Jane Janeczko on
November 6, 2013
American women are now weighing in about 25 pounds heavier than they were in 1960, and since the average dress size of an American woman is a US size 14, this means that American women are buying a mix of standard size and plus-size clothes. Personally, I tend not to really pay much attention to sizes at all when shopping. Instead, I come from the try everything on school of thought. But that isn’t always an option for Elisabeth Harker.
Elisabeth Harker, 28, is an American woman living and working in Wuhan, China as an English teacher to primary school students. China, a country that is notorious for their very thin-centric beauty ideals, might not be every plus-size woman’s first choice of location to embrace their body and expand their fashion sense, but Elisabeth doesn’t let a few snide remarks stop her from loving her body. It was her move to China and her experience with tailoring clothes and being a “fat foreign girl abroad” that initially sparked her interest in fashion.
“I was actually quite vehemently not into fashion for the first 25 years or so of my life,” says Elisabeth. “I felt left out of it, I guess, so I rejected it completely. Then at some point after I moved to China, I needed a dress to wear for a function, so I went to Wuhan’s tailor street to get one custom made. Realizing that I suddenly had a clothing option that I hadn’t ever had before, and that a lot of people don’t, really sparked my interest.”
Elisabeth grew up wanting to be an actress on Broadway and found happiness halfway across the world teaching English. She has a passion for languages, literature, and most recently fashion. Credit: Elisabeth Harker
Jane: What tips would you give to plus-size women living abroad who want to expand their wardrobes and go shopping?
Elisabeth: You have to have thick skin in order to do it. You also have to know your body type very well. I know that if I go to brick-and-mortar stores here, I won’t be permitted to try anything on, so I have to be able to tell by looking at things whether or not they will fit. If you think you’re going to be here for a while, try to bring some clothes that would fit you at a size up or down from what you currently are. The diet here is different, and most people I know who have moved to China from abroad have experienced a weight change in the first couple of months. If you’re outside the size range sold in most shops, that can present a challenge if the clothes your brought suddenly stop fitting.
Jane: What would you say to plus-size women who want to travel, but are nervous about potentially being discriminated against?
Elisabeth: Don’t let your size stop you! There was a point when I was considering putting off traveling abroad until I lost weight. If I’d done that, I would have missed out on six years of some of the best experiences of my life. Understand that even if you do get a lot of comments, most of them won’t be malicious. If I go outside my house for more than a minute or two, I can count on somebody remarking on my weight, but usually it’s just an observation. There are people who are legitimately mean spirited, but no more so than there would be at home. Don’t let your reaction to the mean spirited few color your opinion of the culture, because they shouldn’t be the ones who get to represent it.
Elisabeth describes her fashion as cheerful. She likes bright colors and fun prints. Credit: Elisabeth Harker
Jane: Have you ever personally felt any size discrimination?
Elisabeth: I said before that I can tell by looking at a piece whether or not it will fit. It’s actually a very frequent occurrence for me to try and buy something at a brick and mortar shop here in Wuhan, and be told that it won’t fit me. I just say that it’s a gift for my sister, and buy it anyway. That said, I guess I also have some anxiety about ever admitting anything I buy is for myself… even when people offer to let me try things on, I usually claim that they are for my sister. I was told once during my first year in China to leave a clothing shop because nothing there would fit me, and even though that’s never happened again since, I’m overly quick with the “Don’t bother me! Shopping for my sister, who is not fat!” defense.
Jane: Has your experience abroad changed how you feel about your body?
Elisabeth: It’s made me stop trying to hide it. I’ve realized that I can’t, and that trying is a waste of energy. It’s also made me realize that I have to be happy with it, because if I am, the opinions of others matter a lot less.
Elisabeth says that her first trip back to America after three years in China was a big deal for her, since it was the first year into her major style change after years of being somebody who wore jeans and t-shirts. Her friends, family, and even some strangers took note of Elisabeth’s newly discovered interest in fashion. “There was this one day, pretty soon after I got back, where I was wearing a black dress with a puffed out skirt and a red bow around the middle, that I felt really dressed up and amazing in,” says Elisabeth. “An old lady came up to me in a parking lot, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, ‘I just wanted to tell you how beautiful you are!’ It was very surprising, very sweet, and just completely made my day.”
This glittery teal skirt is Elisabeth’s favorite piece in her wardrobe. Credit: Elisabeth Harker
If you want to dress like Elisabeth, she recommends the IGIGI Rachelle Lace Dress in Black/Rouge. She would wear it with a black lace choker and a pair of black flats, keeping the accessories simple because the dress speaks for itself.
