other girls like Georgina, Bethany and Sian are naturally bigger. They show that it’s confidence that’s attractive. As long as you’re healthy, size doesn’t matter.”
Bethany says she’s happy to be described as “fat”. “It’s not my problem if people use it as a synonym for bad, ugly, lazy, poorly dressed,” she says. “I know those things aren’t true of me. We can reclaim it by using ‘and’, not ‘but’ – ‘I’m fat and attractive’, not ‘I’m fat but attractive’.”
Still, sometimes it’s hard not to take insults personally. As one of the most high-profile plus-size bloggers in the UK, Georgina occasionally has to deal with comments from internet trolls. “One man informed me that my breasts were just huge balls of fat and that if I stopped eating I would find bras that fit,” she reveals. “It does knock me, but I share my wobbles with my online fans and they help me. One bad comment doesn’t undo the good ones.”
It helps that all three girls also have support from their friends and family. “My boyfriend is fine with me being on the internet in my underwear, and helps me think up titles for my posts,” says Georgina. And Sian admits that while she was shy about telling people at first, everyone has been supportive. “My parents and friends love it, and even colleagues have been great,” she says.
This trend is good news for all of us – the more women of different shapes and sizes there are, the more positive we feel about our own bodies. Because the truth is, it’s hard not to feel like a freak when you’re fighting your own boobs in changing rooms, or faced with endless shots of skinny celebs.
But these bloggers felt the same, and emerged triumphant. They’re gorgeous, glorious and generous of body. And if I think they’re sexy, then I must be sexy, too.