Rifts in UK plus size blogging


There's no doubt plus size blogging in the UK has exploded in the last few years, and new bloggers emerge by the week. In any community where a group of strong, frank women come together disagreements are inevitable. But I feel something bigger than any other previous quarrels building - something that may split ranks - and I want to address it. My thoughts on this go off into tangents with Fibro fog but I'm going to try to pull them together. I'm making generalisations here - big picture thinking rather than focusing on individuals - and this genuinely isn't aimed at anyone in particular. I've been plus size blogging since 2010-11 and I read plus size blogs for about a year before I started blogging myself, so I've seen things change a lot over time. Of course this post is personal to me, and it might feel personal to others too - I don't know a single blogger who doesn't invest themselves in their blog.

There have always been cliques, don't get me wrong, but I think what drives some bloggers is so far removed from that of others that it's going to need more than superglue to hold us all together. I believe there are 3 camps emerging.

  1. Bloggers who came into plus size blogging from a fat acceptance viewpoint, who wanted to start blogging to share what they'd learned so other fat women would feel better about themselves. They would talk about living in their fat bodies and what that entails, and were much more focused on that than the clothes they wore. Angry, politicial, radical, necessary discussions were the order of the day. What might be referred to as 'old school' bloggers, ones who've been around at least a few years.
  2. Newer plus size bloggers might have started off from a fat acceptance perspective, but have become less political over time because they felt they had to diminish themselves to do well in plus size blogging. Most brands clearly prefer bloggers who talk more about clothes than their bodies. Alternatively newer bloggers in this group may have started blogging because they came to it when brand influence was already rife, and they wanted some of the prestige/opportunities which can be gained by rarely touching on radical fatness/fat acceptance. They may not have known anything other than bloggers basically being mannequins with a set of links at the end of their posts. They may never have even read fat acceptance blogs.
  3. Plus size bloggers who are openly pro diet and evangelical about it, which is pretty much the opposite of what fat acceptance bloggers believe in. Groups 2 and 3 often intersect. Group 1 and Group 3 are at odds with one another, even publicly so.

Let me say I started off in Group 1. My biggest inspiration in my early days was Rachele Cateyes' blog The Nearsighted Owl (her blog was deleted as she was hounded by Reddit shitlords). She was ballsy to the max - I clearly remember she blogged a photo of her standing naked in her living room, not for the benefit of any man, but to make other women feel better about their fat bodies. She made me feel better about being me. She gave me the strength to love me. Most of her clothes were thrifted, and she had such fun outfits and always looked so happy in herself. I didn't even care what she was wearing, I just wanted to see more of her. She could've worn a bin bag and I still would've been rapt. She's one of the few people whose blog I read way back to the beginning after I discovered her. She changed my life, pure and simple. Before finding her and other blogs like Diamonds n' Pearls, Lolly Likes Fatshion, Does My Blog Make Me Look Fat, A Dress is for Life and My Big Fat Blog I was talking about makeup and my life in general, but I got inspired and s-l-o-w-l-y I started dipping my toe into showing full length outfit photos and talking about my fatness. I started doing outfit posts in 2010-11 but have reverted most of them to drafts (along with all my posts here from 2009) as the photos were awful - grainy, too dark or too bright, horrible backgrounds etc. So understand that in writing this post my background was very much in terms of radical fatness and less about the commercial side of things.

So in the years 2010-11 when I started off, of course there were some plus size brand collaborations with bloggers, but bloggers mostly bought their own stuff and talked about it. They weren't selling things for other people all the time. They were speaking for themselves. And this was the soil I grew in.

