Samantha Rasmussen once had to hunt for clothes that fit her curvaceous body and her fashion sense.
Now the 26-year-old Boise native who is 5-foot-4 and wears sizes 18 (top) to 22 (bottom) regularly receives free clothes in the mail. Designers looking for inroads in the plus-sized fashion market have sought promotion from Rasmussen through her blog, Stiletto Siren.
I always give my honest opinion, said Rasmussen, who only posts photos of herself wearing the clothes she likes.
Her favorite brands include Igigi, City Chic, SWAKdesigns and Monif C. Some pay to place ads on her blog.
Plus-size fashion bloggers are mostly young women who worship the sartorial flair of Alexa Chung, Solange Knowles and Chloe Sevigny, but who are proud to wear a size in the double digits.
Im meant to be a big girl. Im happy with my body the way it is, said Rasmussen, who admits she wasnt always so self-accepting.
Plus-size women are having a moment in the spotlight. Comedians like Rebel Wilson and Melissa McCarthy are becoming stars in their own right, Adele has conquered the airwaves, and television shows like Parks and Recreation and MTVs Awkward feature plus-size characters with active love lives.
Stars a few dress sizes shy of plus-size, like Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling, have become known for their proudly curvy physiques.
FASHION SENSE NOT LIMITED BY SIZE
But the fashion world is not known for being particularly hospitable to anyone above a sample size, so plus-size bloggers have banded together to form a community of sorts.
Rasmussen started Stiletto Siren as a dieting blog in 2008. She shared what she was eating, posted photos of her food and talked about weekly weigh-ins.
It was making me feel horrible about myself, she said. I thought, I should be blogging for the curvy girls out there who are having confidence, looking cute, living life at their weight, not an imaginary weight they cannot reach.
In 2009, she started writing about fashion for women like herself. She estimates there were about 50 plus-size bloggers, and now there are more than 400.
She buys most of her clothes online because when she can find her size in local shops, it doesnt fit her esthetic.
My style is a little bit rock-and-roll and edgy, said Rasmussen, who dyed her hair pink in January. I wear something studded with a pair of pearls, or sequins with combat boots.
WEAR A BIKINI? WHY NOT?
Bethany Rutter, 23, of the London blog Arched Eyebrow, said she often hears from women who say they never thought they could wear a jumpsuit or a bikini or printed trousers before, but after seeing me wearing one, they gave it a go.
Chicago fashion blogger Gabi Gregg, who wears a size 18, posted a photo of herself wearing a bikini, which she dubbed a fat-kini. It caused such a stir that she was invited on the Today show.
The general public is not used to someone my size wearing a swimsuit publicly, she said recently.
Rasmussen heeded Greggs call for other plus-sized women to share photos of themselves in fatkinis. In a May 30 blog post, she showed off a $148 animal print fatkini by Monif C near a pool.
I will admit that this is the first year I have rocked a complete bikini, she wrote. Even when I was a fairly average-sized teenager I was always caught donning a one-piece or at the very most a tankini during the summer months, hiding my chub and my pasty white belly.
AVERAGE WOMAN WEARS DOUBLE-DIGITS
Nadia Aboulhosn, 24, is a blogger and model in New York Citys West Harlem who, at a size 10-12, has posed for American Apparel and Seventeen magazine.
Sometimes I see myself as a role model, she said. American women are size 10, 12, 14. Im very relatable. People arent used to seeing the clothes on somebody with the curves I have. If youre fashionable, youre fashionable regardless of size.
Blog posts showing outfits tend to be the most popular.
People like to see what you wear to work, out with your friends, what you wear to the gym, Rasmussen said. They want to say, I love that jacket, and go to the link and find it for themselves.
FASHIONABLE, NOT FAT-GIRL CLOTHES
Plus-size bloggers said they often bypass traditional stores like Lane Bryant, Ashley Stewart or Avenue in favor of more up-to-the-minute styles at ASOS Curve, Forever 21(PLUS) and vintage shops.
I dont shop a lot of the stores like Lane Bryant, said Chastity Garner, 32, who lives in Dallas and blogs at the Curvy Girls Guide to Style. They look like fat-girl clothes. I want to bring out the body rather than hide the body.
A previous generations rules (no horizontal stripes, bright colors, fitted shapes or bold prints) have been tossed away by these bloggers, who embrace miniskirts, jeggings, peplum tops and sheer blouses.
I tell my readers to throw the rules out the window, said Alissa Wilson, 30, who blogs at Stylish Curves from Bayside, Brooklyn. The goal is not to look smaller; the goal is to find clothes that make you look good.
One problem is that plus-sizes are often considered a transient state, a shameful stop before heading back to smaller sizes.
When you feel that your current body is temporary, why spend money dressing it well? said Ragini Nag Rao, 27, who writes for the blog A Curious Fancy from England and India. Fat women need to realize that their bodies are worth dressing well.