If you care about plus size representation in lingerie, this interview is for you.
Holly of The Full Figured Chest is a powerhouse blogger, not to mention industry expert (she's responsible for a lot of the brand copy you read). And over the last few weeks, she has written a series of articles for her plus size lingerie column at The Lingerie Addict absolutely killing it. From dissecting Lane Bryant's "I'm No Angel" campaign to taking on the #droptheplus movement, Holly holds nothing back.
But her most powerful work comes in the most thought-provoking pieces wrought of her own education and industry experience: articles such as "Should Lingerie Companies Charge the Same for Standard and Plus Sizes?" and "Plus Size Customers are Not All Alike: Sizing and Grading Issues in the Lingerie Industry."
Today, Holly is sharing her expertise and experience with the Bluestockings community. I learned so much from this interview, and I hope you do, too.
Tell us about yourself and your background.
I was raised outside Philadelphia and moved to the south about five years ago. I’ve been in New Orleans for about a year now and have fallen head over heels for the city. I started out working as a grant writer, which is a great background for copywriting. No one wants to give you money for anything in grant writing! I worked from home as a copywriter, both with private clients and with ad agencies. I’ve always been interested in lingerie, so I eventually built up enough clients to rebrand as a business that served the lingerie industry 100%. I was lucky enough to get my gig writing for The Lingerie Addict at the same time, so it seemed like fate.
What brought you to the lingerie industry? What kinds of "hats" have you worn professionally during your time here?
I currently work as a consultant, copywriter, SEO and columnist. Most days I don’t know which hat I’m wearing! Like most full busted/full figured women, I got into lingerie because none of my bras fit. What I found was beyond fit - it was a whole world of lingerie that made me feel pretty and helped me love my body. I think working in the lingerie industry can seem shallow to some people, but lingerie can change how someone thinks of themselves in a profound way. My best clients are people who get that and respect that responsibility.
Lane Bryant's "I'm No Angel" Campaign (via Lane Bryant)
You are probably best known to blog readers for your expertise in plus size lingerie. What are the most common issues you hear from people when talking about plus size underthings? What advice do you give in response to these concerns?
Plus size lingerie has gotten a huge spotlight shone on it lately. It’s a tricky subject because it involves fashion, sex, activism and access. I hear from both brands and consumers: the questions and concerns on both sides are different. Some brands want to use bigger models or models who aren’t hourglass shaped, but are afraid that retailers won’t pick up their line if they stick with their convictions. Consumers mostly just want to be seen - they don’t understand why plus size lingerie models have become popular but still don’t represent them in any meaningful way. Retailers are the middleman and they aren’t adventurous in the current economic climate. I actually think most brands (especially indie brands) and customers are closer to the same page then you’d think from the current conversations: it’s nervous retailers who are holding things back most of the time.
What are some misconceptions about plus size lingerie you would love to have the power to get rid of? (e.g. from customers' minds, retailers' minds, manufacturers' minds)
That not all plus size customers want the same thing. I tend to see plus size lingerie that is either basic or full on burlesque, without many options in between. Plus size customers, like any other market segment, want lingerie that reflects their taste and personal style. This means stocking a range of styles so there is choice. Unfortunately, this is so complicated that most retailers end up relying on the basics like beige bras and shapewear because they seem safe.
Model Tess Holliday, founder of the #effyourbeautystandards movement (via IG: @tessholliday)
What do you see as the most pressing issues facing the lingerie industry today?
I’m probably going to get in trouble for saying this, but I think the demand for body positivity and rapid size expansion has made things really complicated and difficult. Specialization is a good thing in the lingerie industry: this idea that every brand has to understand every body type and produce lingerie for it is unrealistic and impossible on a financial level. When a brand chooses to specialize, it’s seen as a negative. Do you really want a brand to produce your size if the products aren’t any good? I don’t. Brands are so scared of the pushback if they try body positivity and it doesn’t go over well (like Lane Bryant recently) that it’s easier to just not try it at all. We need to support lingerie brands that are trying to genuinely embrace body positivity - it’s expensive, unpopular and makes dealing with retailers more difficult. We also need to stop being afraid of brands finding what they’re good at and sticking with it. If brands know that they can make a living from a specialist customer base, they’ll be much more willing to produce products for them.
You recently wrote an (incredible) article for The Lingerie Addict about the "dark side" of the body positivity movement, in which you spoke about putting pictures of yourself online being almost a political action. Can you say more about fat acceptance, "acceptable" fatness, and/or body positivity in the realm of lingerie blogging?