But somewhere along the way, I started to pay too much attention to what my peers were doing. Well, not just my peers, people way above me. And little by little, I started to look at all the things I was doing and thinking 'I need to do this, this and this' to become a better blogger. I don't share this as a woe is me because I've been down that road before. I'm sharing because I want to illustrate how lost you can become when the people who have all the money and power (brands) funnel that to the people they feel most worthy - who are often the same people again and again. Don't get me wrong, I've had my share of review posts and I do OK, but the nature of today's blogging (which is unduly infested by brand influence) makes it VERY competitive. Plus size blogging is such a close knit thing here that it's a double-edged sword and when you know everyone else's business it makes you question yourself all the time. I had to remove myself from certain situations to help my mental health, and to come to a place where I can be genuinely happy for the success of my peers and friends. I'm in that place now and it's great.

So in my period of comparing myself to others (and always feeling like I came off worse) I was wondering what I lacked. I've always been too frank for my own good, I've always liked a good swear and if I can say something with a string of words or describe it in a few rude words instead, the latter's my jam. But as brands made us all compete for the buzz and power, I lost some of me. I started to wonder why I wasn't good enough. Was it because I swear too much? Was it because I'm too angry? Was it because I'm *too* old and *too* fat? The wrong shape? What then?!

And you can see how very quickly insecurity and comparisons win when you see people coming out and playing bloggers by numbers, and doing great with it. By that I mean that you quickly get to know what brands want by being in this environment. You see young, conventionally pretty, mainly hourglass women of a size 24 or under, with no double chins and no belly hang being lauded, as well as women who are less political in their blogging. I knew that meant I'd have to not be ME to do great. And that's not a nice feeling. It's soul destroying and it kills creativity stone dead. And I started to see that some of the people who were doing really well were just talking about fashion. They perhaps had a better control on their feelings or they were happy being pretty little models for the clothes, as a lot of brands seem to like mannequins rather than opinions. That's not to say all brands do, or all bloggers bland themselves down, but I know some do feel that pressure, because I started to feel the need to do the same.

I diminished myself. I lost my fire. I lost the joy of getting dressed, even on days where I wasn't going to take photos of an outfit. All I did was consume and compare. My wardrobes (note the plural) were full to bursting and because I couldn't find anything I just bought more, more, more. I'd drifted into being a Group 2 person, as above. My mental health was in the toilet as I felt less than in everything I said and did. I was a few steps away from giving up altogether, or going in the opposite direction totally to become what I call a 'template blogger' - someone who follows the unspoken blogger rulebook, as such:

  1. Go to Starbucks and buy a yak milk triple shot wankerccino and a self-righteousness muffin. Sit in. Ensure to take a top down photograph of the drink and muffin, Macbook Air just in shot artfully in the corner, and Instagram the shot talking about hooooooooooow busy you are. 
  2. Send numerous tweets to brands inserting your tongue into their colon to try to get them to send you free shit. 
  3. Spend a huge amount of time contacting brands via email in the hopes of free shit and spend a lot of time talking to like-minded people about how to best screw free shit out of brands.
  4. When they do, post photos everywhere of your 'blogger mail' doing a humble brag or an overt brag.
And so on, ad infinitum. And I speak so vehemently about that because I've been blogging some 5 years about plus size matters and even I felt this pressure to be a something other than I am, a 'template blogger'. What does the average plus size woman feel like if she reads a lot of plus size blogs? What are we showing her? That unless you're in your 20s, hourglass and under a size 24 that you have little to no worth? That you have to spend hundreds of pounds a month on clothes to be happy? That something is old if it's worn once? That even feisty, strong women can't talk about their fat bodies or say how angry they are about the shit ways of larger plus size companies? That basically money and things are better than making women feel better about themselves? That selling clothes for millionaires is what it's all about?

I had to get away from that mindset. I had to divorce myself from making comparisons, because it was making me ill, and I nearly gave up blogging. By the end of last year I was going to walk away. And then I remembered what made me start - wanting other women like me to feel OK about existing. Making others feel they don't have to be ashamed to exist. That they can even feel proud to exist, just as they are.

