Making Size Matter

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Making Size Matter
Nikita Phulwani

Three bloggers talk about the challenges and the road ahead for body positive fashion in the region

By Anamika Chatterjee

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Published: Thu 12 Jan 2017, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Sun 15 Jan 2017, 10:22 AM

Weightloss was once a lifestyle choice. Today, it is a religion in itself. In the race to become thinner-than-thou, what happens to the fashionistas hidden in relatively robust frames? At a time when plus-size fashion is making its way to the popular imagination, a group of bloggers in the UAE are slowly and silently marking their presence in the region's fashion milieu. What are the perks? And what are the perils? Three bloggers tell us the story.
Nikita Phulwani
"You might be big, but you dress well for your size." Imagine growing up hearing something as ambiguous as this. You would either interpret these words as a reminder of your robust frame or a validation of the fashionista inside you. Twenty-four-year-old Nikita Phulwani did the latter.
Having played agony aunt to friends - even the 'non-plus size ones' - on how to get the perfect party and festive looks, Nikita realised her styling tips could be useful to an audience outside her peer group as well. And that's when was born. A blog that began as a peek into all things lifestyle soon became a space where every single look of Nikita's was carefully documented with detailed notes on how a plus size woman could achieve them. Neither high-end nor boho chic, the outfits have a formal-yet-contemporary look that makes them a hit among Nikita's audience. "I realise half the fashion bloggers who are blogging are super skinny; they get to wear the trendiest of clothes. For the plus size women, the choices are often limited. As a blogger, I tell them the kind of looks that would suit them."
Variety, argues Nikita, is the first casualty of a lack of imagination brands have when it comes to designing clothes for plus size women. The problems are manifold - either they are simply bigger versions of those that are meant for the skinnier woman or the range is simply limited. "Most brands do not account for bigger sizes. It could just be a fabric or a design. For instance, if I see a skinny girl wearing velvet, I am not likely to find it anywhere in the plus-size section," she says, admitting her go-to brand is ASOS' Curve section, although River Island and New Look offer just as much in terms of variety.
Her fashion philosophy is simple - focus on your strengths and hide the vulnerable parts. "I get the concept of embracing one's body. But the sight of a robust person wearing cut sleeves while the cellulite hangs isn't very stylish, is it? The whole point is to work as per your body type. So if your upper body is heavy but you have thinner legs, wear something where you can flaunt them," she advises. An avid foodie, Nikita is not apologetic about her choices - she loves her Greek food as much as she loves the Italian fare. However, on her blog, she is careful about the message she sends out to her readers. "Promoting plus-size fashion does not imply that one is encouraged to be fat. I make a case for being healthy. If you are a size 16, you might be borderline plus-size, but does that make you unhealthy? Similarly, you cannot claim to be healthy if you are a size zero. It's all about drawing that fine line," she argues.
Though body shaming is common for plus-size women, Nikita insists that dressing up is the best revenge. "As a plus size woman, you may have to put in extra effort to dress up. But why shouldn't you?"
With fashion runways and blogs making room for conversations on plus-size fashion, one wonders if the mindset is changing. Nikita is fairly sceptical, though she agrees a beginning has been made. "Today, a prestigious platform like the Lakme India Fashion Week is conducting auditions for plus-size models. Someone like Ashley Graham (a lingerie model for the plus size brand Lane Bryant) features in premium publications such as Vogue. I think we still have a long way to go, but this is definitely a step in the right direction." Amen to that!

Hanane Fathallah
In 2008, when Hanane Fathallah set out to find that perfect dress for her wedding in Lebanon, she was shocked - and heartbroken - to discover that almost none of the 'mainstream' brands had dresses her size. Though she ended up losing weight to fit into a dress that was borderline plus-size, the incident was a wake-up call to her 'mission' in life - to spread awareness about plus-size fashion.
After her wedding, Hanane moved to Saudi Arabia and started blogging on plus-size fashion. At that time, the traffic coming to her blog was mostly from the US. With plus-size fashion being a talking point there, she found herself connecting with some of America's top plus-size bloggers and started her own platform called (her nickname is Nounzi).

