5 Plus-Size Influencers Share Their Complicated Journeys to Finding Their Personal Style

Despite harsh criticism, lack of access, and struggling to find affordable options, here's how these women finally made fashion feel fun.

Plus Size Influencers Share Their Personal Style Journeys
Photo: Courtesy of Arielle Estoria

Personal style. You've likely heard the term before, but it can still be difficult to define what, exactly, it means. Essentially, it's a form of self-expression — specific items and aesthetics that feel somewhat unique to the people wearing them. Usually, it's during our teen years and early 20s that we work to discover who we are along with how we like to dress. Trying on new personalities and finding clothes to complement them is half the fun of growing up.

Unless, of course, you grew up fat like I did.

As a fat millennial, I feel as if fatphobia in the fashion industry stopped my teenage self from developing a sense of personal style. I was well into my 20s when I finally felt like there were enough clothing options available in my size, which allowed me to experiment and explore, just like my straight-sized peers had been doing all along.

It's unfortunately not a rare experience, and influencer Maia Douglas can relate. While her plus-sized outfits are now a source of inspiration for her 190k Tiktok followers, the North Carolina native is also candid about growing up with a larger body and larger breasts (Douglas wears a 42G). She says she internalized many of the harshest criticisms we receive about our bodies, which initially stopped her from wearing what things she loved.

"I truly hated the body I was in because I was consistently and openly punished for it," she tells me. "Not the best way to start a relationship with your body as a young girl."

Plus Size Influencers Share Their Personal Style Journeys
Courtesy of Maia Douglas

These days, however, Douglas is quick to put haters back in their place. Aside from wearing what makes her happy, openly sharing her love of fashion and styling tips has turned her into a role model for others.

"When people see me wearing what I do, it disrupts what they believe to be true in the world. It gives other fat girls the ability to grant themselves permission to do the same."

Stylist Kat Eves tells me that for her, growing up fat meant having to DIY her clothing, otherwise, she wouldn't be able to wear what she wanted.

"I was finding that the personal style that I envisioned in my head was out of reach because of my size," she says. The fashion pro survived on hand-me-downs from a neighbor, which she would then alter to fit her better. The move likely influenced Eves' career path, and even today, she continues to search for great sustainable fashion — despite the fact that options are few and far between for fat bodies.

Plus Size Influencers Share Their Personal Style Journeys
Courtesy of Kat Eves

"The brands I gravitate towards share my values for ethical and sustainable fashion," Eves says. She lists indie designers like Rat Boi, Vinnik, and Mara Hoffman as essential parts of her look, which she describes as a combination of "playful colors and patterns, classic vintage structures, confident comfort, and a little edge."

Although fashion is often associated with frivolity, the truth is, self-expression is a crucial part of development. Having missed out on freely playing with clothing during adolescence, many fat people may spend their adult years trying to make up for it — something else that can influence personal style and the way we choose to dress.

Fashion and beauty content creator Jeanette Burchfield is the perfect example. A self-proclaimed "flirty maximalist," her whimsical, feminine, vibrant style is more than just taste. Burchfield's current wardrobe is full of brands like Modcloth, Megan Crosby, and Glimmerwood, and the playful pieces also act as a way to honor her younger self.

"I missed out tremendously," she admits, speaking about her style growing up. "Now, presently, I wear what I craved as a younger me, unapologetically."

Plus Size Influencers Share Their Personal Style Journeys
Courtesy of Jeanette Burchfield

Author and Poet Arielle Estoria says it was her religious upbringing combined with her size that once made it difficult to feel comfortable in clothing. These days, she leans into the idea that ownership of your image, at any age, is incredibly important.

"What we wear — or don't — has to do with how we're physically showing up in our bodies," she says. On her Instagram, the speaker and actress is frequently photographed wearing breezy dresses and athleisure outfits, which have become key parts of her aesthetic. She credits Free People (which does not make plus sizes, BTW — #extendyoursizingfreepeople), Zelie for She, and Australian-based label Lullaby Club for her joyful look.

Yet, despite the fact that these women have crafted enviable outfits and nailed their signature style, fat bodies still have to go above and beyond just to dress the way we want to. Even now, the stigma continues, and the lack of access, affordability, and the complete inability of retailers to offer in-store options make it hard to keep up with trends or find specific pieces. Personally, it wasn't until I had more money that I truly felt like my wardrobe matched the image I had of myself in my head — and that's not fair.

People may have strong opinions on fast fashion, but Douglas tells me she relies on budget-friendly, size-inclusive brands like Princess Polly to develop her ever-changing look, allowing her to go from "bold colors and prints" to "monochromatic black outfits." However, indie favorites like WrayNYC have also made it on Douglas' radar, balancing out her closet.

Veteran plus-size fashion blogger and founder of plus-size social club New York City Plus, Sarah Chiwaya, also approves of utilizing the full range of the fashion spectrum. She, too, says her look varies depending on her mood, and instead of sticking to just one way of dressing, has a go-to list of brands and stores that she relies on when shopping.

Plus Size Influencers Share Their Personal Style Journeys
Courtesy of Sarah Chiwaya

"I dress for how I feel on any given day, but some consistent faves are Baacal, Rachel Antonoff, Samantha Pleet, Tamara Malas, Eloquii, Nordstrom's BP. label, and Target's Wild Fable," she tells me when speaking about her personal style. Although Chiwaya initially kicked off her career years ago by posting #fatshion OOTDs on Tumblr, she adds that she regrets ever allowing outdated rules to stop her from indulging in her love of fashion.

"Society was telling me I shouldn't, and couldn't, really participate in fashion, and for a long time, I just accepted that. I mourn all the cute looks I could have worn."

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