I am a size 14 who was formerly a size 6. Chronic fatigue syndrome and years of medication put weight on me that hasn’t come off, but I’m honestly okay with it. I don’t think being fat is awful - I think the way people deal with fat people makes it awful. We live in a society where fat people are kind of like health terrorists. The “war on obesity” and other popular narratives have functionally criminalized being heavier as society gets larger and larger, to the point where we’re now simultaneously trying to market to and root out the most common size range in the US. This whole thing works because the goal is to make plus size people (and plus size women in particular) ashamed of themselves. It creates a lack of visibility which leads to a lack of agency: why demand things you don’t feel like you deserve?
Body positivity has become required to operate a lingerie blog these days, but lots of it isn’t genuine. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve seen “body positive” bloggers talking about plus size lingerie in negative ways or plus size bodies in destructive ways. I don’t even know if they mean to do it or even if they see it when they do. It’s so ingrained in society that it’s easy to have that stuff come out by accident, even if you have good intentions.
In my own life, I’ve found that fat is a dirty word. It’s easy to judge something you don’t see or hear about. I got a lot of pushback in my article on #droptheplus where I talked about how I refer to myself as fat in public - to me, fat is like petite or tall or any other basic descriptor. Putting plus size bodies front in center and talking about them like any other body type is essential to fixing things. The idea of health and access to things like lingerie have become so conflated that it’s hard to separate them. The state of your health shouldn’t dictate access to things like fashion and lingerie. That would be like saying that someone with a heart condition or a missing limb shouldn’t be able to buy a bra - it’s just silly.
Who are some of your must read lingerie and fashion blogs?
I write for The Lingerie Addict once a week and I still read it everyday. I always learn things there. I love Sweet Nothings NYC for her personal writing voice. She feels like an old friend, despite the fact that the blog is written under a pen-name. I honestly don’t read many lingerie blogs these days because I feel like there’s a lot of dishonesty going on in how they’re presented.
Daphne Black Lace Ballet Robe by RavenDreams (via RavenDreams)
Who are some of your go-to lingerie and swimwear brands?
RavenDreams on Etsy doesn’t get a ton of press, but they’re one of the few brands who are doing everything completely right when it comes to the luxury side of plus size lingerie. One of my goals this year is to stock up on more of their custom pieces. On the less pricey side, I’ve been liking Tia Lyn for nightwear. Like everyone, I wear a ton of bras from big brands like Elomi and Panache. I wish I had a better source for more interesting bras - I’d be willing to pay more for bras that I loved more.
I say this on social media a lot, but it bears repeating: most of the interesting lingerie for plus sizes these days is coming out of small designers who are doing some revolutionary things. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help women who can’t afford these kinds of pieces or those who don’t want to take the time to research and deal with custom designs.
Note for our readers: Bluestockings will have both RavenDreams and Tia Lyn for our Grand Opening later this month.
Dear Kate Hazel Sport Hipster by Dear Kate (via Bluestockings)
What has your experience been like working as a plus size woman in the lingerie industry? Have you been able to broach the subject of representation and diversity in body image with your industry clients, or does that door remain closed?
I definitely don’t try to hide that I’m plus size, so I find it really interesting that some clients manage to hire me without noticing it! It can be awkward when they figure it out mid-conversation. On the flip side, some clients hire me because of it - they need that perspective as part of their consulting process, so it works out. In general though, most of the lingerie professionals I interact with represent the industry as a whole: they’re interested in catering to plus size women just enough to attract their money, but not interested in learning about what plus size women actually want or producing advertising that addresses their concerns in any real way.
I hear lots of things like, “Oh, of course we’ll hire a plus size model. She’ll be 5’11” and have a flat stomach though.” and “This piece of lingerie just doesn’t “pop” against (insert your non-white skin tone of choice here).” I’m willing to argue with clients when it’s in their best interests (seriously, ask the people who have worked with me!) but some people just aren’t willing to listen. I’ve also learned that arguing about advocacy makes people shut you out in general, which can ruin the trust and rapport for other consulting sessions or projects. It’s a fine line.
I do make a point to seek out projects that use new perspectives and have an advocacy point of view whenever possible. I’m actually doing something with India and feminism later this year that I’m really excited about, just because it’ll be a change from the usual stuff I encounter. I’m always excited to work with smaller designers who are doing stuff outside the industry standard - in fact, it’s hands down my favorite part of my job.
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