The Business and Beauty of "Big"

Image credit:  The 12ish Style  

Image credit: The 12ish Style 

I’m not small. I'm big. A word I have been running from my entire life. Growing up, all I wanted was to seem smaller, shorter, slighter…anything to blend in with the body types I saw on TV or in magazines. 

Before social media, traditional media was the only game in town and there was simply zero interest in showing diverse sizes or encouraging women to be happy in their own skin. Of course, media is different now. And still, sadly, headlines like “Lose Weight” or "How to Get a Flat Stomach in 30 Days” still dominate the messaging; headlines every woman has seen so many times they barely register anymore, leaving behind a general sentiment of “you are not good enough as is."

"I’m not small. I'm big. A word I have been running from my entire life."

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My journey to realizing I am in fact "good enough as is" took place fairly recently. While I've never had overly negative thoughts about my physical appearance, I always felt I wasn't invited to the party. Designers stop at a size 8 or 10. Models are a 0. Any actress over a 6 is considered plus size in Hollywood. The subtext is clear. Acknowledging that I wear a size 14 is not something I would have done four years ago. 

But when Man Repeller featured me in an article two years ago on how to dress for a body type that contrasts Leandra's, I saw positive feedback from women across the country and realized I wasn’t alone! I had always assumed a size 4 must be the average (10 years spent working in fashion in NYC will do that to a girl) and that I should try to cram myself into that ideal. But perusing the comments on the Man Repeller story, I could see there must be a whole country full of women like me who wanted to accept themselves but struggled to find a way in.

Boom. That’s when The12ishStyle was born. A place where you dont actually have to rearrange the outfit or hunt for sizes that will fit you because the work is done. Just shop! Accept yourself! Put your confidence on first!

With the average woman in this country wearing a size 16 (turns out it’s not a 4, lol), it’s insane to me that the fashion industry for so long has not only ignored such a huge part of the population, but in doing so, deemed it un-chic to be average. But when Ashley Graham landed the cover of the legendary Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue this past February, that all started to change. Suddenly a whole new conversation has opened up and we are looking at a multi-billion dollar and growing industry that companies are scrambling to join.

"Accept yourself! Put your confidence on first!"

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As for me, I’m thrilled to be on the forefront of this movement. Celebrating my size instead of conforming to existing ideals not only unlocked my own self acceptance but also led to the career I love so much. Of course pushing up against the status quo of any industry isn’t easy or all that comfortable. You might get laughed at or even worse, you might get no response at all. But if you can find an open space and connect with an audience that no one is talking to, it’s worth it.

So many things motivate me on a daily basis. Helping women learn to accept and love themselves is at the top of the list. But so is working to change the status quo. Last year, the plus size industry, valued at $17 billion, made up about 5% of the total apparel market in the US. A glance at the numbers suggests it’s merely a niche market, but with most women in this country wearing a plus size, clearly that’s not the full story. Everyday I see a massively underserved population of women who just want to shop but lack options. As brands continue to wake up, I know this will change over time. 

In the meantime, I will be here outside of the mainstream fashion box, continuing to push the envelope. No more running from the word “big” — from here on out I embrace it.

Katie Sturino is a size 12(ish) New Yorker who believes great style can look chic at any size. She started to introduce girls like her who wear sizes 12-18 to fashion forward brands across extended and plus sizes.