The fashion industry has a lot to answer for. Catwalks, magazines, advertising, and store displays all work to reinforce the narrative that “thin is good.” The images we are served almost unilaterally feature thin, tall, “conventionally beautiful” women that look pretty much nothing like the women we see around us most of the time. Even companies that do decide to make a space for “plus size” models usually use that to mean size 12, two sizes smaller than the average for women in the UK. Some companies are making moves to include more diverse models by including people with visible disabilities, amputees, and models with Down Syndrome but these are still the minority and are still, by and large (if you’ll pardon the pun), well within the “conventional beauty” range. I am not. I have the wrong kind of body, the wrong kind of short hair, the wrong kind of pale skin, the wrong kind of disability and the wrong kind of freckles. So, I may not be the most expected choice of fashion blogger, but that’s what I am.
I love taking nice pictures of my clothes, selfies of my make-up, getting dressed up. I love sharing my unusual fashion finds and my bargain buys. I love looking at other peoples Instagram’s to see what they’re wearing and commenting things like ‘yass queen’ and ‘killing it’ or just a series of heart eyes and fire emojis and I love seeing my notifications fill with the same. Since starting this, I have felt empowered to wear some outfits I thought weren’t for “people like me” after seeing so many wonderful plus size women wearing so many amazing outfits. But there is a nagging part of me that worries I may be feeding into the same industry I want to rebel against.
The point of the majority of plus size fashion blogging is to question the narrative of the fashion industry (and, by extension, the music, TV, film and celebrities industries) projects. Thin is fine, but it’s not the only way to be. Not everybody has to be six feet of pure symmetry to be beautiful. And not every fashion blog has to promote unattainable looks, some can focus on affordable fashion, comfortable fashion, sports fashion. They can focus on body positivity for all. They can focus on sharing other plus size models. They can focus on the search for jeans suitable for any body type (and if you find one of those please send it my way, I’m desperate). But whatever they are doing, they are still promoting fashion. So the real question isn’t whether plus size fashion blogging is unfeminst, but whether caring about fashion at all is feminist.
Now, as we learned from that scene in The Devil Wears Prada, fashion is in everything you wear. The high-end fashion industry might be beyond your means and might be something you don’t care about but its choices trickle down into high street fashion and bargain fashion. The colours on the catwalks will be found in Primark. The cut of dresses on super models will also be on the plastic models in store windows. Whether you think about it when buying clothes or not, even if you buy all your clothes from charity shops or vintage sales, the fashion industry controls what clothes have been made and therefore what clothes are available to you. There is no such thing as an independent choice in fashion. That’s depressing, huh? Blogging about fashion, even as a fat, disabled person, is a part of what influences that industry and influences peoples purchases. Can you truly claim to be a feminist when you’re a part of this cycle?
So here is how I justify it to myself; I am blogging about my personal choices. And isn’t everyone having the choice to wear what they want, do what they want and be what they want basically the point of feminism?
I have admitted before to reading Cosmo. Am I influenced by the clothes they advertise, even the ones that aren’t made in my size? Of course. Consciously or not, if I see a dress I like in the magazine and then see a similar one when shopping, I am more likely to buy it. I accept that this is true. But fashion blogging, for me, is about more than just what influences you, more about what you are actually wearing even, it’s about choices. In plus size blogging a large part of the community is about rejecting the “rules” of fat fashion: don’t wear anything tight, don’t wear anything short, don’t wear anything bright, don’t wear stripes, don’t wear white, don’t wear crop tops.
Hundreds of magazines, TV shows, and books have pushed on us the narrative that we, as fat people, shouldn’t wear certain clothes but the plus size blogging community pushes back against that and asks, why? Since starting to follow more and more blogs I have seen people of all sizes, some of whom have scars or stretch marks or other things we’re told to cover up, wearing bikinis, white jeans, wiggle dresses, short shorts and playsuits – all things that a couple of years ago I would have told you I can’t wear. Now, thanks to following other blogs and finally starting my own, I have bought my first ever crop tops and bikinis and I feel great in them.
The flip side of the coin is, of course, that some people use these blogs to promote weight loss lollipops and other dangerous methods of diet. Some people use them to promote unhealthy weight goals. And, of course, some people are susceptible to the underlying message of much of the fashion industry; that they’re not good enough.
This is the dangerous part of fashion blogging and the fashion industry as a whole. Until I started blogging and challenge myself to wear things I had never worn before I thought I was impervious to this message. I thought that I had long stopped caring about anything other than my body just doing its basic jobs without failing (which it often doesn’t, unfortunately).
But when I bought a crop top it took me weeks to wear it, my head full of voices telling me people would stare at me. When I ordered a jumpsuit I refused to try it on at first, convinced I’d only end up returning it. Despite my thick skin and stubbornness, I had absorbed a good dose of the fatphobic rhetoric the world pedals every day, even though I have always minimized my exposure to it. This is the insidious nature of the fashion industry; the messages are so deeply embedded in our culture that we can no longer recognise them. The rise of eating disorders is a testament to the damage this can do.
So am I just another cog in the wheel of self-hate, eating disorders and image control? I don’t think so. Like many things, fashion blogging is what you make of it. I don’t photoshop my images beyond a simple Instagram filter. I don’t shy away from showing my body the way it is. And I absolutely refuse to wear those god awful shape-wear pants that put your entire torso in prison.
Fashion bloggers can exert pressure on the fashion brands to alter the way they make clothes, what clothes they sell and who they sell them for and a growing number are using this power to advocate for those often marginalised by the fashion industry. Is the fashion industry particularly feminist? No. Could fashion blogging change that? I really, really believe so.