October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month and for many plus size women, it’s a cause that still hits close to home.
Being treated differently because of one’s size is sadly still an accepted practice in our society. Fatphobia comes in many forms and it can become normalized when unfair judgement on someone’s health or appearance is presented as a concern. One’s presumed health is presented as a fact and by doing so, the way someone looks becomes an indicator of their worth and a justification for bullying. From family members and co-workers to health professionals and strangers on the internet, bullying doesn’t stop once you leave the classroom.
Many plus size women have found solidarity and community through sharing their own images online, but the very images that inspire us as plus size women to love our bodies and feel comfortable in own skin are the same one’s that cause us to be further dehumanized by bullies. It can take an emotional toll. And while there’s no catch-all solution to dealing with what feels like a target on the back for trolls, five women share how they continue to inspire and thrive in the face of bullying.
Chrystal Bougon, Owner of Curvy Girl Lingerie
Back in 2013, Chrystal Bougon, owner of Curvy Girl Lingerie, launched a “Regular Women In Lingerie” campaign that would not only catapulted her boutique’s social media following and sales but also put her on the radar of one prominent online bully: the Fit Mom, who went viral for her ‘What’s Your Excuse’ image.
The campaign all started when a customer of Bougon asked if she could share her image on the Curvy Girl Facebook page to show how a regular mom, and not a model, looks in a bra and panties. The image resonated with folks and soon they started sharing their own images. And it caught the attention of the Huffington Post. Bougon says the feedback was mostly positive until Fit Mom started posting about how the Curvy Girl campaign glorified obesity, Bougon found herself making appearances everywhere from “Good Morning America” and “The Today Show” to “Inside Edition” and “Access Hollywood” defending the right for plus size women to not only wear lingerie but to exist and the right to be treated with respect and dignity as human beings. Fit Mom’s attacks made Bougon and her boutique a target.
“Trolls created Reddit pages dedicated to how gross and disgusting I am,” shares Bougon. “They called me ‘Barney’ because I am fat and love to wear purple. They said I would be better off dead. I should just die now and now wait for the heart disease and diabetes to kill me. My store was vandalized three times in two months: windows broken and shattered. It was a whole nightmare, but so much good came from it.”
These days, Bougon is still working to create a safe both in her store and online for plus size women to feel comfortable being sexy. She’s putting particular focus on finding lingerie for women sizes 24-30 as the stigma that exists for women above a size 24 makes lingerie options in that size range even more scarce. And Curvy Girl is still helping plus size women be more visibly sexy. Recently, Curvy Girl hosted the Unapologetically Beautiful Plus Size Lingerie Fashion Show where 40+ models showed off lingerie in sizes 12-28.
Model Saucye West
One of those models on the runway was Saucye West who has been involved in body positivity and plus size modeling since 2010. West says she’s been confident in her size since the age of 14 and while she was treated differently for her size growing up, it wasn’t until she started modeling that she experienced bullying. At the casting for one of her first fashion shows, West recalls the blatant bullying from a designer that did not want to work with her.
“I remember hearing that she did not like my body type,” shares West. “I was too round; my belly was too big. And she just did not want to dress my body. That type of experience unfortunately was not the only experience I’ve had. I regularly get discriminated against as a plus size model because I do not have an hourglass shape. And I am way beyond the size that people use for runway. So often I am shunned and not used for runway modeling.”
As bloggers, models, designers, and brands work towards more clothing options and exposure for plus size fashion, West’s experience as a plus size model above a size 24 shows that not everyone is working towards making plus size fashion more inclusive for all. When I witness certain size bodies being rendered invisible or body shaming within the plus size community, I have to wonder if some are looking out for their own interests rather than advancing plus sized fashion as a whole. For West, the change starts at an individual level.
“I see women pick apart their bodies so much,” says West. “I see women who envy other women’s bodies and tear themselves apart. Once you love and accept yourself for who you are, you will be able to build up the next woman and help the next woman love herself and except herself. But if you do not love yourself completely then how are we going to be examples? We have to begin with self.”
Leah V. of Beauty and the Muse
Leah Vernon of Beauty and the Muse is another practitioner of self-love through fashion. She experienced bullying growing up when she made the choice to dress her body in a bold and unapologetic way. She took inspiration from the Spice Girls, wore black lipstick and placed tiaras on top of her hijab. But she didn’t always realize what impact her take on fashion could have on the body positive community.
