Plus Size Fashion And Social Media: Where Does It Fit In?


In a world of Instagram influencers and social media marketing, there appears to be a trend emerging in the fashion world far beyond what purse or shoes your favorite Instagrammer is flaunting; instead, appealing to a topic of more depth.

“Bloggers and models wearing a 'plus' size have created a space for women to identify with, support and raise their voices demanding more from the fashion industry," says Erin Cavanaugh, co-founder of See Rose Go, on the increasing popularity of social media and the space it created to progress plus sizes in the fashion industry.

“Growing up, I often heard that retailers did not carry or produce clothing in larger sizes because they believed plus size women were not interested in fashion," shares Nadia Boujarwah, CEO, and co-founder of Dia&Co, the world's leading digital-first, plus size fashion company. “I knew this wasn't true for me, and believed millions of other plus size women wanted to participate in fashion as well."

Boujarwah speaks to the long rooted misconception, engrained in both the fashion industry and modern society, that attributes the untapped market as a result of low demand from plus size women.

"Bloggers and models wearing a 'plus' size have created a space for women to identify with, support and raise their voices demanding more from the fashion industry," says Erin Cavanaugh, cofounder of See Rose Go. Photo Courtesy of See Rose Go

“What creates the gap is not the women, but the retailers and the fashion brands," explains Cavanaugh. “The quality and style options offered to women wearing a size 14 and up is extremely lacking compared to the straight-size options."

This is why Cavanaugh set out to create a brand focusing on quality, fit and style for curvy women with See Rose Go.

As both Cavanaugh and Boujarwah entered the market to trigger the supply chain with their respective digital platforms, they noticed that social media was an additional, and significant, tool in sharing their brands' mission. While both women worked to increase supply in plus size fashion, users of Instagram laid the foundation of the body positivity movement, thus allowing for the application to exist as an efficient platform to share this newly introduced supply for plus size consumers.

“We see women who would have never been picked up by a traditional modeling agency now have hundreds of thousands of followers globally," says Eugena Delman, co-founder of Mimiell, the e-commerce business set to launch this April, focusing exclusively on sizes 12-18.

Instagrammers like Tanesha Awasthi and Diana Sirokai embracing their size is seemingly the influence that the fashion industry needed as a sort of precedence, especially when considering consumers' attraction to, and interaction with, these public figures. “Twenty years ago, we would rarely have seen a plus woman as attractive and confident, so this medium has definitely given a voice to plus women everywhere, while also creating a community of support and friendship," says Delman.

"I'd say it's played a huge role in empowering women who wear larger sizes to own it and be proud of who they are," says Alexis Mera Damen. Photo Courtesy of @corinnelouiephoto for @thestyletheory_

Alexis Mera Damen of Alexis Mera uses the brand's Instagram to create a community for her line of activewear, and yet, while she agrees Instagram plays a role in accepting plus sizes, she strays away from using this term 'accepting.'

“I'd say it's played a huge role in empowering women who wear larger sizes to own it and be proud of who they are," she says. “It's not like plus size was 'unacceptable' before."

The act of sharing body positivity on social media has also opened the discussion to transcend borders in the international communities who may not have been as vocal about it prior to Instagram. “Globally, similar sentiments are present but reside in smaller pockets, rather than a movement," says Cavanaugh. “A few of our favorite plus size influencers are European, who have this super cool, modern and confident vibe about them and a tone of voice to be recognized."

This increase in empowered women embracing their bodies has brought the body positivity movement to the forefront, noticeably taking life outside of the screen as Fashion Week strives to adapt to consumer reactions of shattering the former image of the 00 ideal. This includes NYFW's Fall 2017 show that made history with the diversity of its models, the inclusion of all sizes and educational panels.

“Women and young girls now have their own icons on social media; they can see women who look like them in all walks of life," adds Alex Waldman, co-founder of Universal Standard, a women's modern essentials line focusing on sizes 10 to 28. “This movement shows women that they don't need to be a certain size to know they are beautiful."

Whether or not the label tends to hinder, or help, the body positivity movement, is subjective to the consumer, yet is still something retailers and brands need to consider while working toward inclusion. Photo Courtesy fo See Rose Go

Where does the label fit in?

Even as the fashion industry continues to 'normalize' the plus size label, these social communities are recognizing that 67 percent of American women are size 14+, making the term 'plus size' debatable. “Why can't it just be regular size?" asks Damen. “What we are calling 'plus' is pretty much the average size in America."

On the other end of the spectrum, Cavanaugh points out, “As a descriptor, it [plus size] has contributed to banding a group together under a supportive identity, giving a more amplified voice to the tribe. The voice is imperative in the cultural shift we are now seeing in the fashion industry." Whether or not the label tends to hinder, or help, the body positivity movement, is subjective to the consumer, yet is still something retailers and brands need to consider while working toward inclusion. Regardless of how the term 'plus size' transpires during the movement, fashion, beauty and lifestyle blogger Tillie Eze of It's Tillie! argues that designers need to remain authentic during the transition, highlighting that some labels won't be able to produce for the plus size demand.

“Everyone is trying to get in on being body positive--as we've seen, it rakes in money--But very few are actually taking the time to construct proper styles, fits, silhouettes for plus-size body shapes," she says, providing the example of J.Brand dressing Ashley Graham (considered a plus-size model) when the label only goes up to a size 12. “Stop using these women and body shapes to be something you aren't at your core," says Eze. Perhaps this is why Instagram and social media have been so effective in shifting the perception of this landscape because of the authenticity that these models showcase in their accounts--authenticity they are praised for with millions of followers and interactions. “[Social media] has been a catalyst into movements such as body positivity, helping to provide women the self-recognized 'permission' to wear what they want with confidence," concludes Cavanaugh, “In turn, sparking the industry to create the style and clothing she is demanding."

Our newsletter that womansplains the week
5min read

Patriarchy Stress Disorder is A Real Thing and this Psychologist Is Helping Women Overcome It

For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.

As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.

Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.

What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein

This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.

Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.

While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.

Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.

In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.

"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."