Being Visibly Plus Size on the Internet (So Far.)

When I was young, like many people, I dreamed of being an actress. But as I took drama in school, and auditioned for many plays, to a varying degree of results, I found an inescapable truth: I am not a good actress. I cannot lose myself in a part, I can bring out the necessary emotions, but I was just intensifying a different aspect of myself. I’m also terrible at memorization. 11 years since my last play and I still have nightmares about it being opening night, and I don’t know a single line or bit of choreography.

But I’m good at limelight. One on one, or small group situations are daunting to me- but put me in front of an audience and I shine. I’m the daughter of a retired band teacher who is one of the most natural performers I’ve ever known. He taught me to take every moment of attention, and make it worth your audience’s time. And maybe that’s why I’ve struggled with this series I’m so passionate about. I have so much to say, so much I want to delve into and explore, but how do I make it worth your time?

I started this series wanting to focus on bigger picture elements of the body positivity movement, and I still plan to do those videos, but I realized --before you can care what I have to say about something removed from most of us, I have to focus on what I know, and what I’m experiencing. So welcome to the companion blog piece of my body positivity series episode: Fat on the Internet

The blog post title includes the caveat "so far" because I have only been publicly making videos and blogging for 10 months. And I will admit that certain aspects have not at all been what I expected. But let’s rewind just a little bit.

As I stated in my introduction video, I first became plus sized in 5th grade when hormones hit my previously svelte 10 year old figure. Growth spurts and what felt like insatiable hunger developed a 5’8 10 year old wearing Junior Size 14 pants. 

 8th grade graduation

8th grade graduation

Like many people my tween years were the definition of awkward. I explored my tomboy side playing softball, wearing jerseys of baseball players from the 1920’s & 60’s, or tshirts of my favorite WWE superstars (shout out to the Hardy Boyz and Rey Mysterio!).

I didn’t dress like most of my female classmates who were striving to look like Britney, Christina, Mandy or Jessica. I didn’t have that body type so I wasn’t going to be bothered trying to replicate it. Plus adult unisex shirts were so comfy! I didn’t think twice of my non-vogue shape. I didn’t have a hard time finding the girly clothes I liked at Mervyn’s, even if I had to purchase from the end of the size spectrum. The majority of my friends in middle school were all plus sized, so I didn’t feel like the "designated fat friend". We were a bunch of fat friends, and dealt with the school bullies as a misfit squad of girls who’d heard it all before. Plus some of my group were bruiser types, so the bullying was always psychological never physical.

And yet through all the bullying, I still liked myself; I was smart, funny, confident, and despite being a favorite target of the popular girls, I thought I was pretty, and concealed my ultimate dream of being a model. I mostly blame/commend my mom for that one- no matter what stage of awkward duckling I was in, my mom supported every opportunity for me to find some spotlight, always encouraging me to try out for a play and quipping that I should one day be a model, although a model with a bachelor’s degree.

And while I’ve always felt like I had something important to say, cue dreams of journalism or a career in politics/punditry, I never felt like I deserved to declare, out loud, that I should be a model.

 Hot 2004 fashion right there!

Hot 2004 fashion right there!

There were no visibly plus size models in my youth, except for Mia Tyler, the face of the then new Hot Topic offshoot store- Torrid. But Mia had that hot metal chick vibe. She was a living Botticelli, voluptuous but seemingly in all the socially acceptable places.

I was also a caramel-brunette with blue eyes, not exactly an under-represented color scheme in the modeling world. And so I didn’t pursue it.

Back to the somewhat present, 2016 to be exact. One of my closest friends happens to be a woman who has made her career of being a vivacious, unapologetic plus size woman with the fiercest makeup skills. I found her on Youtube, 8 years before, and watched as everything she had to teach me about makeup transformed into expanding what I thought was possible for a plus sized girl. Our tastes always ran parallel while frequently criss-crossing in elegant infinite infinity loops. But our body types were significantly different. My body just didn’t have her snatched waist, or full hips and backside. After months of gentle encouragement, she turned to me and said “you really need to start a YouTube channel.” I’d laughed it off long enough, and I’d run out of excuses, especially once she handed me a camera.

How many times had I heard, and tried to live the saying “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” For most of my adult life, I limited the application to social change. I volunteered, protested, marched, and voted. But I still felt like a part of me was being denied. The body positivity movement was taking off, and yet I still struggled to find someone with my body type to look to for guidance and inspiration. So I decided to become my own inspiration.

But I promised myself, that if I did this, I wasn’t going to only show the most perfect and curated moments, that have fueled so much FOMO. I would be my own Buzzfeed Try Guy. I’d experiment with brands, cuts of clothes, patterns and fabrics that had so long been taboo for the big girls. I would showcase my own version of confidence, one free from the pressure of pleasing the masses, and instead spreading what makes me feel incredible about myself, and hope that maybe I could get one person to try something new.