When she finally moved to the UAE a year ago, thirty three-year-old Hanane saw a rise in her local following, and that's when the big ticket idea came to her - the Middle East Plus Size Fashion Bloggers. Though the community is just two-months-old, Hanane wants to use it to break stereotypes about Arab women. "I want to endorse the idea of a confident and stylish Middle Eastern woman. This is why I have reached out to plus-size bloggers from different parts of the region and got them to be part of this community."
Mother of a special needs child, Hanane has always been fascinated by plus size role models. Two years ago, when she was based in Saudi Arabia, she flew down to Dubai especially to meet her role model, Denise Bidot, one of the first plus-size models to have walked for the New York Fashion Week.
As with most fashion bloggers, brands looking to endorse their plus-size line approach Hanane for exposure on her blog and social media platforms. But her vote of confidence primarily goes to those that specifically design clothes for plus-size women. "Their campaigning seems more genuine, which gives an impression that they are perhaps more invested in plus-size clothing. With mainstream brands, you feel as if plus-size is a bit forgotten. Even when they host fashion shows, the focus is on the standard range." Online shopping, however, may have opened new avenues. "When there are a lack of choices or when plus-size women are looking for a specific style, online shopping is the way to go. Many European and US-based brands heed to plus-size women's need for modern, stylish and form-fitting clothes. Brands like Eloquii, Fashion to Figure, Ashley Stewart, Yours, ASOS and Simply Be come highly recommended. At least, there is something for everyone."
To make her blog more accessible to her followers, Hanane has also created an exhaustive shopping guide where she has offers details on plus-size brands, their location and social media presence, an exercise that has proved to be largely fruitful for her readers. Does that imply the plus-size fashion is taking off anytime soon in the Middle East? Hanane feels it's a phenomenon that needs more visibility. "Everybody knows it's there, but no one talks about it. Very rarely do we get featured in mainstream publications. Until that changes, we cannot hope for anything."

LuAnne D'souza
When a cousin of hers decided to tie the knot a couple of years ago, she asked LuAnne D'souza to be her bridesmaid. As an excited LuAnne began a hunt for the perfect outfit, some otherwise 'well-intentioned' relatives began to discourage her. "They did not like the idea of a fat bridesmaid," she remembers. That was then.
Today, thirty-year-old LuAnne has carved a niche for herself with Weesha's World, her blog in which she documents every trend in the world of plus-size fashion. One of the early entrants in the world of plus-size blogging, LuAnne, like Hanane, found her niche initially not in the Middle East, but the US. "I started blogging about six years ago, but it was more like a personal diary. Then one day, while watching television, I saw a feature on rock and roll singer Steven Tyler's daughter Mia, who is a plus-size model. While looking her up on Google, I came across several blogs on plus-size fashion," she recalls.
LuAnne connected with several of these influencers and became a part of the community at a time when plus-size blogging was unheard of in this part of the world. "The kind of comments I would get appreciating my style truly encouraged me and built my confidence. Part of the reason why people started plus-size blogging was because one could never see women like us anywhere - not on television, not on magazines, nowhere. Blogging, for us, was all about representation," she says.
Today, her soaring popularity has ensured that brands knock her doors to promote their plus-size range. Recently, River Island approached her to wear some of the outfits in their plus-size line so that she could talk about them on her blog as well as on social media channels; she also does sponsored posts for some brands. "I am not consciously looking to create a niche. I want my blog to be a source of income as well," she says.
A well-known name in the plus-size blogging circle, LuAnne attributes the lack of trendy clothing options for plus-size women not just to a general lack of imagination and creativity. "It's a matter of being more inclusive. Brands like ASOS and River Island expanded their range and have sizes up to 26-28. Some of them even have wide fit shoes. What stops others from doing so?" Even as she ponders on these lines, LuAnne is fully aware of the fact that plus-size clothing will remain a niche segment. "Nobody looks at a fat model and says, 'I want to be fat like her.' But when mid-range brands come up with a plus-size line, they end up catering to more women. It makes perfect business sense for them as well. Otherwise, what are robust women actually supposed to wear? Do they not have a right to dress up like everyone else and feel good about themselves?"
Being an 'influencer' doesn't mean LuAnne is not nudged once in a while to lose weight by her near and dear ones. "In our culture, you are not allowed to be fat. In that sense, I am quite bad*** because I wear anything that I want." Apart from her impeccable sense of styling, it is this candour that has made her popular among her readers.

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