For her future plans, Elisabeth is in the process of deciding whether to stay in China for a seventh year or move back to the United States. Elisabeth truly adores China, but part of her is ready to return home and potentially live in New York to be near to Broadway, or she may even try another country entirely.
To keep up with Elisabeth and talk to her about her experiences, you can check in with her on her blog.
Jane Janeczko on
November 5, 2013
One of the most frustrating aspects of being a plus-size woman is the unwarranted “advice” that well-intentioned friends and family members choose to grace you with. So often, people assume that if you are plus-size, you are unhealthy or that you desire to lose weight. For some reason, the idea that a woman is comfortable and confident with her body is such a foreign concept that people are genuinely confused when they hear that she is not looking to change it. Now, I know many plus-size women who are very active and take part in many different forms of athleticism. I also know many women who are not and both are fine and legitimate choices. I’m not here to tell you to work out. I do believe that there are benefits from working out, but it is a personal choice and one that no one should feel the need to make for you.
Don’t ever let your body-type stop you from pursuing something that you’re interested in, whether that’s starting a yoga class, slipping into a bikini ,or flirting with a stranger. Credit: penapple-me
Jane Janeczko on
November 4, 2013
I read literally everything.
From Austen to Cabot, from Vonnegut to Roberts, from Crichton to King.
And I am perfectly shameless about it.
I have even, on occasion, picked up the stray Romance novel to flip through (and maybe penned one of my own). So, when I received a press release about how the people over at Ellora’s Cave Publishing were expanding the bookshelves of their Romance novels to include plus-size heroines, I basically squealed with glee.
An afternoon spent reading is never a waste. Especially when it’s awesome body positive prose.
Raelene Gorlinsky, the lead publisher at Ellora’s Cave, correctly asserts that women generally picture themselves as some version of the heroines in Romance novels they read. Since 57 percent of women are now buying clothes in a size 16 or larger, it stands to reason that these women would like to read more literature that celebrates their body-type.
Plus-size women deserve to take the lead in literature just as much as they deserve that blessed protagonist spotlight in television and film. Happily, that’s slowly happening more and more – Rebel Wilson has her own sitcom for goodness sake.
Ellora’s Cave is making that happen for Romance novels.
Voluptuous is a contemporary erotic romance from Ellora’s Cave. Credit: Ellora’s Cave
Gorlinsky and the team at Ellora’s Cave are putting a special focus on plus-size heroines in their upcoming novels.
“As an erotic romance publisher, I’ve found female readers want to identify with the heroine as she finds true love—and great sex—with an incredibly desirable guy,” said Gorlinsky in her press release. “Why do women like stories about full-figured heroines? Gee, could it be because most of us are in reality much larger than size six, let alone size zero? That identification fantasy is ruined if the heroine is too different from the reader and especially if the reader’s own characteristics are disparaged in the process.”
Full Bodied Charmer is another modern era plus-size romance novel. Credit: Ellora’s Cave
Ellora’s Cave already has a special shelf devoted to “rubenesque” heroines, but they are planning to give their curvy girl heroines some extra love in the coming months. Gorlinsky and the Ellora Team chose to use the term “rubenesque” to classify their plus-size heroines because of it’s artistic 17th century origins. Painter Peter Paul Rubens often depicted women with large breasts, wide hips, and lush curves in his work, which is where the term comes from.
“This year we decided to draw more attention (and hopefully readers) to our Rubenesque writing by releasing ‘Curve Appeal,’ special stories that go out of their way to present a positive image of plus-sized heroines,” said Gorlinsky. “Our hope is that with strides like these, a full-figured (or at least realistic) heroine will start to become the rule, rather than the exception.”
According to Gorlinsky, none of the stories really make the heroine’s size a major plot point; rather, they depict women who are confident and beautiful. They just present plus-size women in a positive way, where she is judged by who she is rather than what she looks like.
For more stories with plus-size heroines, check out this helpful list of Top 10 Phattest Plus-Size Heroines put together by Kelly Faircloth of “Heroes and Hearbreakers” or check out Meg Cabot’s Heather Wells Mystery Series. Cabot just released the most recent addition to this series (book number five), “The Bride Wore Size 12,” in September.
Do you read romance novels? What types of books and other media would you like more plus-size women to be featured more prominently in? Let me know in the comments!
Jane Janeczko on
November 1, 2013
It is no easy feat to go thrifting while plus-size, but Erin Thomas, 28, of Cleveland, Ohio, has made it her life’s work. As a long time blogger and Internet queen, Erin has made her mark across social media and her incredibly gorgeous outfit posts have gone viral across the blog-o-sphere.