The internet can be a really horrible place, especially for those that do not fit into society’s clichéd norms. You have trolls, bigots, and those who believe that societal norms are rooted in something more than patriarchal bullshit, as if these constructed “norms” were natural and good.

Can I confess something? Humans fascinate me. Fascinate me as if I were an alien sociologist who can’t ask anything but why? I’m a pure ENFP- I want to know Why. Always why. Why do people write the nasty comments they do? Why did they dislike that video- did something anger them, do they think this is Pandora? Why are prejudiced people the way they are- what about another person enrages them so? Why are the benign actions of a stranger so upsetting to them? What do they think voicing their distaste is going to do?  

And because of this, I can never stop myself from reading a comment section – on a news article, a facebook post, a YouTube video. People just lay their hopes, fears, anger, bigotry out there for the world to read- the only thing locked away is the Why?

And unfortunately being a visibly plus sized blogger, in your darkest moments, those are the questions that plague you. What about me inspires such vitriol? And no matter how steeled you are against it, the insecurity will come.

Granted because I’m a baby Youtuber, I don’t get the full on hatred of the 100K plus subscriber channels… except when I collab with the previously mentioned Youtuber. Those who have been in the game have developed quite the thick skin, but no human is completely immune to vitriol.

The cause of so much ire this time? Visible belly outlines. We dared to wear clothes, that as I describe it, showed the realities of our bodies.

This may shock you, but being a plus size person, I have a belly. I even have front love handles above my belly button. It’s a genetic placement of fat I’ve had throughout the various sizes in my life. It’s long been something I’m conscious of, but not self-conscious. I have seen and experienced far too much in my life, to spend hours staring at the distribution of fat on my body, to let it stop me from anything, including trying new brands and styles.

Body con dresses are fun. They’re popular. And in the celebrity world, worn by people with professionally sculpted bodies and/or shapewear. And now the plus sized community has taken a liking to them too. And some people wear them with shapewear, some order several sizes larger, and some of us wear them by ordering our normal size, putting them on our bodies and leaving the house. Some of us even put photos of it on the internet.

I spent my entire Sophomore year of high school wearing bagging zip up sweatshirts over everything. Low rise jeans seemed to be the only cut jeans came in, aside from Mom. So every morning I would get dressed in my low rise jeans from Alloy, a tight baby tee, and throw my Nighmare Before Christmas sweatshirt over it. I was perfectly comfortable showing off my look standing around in the courtyard at lunch. But to let my classmates see what my body looked like sitting down- are you insane?

 My typical teen style

My typical teen style

It would be 90 degrees on a September day. Sitting in a classroom in a building built in the 1920’s. No air conditioning, only windows near the ceiling that vented open. But there I would be, sweating bullets in a thick hoodie so no one would see my rolls as I sat in class learning about trench warfare. I was a size 13 then, and even being that close to straight sizes couldn’t get me not to hide myself.

Now I wear tighter clothes at a size 16/18, and I couldn’t give the fainest fluck what I look like to others. And sometimes I forget that there are still those out there who will never get to that comfort level.

So there I was rocking a body con dress with my best gal, living my best carefree life, and the vultures descended. Look at these outtake photos from the minishoot we did - you can see that my visible tummy was the last thing on my mind, I was honestly way more concerned about my face. But the darkest parts of the internet are always there to remind you how sucky humans can be. And so you’ll find in the comments section those who were revolted, those instructing us how to fix this horrible blunder, or those there to tell us we can do nothing right.

I get that people will have opinions on what's "flattering." Some people do not find visible bellies "flattering." Some people believe I should only share and make posts about what the majority might find "flattering." Are you getting the idea that I don't believe in the persuing flattering? Flattering is about how others perceive what you're wearing. I don't dress for other people. Even as a blogger, I dress the way I like or in a way I'm curious about, and present it for mass consumption, as is. Not necessarily with the goal that you will want to replicate it, but the goal that it's at least being presented to you on my human form. 

I don't strive for flattering- I strive to be happy, and hope people either dig it, or move on and find something else they like from me. And if someone finds nothing to like, there should be no reason they can't move on, without trying to scorch my earth behind them.  

But you know what you’ll also find, the majority of what you'll find - the most important thing – the people I started all of this for. Those who are curious about trying something new, being daring, defying.

I’ve said this many times over the last year: I have the best comment section on the internet, even when people want to squabble about a misspeak, they end the conversation with something they liked. My comments across social media and my inboxes are filled with those who tell me they’re glad for the chance to live vicariously through my (mis)adventures, they’re inspired to try something new, or they’re just glad to see someone doing something that flies in the face of what we’ve been told is acceptable all our lives.

And so, yeah, being a visibly plus size woman on the internet can be rough, and disheartening, and downright depressing. But to those lights in the darkness, my goodness how you shine, how you make me excited for the future, and make me feel like I’m doing something right.

So thank you. Thank you to those who tune in to watch me try, to watch me find a patch of happiness in a scary world. I’m glad you get me, and I can’t wait to bring you so much more.

With love and tummy rolls,

Gabrielle