“At first, I didn’t see myself as having any role in the body positive community because I had no idea it ever existed!” says Vernon. “I only knew I was different and that I was going to use that to my advantage and create a stir in the blogging industry. Fast forward, I started seeing other bloggers and influencers that I admire rep the movement. And then people started telling me that me just being unapologetic in my approach to fashion as a fat, Black Muslim gave them so much life. So, I decided to officially join it. My role: to fuck shit up with dope photos and kick ass content in order to stir the pot and start challenging these ridiculous beauty stereotypes.”
Over the past year, Vernon’s personal style has become a celebrated staple in the plus size community but that hasn’t come without a backlash. Vernon recounts the first time she encountered cyber-bullying.
“A website that I freelance for reposted one of my favorite photos from Instagram,” says Vernon. “An internet troll said, ‘I’m tired of seeing fat people. She looks like the Charmin bear.’ Although, that’s not the worst I’ve seen or heard, it’s still considered cyber-bullying. I thought it was clever but very much unnecessary. Like you’re going to see fat people. I just happen to be a very fashionable one.”
For Vernon, she combats the hate not through words or clapbacks but by continuing to push herself to continue what she’s doing and be even better at it. And her advice for dealing with bullying hits on the same thing.
“Be you regardless,” advices Vernon to those struggling with bullies. “If I had altered myself in any way to people who had opinions of what I was wearing and doing then I wouldn’t be Leah V. I’d be some cardboard cutout of a person. At the end of the day, you are in control of you. Period.”
Anna of Glitter + Lazers
Anna O’Brien of Glitter + Lazers is one blogger who has certainly made an impact by being true to herself. She started posting images of herself on Instagram which spawned a successful YouTube channel. She says her role in the body positive community is to help transition the conversation away from what plus size bodies look like or should like to celebrating what plus size bodies can do. And while her work has been met with overwhelming positivity, O’Brien says she can’t remember a time when she hasn’t experienced bullying as a blogger. She’s even had someone hack into her website and delete all of her content. But when the comments turned to death threats, she started to feel unsafe.
“I think when the words transitioned from comments on my weight to ‘you should die,’ I had to take a lot of extra effort to protect myself,” says O’Brien. “It’s odd because if a non-fat person did the things I did they would be celebrated as working towards a better community. Instead, because I am fat, I receive death threats.”
When it comes to dealing with bullying, O’Brien says she’s mostly numb to it now. But it hasn’t stopped her from continuing to bring a lighthearted perspective to the plus size community.
“I think we try to define words that are personal,” says O’Brien. “I think there needs to be greater acceptance of the fact that happiness is personal and our form of happiness is not everyone else’s.”
Amina Mucciolo of Studio Mucci
Amina Mucciolo first burst onto the plus size fashion scene five years ago when she became the face of her own brand, Studio Mucci. Her fun and bold personal style encourages people to take risks with fashion and never be afraid to stand out for their style. But things haven’t always been rainbows and unicorns for Mucciolo. Growing up, she says it was a comment from her own sister at the age of five that made her first realize that she was fat and marked a shift in her awareness. As the years went on, she became her own bully.
“I suffered from an eating disorder since the age of 12 so there was basically a permanent bully living in my brain,” says Mucciolo. “I think we’ve all used negative self-talk at one point or another. Even though I’m in recovery and I’ve come a long way, I still have to check that critical voice in my head that tries to tell me I’m not good enough.”
Mucciolo describes herself as a fighter and that mentality has come in handy now as she faces online bullying. The first time she faced bullying as a blogger was when she was sent a grotesque picture of a dog being abused with a message that told her she deserved the same treatment. She describes the message as traumatizing. But even though her instinct is to fight back to messages like those, she chooses empathy, instead.
“If I allow myself to push past the initial pain and my deepest insecurities I can remind myself that bullies are humans too,” says Mucciolo. “And while I’ve never bullied anyone, I know what it’s like to be broken and operate from a place of pain. No bullies have the right to lash out at me or anyone else, but I think that all humans are deserving of empathy. I won’t let a bully define how I see myself or how I view the world. I choose to see the best in people.”
Standing up to bullying doesn’t mean fighting back with words or tearing the other person down in return. It means staying true to you. Embracing yourself and loving yourself as you are can be a powerful action. And while it seems like acts of self-love can breed hate and bullying, it’s important to realize that for every troll there’s a woman who is wear a bikini for the first time; who is looking in the mirror and seeing her own beauty for the first time and who is learning to be kinder to herself every day.
Alysse Dalessandro is plus size fashion blogger, writer, social influencer, designer, professional speaker, and travel enthusiast. After graduating from Loyola University Chicago with a double-major in Journalism and Gender Studies, this Cleveland-based entrepreneur is best known as the owner/designer for body positive fashion brand Ready to Stare and its corresponding personal style blog, #StareStyle.