Currently, Erin is working as the brand manager at the newly opened Re/Dress store located at 2678 W. 14th St. in Cleveland. Even though she went to school for studio art and psychology, Erin found her true calling working in this small, local, independent plus-size boutique.
This oatmeal colored tulle dress with neon detailing is Erin’s favorite frock. Credit: Erin Thomas
Now that Re/Dress’ brick-and-mortar Cleveland location officially opened in September (!!!), Erin is busy working both as a brand manager and as a stylist.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Re/Dress, in Erin’s own words, “it was, from the years of 2008-2011, a HUGE, awesome, (most would say life-changing) plus size shop in Brooklyn, NY…” the Brooklyn store closed two years ago and Re/Dress took on a second life via the Internet, but thanks to Rachel Kacenjar and Erin, Re/Dress once again has an official location.
For her fashion, Erin says that it’s Halloween all year long for her. “You never know what I’m going to step out of my house looking like. I probably freak out my neighbors on a regular basis,” says Erin. Credit: Erin Thomas
Like many of the women IGIGI has profiled, Erin finds a lot of her fashion inspirations from other plus-size bloggers. “Had I not discovered fatshion blogs, I would have absolutely NO idea how to dress myself,” says Erin.
Erin describes her personal fashion as “very costumey,” and she is a big believer in the power of dressing up. “I think I’ve been obsessed since birth,” says Erin. “My dress up clothes collection as a kid could not be beat. Even my Barbies had thirty different outfits each. I was destined to be a clothing hoarder.”
Erin says that her moto jacket is probably her favorite piece in her wardrobe. “When I’m wearing it, I feel like a tough girl you wouldn’t want to cross, which is so the opposite of reality,” says Erin. Credit: Erin Thomas
I had a chance to ask Erin a few questions about Re/Dress, shopping, and plus-size style.
Jane: Re/Dress is really all about making a wonderful customer experience for plus-size women, but so many stores simply don’t care about their plus-size customers. Have you ever personally felt discriminated against in a store?
Erin: Yes! Without naming names, recently a large chain of very affordable fast fashion stores expanded to include plus sizes in my area. I really want to be happy about it, but they seem to only carry the most matronly pieces from the website, and the shop girls avoid the plus section like the plague. It’s like they think they’ll be fat by association or something. Shopping can be traumatic as it is; it’s even worse in a very trendy store where everything in your size is hideous and everyone is cold and willfully unhelpful to you because of the section you’re shopping in.
Jane: What advice would you give to women who are struggling to find fashion that inspires them?
Erin: Really take the time to figure out what you like, what you wish you could wear vs. what’s available to you, and the kind of image you want to project to others. Fatshion is in a great place right now. It might take some digging and researching, but there is something out there for everyone. I promise you, when you find it, the right piece of clothing will change your life.
Jane: Where do you look for sartorial inspiration?
Erin: I pay a lot of attention to what certain designers are doing, like Marc Jacobs, Rodarte, Kenzo, Meadham Kirchoff, and Rick Owens. I get a ton of inspiration from pop culture. Right now I’m going through a really big goth phase, so I’m looking to Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice, Sara Rue in Gypsy 83, Fairuza Balk in The Craft, and the current season of American Horror Story for wardrobe inspiration. Like I said, costumey.
Jane: What are your future plans?
Erin: I plan to continue working in fatshion for as long as possible. It’s my true passion in life! I hope to continue to expand my skill set and learn more about every facet of the industry. I’m one of those overachiever types who can’t just be enthusiastic about things, I have to be an expert. From personal styling to directing photoshoots to writing for various plus size magazines, I’m constantly trying new things to figure out what my niche might be.
Erin loves mixing high culture and low culture in every aspect of her life. Credit: Erin Thomas
If you want to dress like Erin, she recommends trying the IGIGI Paola Dress. “The sleeves are such a gorgeous, unexpected touch, and the shape is very vampy,” says Erin. “It reminds me of one of my fashion icons, Elvira.” Erin recommends pairing the Paola dress with a big updo, long stiletto nails, a severe cat eye, a statement belt, and some patent leather pumps.
To keep up with Erin, you can connect with her via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and her Tumblr. Plus, you can always look her up on Zero Style Blog.
Jane Janeczko on
October 31, 2013
Eden Miller made headlines as the first plus-size designer to show a plus-size only collection at New York Fashion Week in September, and now Histoire de Courbes (History of Curves), a French group devoted to celebrating curvy women, sponsored PULP, Paris’ first plus-size fashion week.
A model walks the runway at the PULP Plus Size Fashion Week. Credit: Wallace Pixmaker via PULP