And then we come to the third group - plus size diet bloggers, who for whatever reason want to change themselves. Your body, your rules - have at it! But what I don't think is right or healthy is for plus size bloggers to use the plus size arena to discuss it. Because we live in a world where EVERYWHERE is diet friendly. You can talk about that shit literally everywhere and be patted on the head for it. Doing it in fat spaces is so selfish. Literally the whole world wants to eradicate fat bodies, and then it gets brought into what is for many a safe space? Nah. Many, if not most fat people will have been told hundreds of times throughout their lives that they're wrong in every way for being fat, and many may have had disordered eating or actual eating disorders. It can trigger the hell out of someone who's trying REALLY hard not to hate themselves when a blogger suddenly starts talking about diet tea, or juice cleanses or whatever the frig else diet plan they're following. I'm not saying don't do it, I'm saying think about what you're saying and where you're saying it. The rest of the world celebrates weight loss for all reasons. Got cancer? Oh well, at least you're not fat any more! Husband left you? Ah, dems the breaks but at least you can shop on the high street now! Ugh. So yes, when other fat people choose to infest OUR spaces with weight loss talk, it does cause a rift and it always should create a rift. We should question what's more important to us - is it a right to a life without shame in the bodies we come in? Or is it feeling so entitled that your diet is more important than the mental health of your readers?

I think that some circles of plus size blogging are WAY too concerned with hawking clothes for huge companies, and not concerned enough with talking about fat issues or calling out brands when they screw up. I think as brands have more and more power over bloggers that there will be a huge divide between very commercial focused bloggers and ones who are more into talking about their fat bodies, fat issues and so on. And I'm with the latter camp. I'm going back to basics. I look at my blog posts from a couple of years ago where I reworked stuff often or went to clothes swaps or SHOCK HORROR bought my own fucking clothes instead of relying on brands to bestow their wares on me, and I was happy! I was happier when I cared less about brands. I was happier when I read blogs and didn't eat, sleep and breathe them. I was happier when I was less closely involved with my community as a whole, because I'm an introvert and I don't do well in huge group settings, be that in the flesh or online. And I don't do well with this hyper-commercialised, jealous and competitive scene we find ourselves in where some people might use my face as a stepping stone if it meant grabbing an opportunity to review a £30 dress before me.

If the Scarlett and Jo debacle taught me anything, it's that brands have WAY too much power over blogging, and look where it's left us in the aftermath. Some people are hanging onto S&J for dear life for their own reasons (NOT Hanna and Mayah who rely on that man for money - I have more respect for them now than ever). Some people appear to be trying to brown-nose their way into empty ambassador spots, and I hear some people are actually singling individuals out for abuse. You can hate a man, you can hate a company, but when it's handbags at dawn one on one it's all a bit much for a sensitive bird like me. This is not what I started blogging to become a part of.

I think brand influence has totally screwed plus size blogging, and I know I'm far from alone in thinking that everything's going to come to a head and lines will be drawn. What side of the line you end up on it up to you, but me, I'm trying to find the old Leah who was happy to prat around in her living room pulling silly faces in outfits I can't possibly link to because they're old. I'm trying to be the girl who thought of new ways to spin old clothes, rather than what new shit I could buy to feel a part of a scene which at times sickens me. I'm trying to lose the girl who thought she had to swan around doing street photography in dresses 5 days a week to be worthy. I have a wardrobe of swanky dresses and next to nothing casual as that's what bloggers are, isn't it? You buy dresses, and you play the game, and then you lose yourself. I want to be a girl who inspires my readers, not someone who does nothing but sell clothes for millionaires. So yeah, there are rifts coming, and I think they might be necessary, actually.

So what can you expect from me? Back to basics, as I said. Only working with companies I believe in, and there aren't a lot of them left, trust me. I'm all over indie companies in the US at the moment, because they're the only ones inspiring me. I'm loving alternative looks and I'm loving me. I am loving being me, and it's wonderful! I'm done comparing. I'm done courting the attention of brands. I'm done feeling like I'm not good enough because I let brands dictate my worth to me for a while. No more.

Where do you stand on this?
Leah xoxo

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