Ten years ago, my inbox was regularly full of alerts from fat fashion influencers on sites like WordPress, Blogger and Tumblr. Nearly every day I’d be notified that one of the many bloggers I followed had published something new. Excitement would instantly bubble and my mind would soar in anticipation. Would it be a long-form essay on someone’s trials with a fatphobic cervical exam nurse? Would there be a fresh outfit shoot accompanied by musings on self-expression? Would it be someone sharing a fat woman affirmation? I loved seeing fat babes reclaiming the "whale" insult by circulating that meme reading: "Look at me. I’m majestic AF." Maybe it would be an announcement of a new plus-size blogger and brand collab (which were fairly new and rare at the time, and almost always worth celebrating).
It’s easy to look back on the mid-'00s through the early ‘10s as the good old days. Blogs were full of comments and engagement, Instagram was brand-new and felt like a digital community centre, and tons of fat babes were basically growing up together. We grew stronger through each other – a collective awakening of sorts – even if our interactions were exclusively web-based.
That moment in time was undeniably different from the 2020s. Today, blogs are in the extinction zone; Instagram pushes ads and sponsored content over anything independently created; social media is rampant with censorship issues, including the shadow-banning of marginalised creators; and fat fashion content, like most content, has been funnelled toward algorithm-driven videos as opposed to inspiring imagery and long-form dialogue.
As these shifts persist, the world of the plus-size fashion influencer continues to diminish. Or perhaps it’s just evolving, in the way all things do. As someone who found strength and self-love in the plus-size communities of days past, during a time when creators seemed more able to share themselves freely, I worry whether new generations of plus-size babes can find corners of the web where fatshion and fat acceptance truly intersect.
For plus-size creator Ratnadevi Manokaran, the launch of Instagram in 2010 was a way to connect to the global fatosphere. "There was a growing understanding [of the ways fatphobia had hurt us all] and a sense of togetherness. It was as if we were all learning from one another, about something we had all just come upon," she says. That’s certainly how it felt for me. Through Instagram, I could inundate my life with photos of fellow fat babes wearing whatever they wanted, writing and speaking honestly about weight stigma, reclaiming their sexualities, and so much more – all of which showed me it was possible to live differently (more boldly and freely) IRL.
Before Instagram, there were also LiveJournal and Tumblr communities. Creator Ragini Nag Rao is a longstanding plus-size blogger and her page, A Curious Fancy (which is also one of the few remaining OG blogs, featuring a more traditional long-form style combined with high-quality photographs), dates back to 2010. Her involvement in the fat fashion community began a few years prior to that, through the LiveJournals of Lesley Kinzel’s "Fatshionista", Marianne Kirby’s "The Rotund" and Kate Harding’s "Shapely Prose".
Through sites and communities such as these, many of us also got our first taste of fat liberation, alongside fatshion. "At the time, discussions around fat fashion and fat acceptance were a lot more seamless," says Nag Rao. "I remember some dissent from people who were just there for the fashion and didn’t care much for fat acceptance. But back then the divide between fat politics and fat fashion was quite narrow."
I was introduced to a web forum that was specifically for the fat community. Slowly, people migrated to Facebook, Tumblr and eventually Instagram — and after that, the forum didn't seem to be as necessary to people anymore.
SHawna farmer, chubby cartwheels
Shawna Farmer, the founder and designer behind independent plus-size brand Chubby Cartwheels, remembers engaging with fat acceptance communities – fat fashion included – in 2005, or the Myspace days. "I remember starting a group on Myspace for plus-size women I was friends with, to post photos so we could cheer each other on and have a little bit of community. Not long after that, I was introduced to a web forum that was specifically for the fat community. Slowly, people migrated to Facebook, Tumblr and eventually Instagram — and after that, the forum didn't seem to be as necessary to people anymore."
It is undeniable that many of the platforms that millennial-aged fats of the internet once used for fatshion chats have either disappeared (like LiveJournal) or slowly become unrecognisable (see: Instagram). Corissa Enneking, another longtime plus-size creator, notes that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Instead of long-form content and articles, we’re seeing more "short-form content that requires creators to engage faster and more intensely", she says. This shift isn’t for everyone, of course, but it’s certainly for some.
"As plus-size people have gained more reliable access to clothing, I think their desire to focus on fashion has shifted, which seems like a natural progression," she adds. "When your needs are met, like you can find clothing in your size, you can think more critically about other things and I think we’re seeing that shift in a big way. People are being more considerate of their consumption and focusing the energy they once used on seeking clothing options to other areas of marginalisation." This isn’t to say the plus-size offerings out there are perfect but they’re far better than they were a decade or two ago.
There are many other areas of fat acceptance also worthy of focus. As Nag Rao says: "The real lives of fat people are much the same [as they were 10 years ago]. We have better clothes and slightly more positive representation in the media for people on the smaller end of fat but we continue to face systemic discrimination in healthcare, employment and within society at large."
It’s difficult not to draw connections between Instagram’s evolution towards digital marketplace rather than community and the harder-to-find plus-size blogosphere as we once knew it. There was a time when the world of plus-size fashion felt like a community for so many people but that quickly becomes diminutive when every other post you’re seeing is trying to sell you something.
A few years ago, New York Times writer John Herrman wrote that the shift toward TikTok came after sites like Instagram started prioritising algorithmic recommendations over engagement with followers, describing it as hard to watch. "[TikTok] can be charming. It can be very, very funny. It is frequently, in the language widely applied outside the platform, from people on other platforms, extremely 'cringe.'" In that cringey-ness, though, maybe some people began to suspect that TikTok might be more "real" than its predecessors had become.
Though terms like "authenticity" remain quite difficult to define, the unshakeable, seemingly universal desire for this mystical trait is alive and well in contemporary audiences, as it was for millennials when they first started stumbling upon blogs. It’s why the app BeReal, which prompts users to share both front and back camera photos at a specific time each day, has soared in popularity over the last few months. Guardian writer Laurie Clarke suggests that "this is supposed to ensure that users snap a picture of whatever they’re doing at the time – no matter how unglamorous – paired with a selfie – no matter how unkempt – to promote a way of relating more authentically to friends online."
In terms of the plus-size fashion world, there is undoubtedly a new generation of plus-size creators who care deeply about remaining authentic and preserving the links between fashion, expression and fat acceptance at large. Regarding TikTok, Farmer tells us: "I have never seen so many fun, outgoing, unapologetic and completely fabulous fatties living their best lives as I have seen on TikTok. The younger generations of fat influencers/fat babes are killing it and it makes me proud to see them getting to be authentically themselves."
And against all odds, there are creators out there, such as Nag Rao, who continue to create fat fashion content on platforms the ‘20s has deemed extinct. "Honestly, as apps keep pushing us towards videos even more, I think it’s all the more important to have my own personal space like my blog where I can post what I want and how I want it," she says. There’s nothing more authentic than that.