Fatkinis And The Rise Of Plus-Size

I share with you all my final story for my senior journalism class:

Gabi Gregg and Stella Boonshoft

Gabi Gregg and Stella Boonshoft

Amid the madness of Black Friday, Columbia University senior Tina Rose tried her hardest to find a pair of jeans that went up higher than her mid-thighs. She scurried through the fitting rooms of Macy’s, American Apparel and Zara, failing to find anything over a size 14. Yet this young woman wasn’t discouraged; she knew that her goal could easily be met at several other stores. As she stood outside Forever 21, a bold-lettered sign reading “plus-size” summoned her through the doors.

Rose, 21, has always struggled finding clothes that fit her size 18 frame. She is “a fat girl in a skinny world,” to borrow the catch phrase of Marie Claire’s plus-size columnist Nicollete Mason. “Finding a pair of pants that’d actually cover my butt in its entirety was hell,” Rose said. “I used to have to special order things online because I wasn’t about to give in and shop somewhere my grandma would go just to find some jeans.”

With images of Barbie dolls surrounding them since childhood, young girls grow up fastened to a skinny ideal. More than 90 percent of teenage girls want to change something about the way they look, with body weight ranking the highest, according to a study done by the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty in 2006. The average woman in America may be a size 14, but there are still 24 million diagnoses of eating disorders in the U.S., according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), 95 percent affecting women between the ages of 12 and 26. Being plus-size may be common, but it’s never been easy.

But plus-size GenY-ers like Rose have noticed some reassuring changes in recent years. Where size 2 fashionistas used to be the norm and center of idolization, and the Internet a source of potential cyber-bullying, there are now several outlets embracing weight acceptance. From plus-size role models who showcase their curves in front of cameras, to an explosion of plus-size fashions, to online support, plus-size GenY-ers are relishing the “more to love” body type and revealing a confidence never seen before.

“It’s like all of a sudden people stopped and said, ‘Hey, most women aren’t a size 4,'” said Rose. “Plus-size women started blogging, wearing bikinis and modeling without being ashamed of how they look.” This past summer, size 18 GenY fashion blogger Gabi Gregg of “Gabifresh,” started a ”fatkini” trend by posting photos of herself in a bikini on xoJane, a women’s lifestyle site. Instantly, fatkini photos exploded online and have continued to do so, with positive coverage in publications like the Huffington Post, Marie Claire, inStyle and, of course, through the blogosphere.

Ragini Nag Rao and Nicolette Mason

Ragini Nag Rao and Nicolette Mason

Other plus-size GenY bloggers like Ragini Nag Rao of “A Curious Fancy” and the size 12 N.Y.U. freshman Stella Boonshoft of the “BodyLoveBlog” have followed the lead, proudly showing off their stretch mark-clad bellies and celullitey bottoms, only to be met with instant celebredom and accolades from young women worldwide. Such bloggers, though they’ve received the occasional criticism from gym rats and nutritionists for “promoting obesity,” have been valuable inspirations to plus-size acceptance for this generation. “They are making a difference,” said Sheila Dicks, a Canada-based stylist and personal fashion coach. “The idea that extra weight is unattractive is a belief dictated by society. When more women embrace their bodies’ shape and size, ideas and beliefs will change.”

Forever 21 Plus Size

Forever 21 Plus Size

Then there are the plus-size models themselves, and the stores that cater to them. Back in 2010 French Elle put plus-size model Tara Lynn on the cover. Vogue Italia followed suit in 2011 with its nude plus-size photo shoot that featured not one, but three plus-size supermodels on its cover. Tara Lynn, Candice Huffine and Robyn Lawley (all GenY-ers over a size 12) were proudly rocking their birthday suits on the inside pages, decked out in burlesque apparel. And in these past two years, youthful stores like Forever 21, ModCloth, ASOS and Charlotte Russe have marketed plus-size lines. “As women become more content with their bodies they need places to shop, [so designers start adapting to that],” says Dicks. While a few years ago it would’ve been difficult to find stylish clothes in anything over a 16, these stores are carrying items up to 4X and 24, allowing bigger girls to have a bigger variety than ever.

BBWs: Iona Starr and Sailor Rose

BBWs: Iona Starr and Sailor Rose

In addition to the celebrity plus-size role models and the fashionable clothes, the Internet also prvides a newfound source of confidence for plus-size GenY-ers. Iona Starr, a 29-year-old Scottish BBW (Big Beautiful Women) model who works for the online site Va-Va-Voom BBWs, feels more confident than ever in her size 24 skin. “Online you can chat and get to know other BBWs from chat rooms and forums who are in the same line of work,” she said. “Your fans can come from all different countries [to see your site], and plus-size bloggers and columnists are doing fantastic articles on BBWs – how they feel and what they want.”

Just as plus-size bloggers and plus-size columnists in magazines like Marie Claire and inStyle are embracing the thicker figure, authors are attempting to do the same in print. Jeni Starr, the plus-size author of “The Plus Size Girl’s Guide to Plus Size Confidence,” wrote her book with the goal of helping larger ladies feel confident enough to allow themselves to be noticed. Starr has extensively studied and researched topics of body image and weight, and thinks that though body issues are inevitable in any generation, GenY-ers are embracing curves more than any other age group. “I believe that [GenY’s plus-size] popularity stems from its access to social media,” she said. “You may have felt alone being plus-size a decade ago, but now you can do a quick search on Google to find people that speak to you and share your experience.” With access to confidence-boosting blogs, and positive reviews, weight acceptance forums, Facebook pages dedicated to being plus-size and proud or images of models and celebrities sticking up for their curves, it’s easy to see where GenY-ers are finding their fat-spiration.

Christina Aguilera and Kim Kardashian

Christina Aguilera and Kim Kardashian

Even some celebrities love being plus-size these days. Adele, for one, has defended her voluptuous body time and time again, openly slamming Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld who called her “a little too fat” along with the tweeting bullies who suggested murdering her newborn son to save him from inevitable fatness. Both Christina Aguilera and Kim Kardashian, who have also put on some weight, have become either spokespeople for “Big and Beautiful Dating” or started plus-size fashion lines of their own.

Of course, there are still critics, and these celebrities are constantly receiving negative backlash from haters, being called hypocritical fatties who only a few months ago were worried about dieting and fitting into size 0 skirts, and being blamed for the “unhealthy” pro-plus-size trend. The renowned bariatric surgeon Dr. Carson Liu of Santa Monica, CA, has stated that weight acceptance is “disturbing” and told M&C news, “I cringe at knowing more and more people are accepting being fat, and doing it proudly.”

For every negative comment, however, there seems to be a dozen positive ones. Christina and Kim fans have supported their new look. Karl Lagerfeld has been torn apart on the Web and forced to apologize. The Twitter troll who suggested killing Adele’s baby has deleted her account. And Dr. Liu has received numerous e-mails expressing public distaste for his remarks.

Author Jeni Starr offered one piece of advice for those larger ladies who want to keep the pro-plus trend going strong and carrying on: “As plus-size women, I think it’s up to us to not let the idea of weight acceptance fade away. We need to keep being noticed and demanding fair treatment and respect. And we need to get out there and contribute positive things to the world.”

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