Fatshion Police: How Plus-Size Blogging Left Its Radical Roots Behind
The rag trade has never been terribly kind to larger ladies. Plus-size women quickly learn where they can and cannot shop, as most clothing companies simply decline to do business above a size 14. And the bigger you get, the more doors slam shut. Entire malls must be written off.
And that’s just assembling enough clothing to cover yourself on a daily basis. Staying on trend can seem downright Sisyphean. Did you want one of those chambray shirts that were so popular this year? Well, don’t expect Vogue to help you find it. Either it’ll turn up at one of the handful of outlets that deal in fashionable plus-size clothing, or you’re just going to have to do without.
In short, it’s a wasteland. And traversing it is a series of humiliations.
But in recent years, a fashion-forward vanguard has emerged from the blogosphere to help shoppers of size navigate their limited options: women like Gabrielle Gregg, who pops up everywhere from MTV to InStyle, Marie Denee of The Curvy Fatshionista, an exhaustive guide to plus-size options, and Nicolette Mason, who pens Marie Claire’s “Big Girl in a Skinny World,” to name just three.
They’ve received write-ups in outlets like The New York Times, Teen Vogue and Refinery29. The phenomenon is often presented as a consumer uprising by stylish young women hungry for better options, armed with the self-confidence to demand more. What is often ignored is the radical origins of these “fatshionistas,” many of whom got their start in a LiveJournal community founded by an outspoken activist. And as this circle of bloggers coalesces into the nearest thing the plus-size girl has to Vogue, it’s worth stopping to note just how far they’ve come—and stopping to wonder how true they’ve stayed to their roots along the way.
Let’s rewind to 2004, when the options were even more dismal. Besides the uninspired, almost grandmotherly options at Roaman’s and Avenue, there was Torrid, the brand-new juniors’ store started by Hot Topic. But mostly, you were stuck with whatever Lane Bryant deigned to offer. And as this reporter can attest, there’s a reason they called it “Lame Giant.” In the mid-2000s, it was a sea of billowing button-downs and depressingly sensible workwear.
Onto this denuded landscape strode Amanda Piasecki, a graduate student in electronic music and media. As a fat activist nurtured in the “queer fat radical” subculture of San Francisco, she was looking for ways to organize her comrades in the fight against body-shaming and outright hatred of larger people. She was also sick of spending too much money on clothes that looked like crap.
And so Fatshionista was born, a place to commiserate and to demand better, but most of all to cope collectively. As Ms. Piasecki’s inaugural post explained, “We are silly, and serious, and want shit to fit.” Her goal, she told The Observer, was to “make people feel less alone in the daily work of being an embodied fat person.” No small thing, that. (In one early post, a community member talked about how she’d once shoplifted at Lane Bryant out of sheer rage: “I was mad at them for having a monopoly on the big girl clothes, mad at their crappy fabrics and construction.”)
The community grew quickly, at the runaway rate so common to tucked-away Internet phenomena. The definition of “fatshion” was a generous one, embracing goth and punk as well as traditional trendiness. The daily post count escalated; the flame wars commenced. New readers were showing up, wanting to get their fashion fill. Deluged with contributors and commenters, the tenor of the site began to tip.
Ms. Piasecki now sounds rueful about what fatshion became in the years that followed: “My perception of what’s happening or what’s happened is this deeply queer, alternative type of culture was co-opted by the mainstream, in the same way that all kinds of subcultures are co-opted by the mainstream.”
Today, like so much of LiveJournal, the Fatshionista community is a veritable Internet ghost town. But many of the early community members have gone on to build major followings, which means that in the last couple of years, the marketers have come knocking. These bloggers now carry advertising and run sponsored posts on their sites, and they’re courted by brands eager for their imprimatur, which send them “review” clothes and invite them to events. No one’s getting wealthy, but it’s enough to support a shopping habit, and it makes for an excellent jumping-off point to bigger things.