So…*phew!* THIS blog post has been absolute YEARS in the making. I must have started and deleted this post almost 80 or 90 times in the process. Why, you may ask? Well, a part of me was nervous as hell to upload in case people would take my words the wrong way. I was scared of the possibility of losing sponsorships, losing collaborations and losing key connections with people ‘in the industry’ but as someone who prides their integrity above all things, I’ve realised that I have to stay true to myself. This is my blog and I should feel comfortable in speaking my truth and saying what’s on my chest, regardless of what people may say.
This isn’t going to be a post with pretty pictures to illustrate the post. I don’t want anything to distract from what I’m about to write. Soz.
I’ve never been one to mince my words. I’m extremely outspoken, opinionated and unapologetic with it all and while there have been occasions in the past where I haven’t made things as clear as I could have due to being caught in the heat of the tweets, my opinions and thoughts about everything that goes on within the blogging world is always expressed with the best intentions and with the intentions of trying to better the community.
But what happens when said ‘community’ don’t like how ‘open’ you are in what you say? Where do you go from there? One of the most frequent compliments I tend to get is about how bold/outspoken I am about being plus size, unfairness within the community when it comes to race and body shape, racism and other things of that nature, and I get so many lovely compliments from peers within the blogosphere too, but sometimes it doesn’t always translate well.
I am a plus size style blogger/influencer. However I am also a speaker, freelance writer and somewhat of an *activist* (for lack of a better word) on the topics of plus size issues, race and all things intersectional. I have to have opinions and while I am aware that some bloggers may feel that they cannot speak on public issues due to the fear of tarnishing their ‘brand’ or for fear of brands not working with them – I cannot, and refuse to stay quiet on issues that relate to, and affect myself and people who look like me.
On the face of it, this sounds like a good thing, right? Well one thing to take into account if you want to be an influencer to wants to try to incite change and do some kind of good in the world, is to expect fellow peers and brands to jump ship as soon as you hop aboard the ‘woke’ train.
I’ve been very lucky and fortunate to be able to work with loads of companies who understand my ‘brand’; who know that I am someone who talks about a variety of different issues in order to help others and help the community at large. We’re living in a climate now where brands and individuals alike are trying to be as woke as possible and I think it’s such an amazing thing for brands to work with influencers who can help spread the message of equality/feminism/body positivity/LGBTQIA because, at the end of the day, WE ALL JUST WANNA LIVE TOGETHER PEACEFULLY AND EQUALLY IN HARMONY AMIRITE?
But to navigate through whichever influencer community you are a part of while also wanting to stimulate change can come at a cost. I used to work with a very well known plus size brand a few years ago and to this day, I’m still incredibly hurt and disappointed in the way in which I was treated by them due to my views. They released a campaign a couple of years ago that many thought wasn’t that good in regards to ethnic and body diversity and in response, a few influencers – myself included – piped up. The tweets made online news publications and from then on, I stopped receiving communication from them.
In my head I assumed all of us who had created tweets had been blacklisted, however months later I found out that the same influencers were still working with The Brand and had been invited to a catwalk event that I was supposed to initially be apart of, however when The Brand realised that a 3rd party PR had invited me, they told the PR company to email me and disinvite me ‘due to run-ins with the brand’ (whatever that means!).
This, coupled with The Brand taking multiple screenshots of my snap messages on Snapchat and then ignoring me when I enquired as to why; using my images without permission on their social media, listening to poisonous gossip from other people and making their mind up about me without asking me first, to even me being falsely accused of meddling/hacking(?!) into their social media accounts and unfollowing people by others within the community and upon me confronting the Brand on this horrible situation, was told that it’s ‘none of their business’. When I asked them to state publicly that I had done nothing of the sort in order to clear my name and to stop the torrents of subtweeting and abuse, my email was read and ignored.
This, along with other incidents,cemented the fact that with some brands, when paying you to work with them, they are also expecting to pay for your silence, even if they have done something wrong.
I recently started working with The Brand again (via a third party PR agency), that was until a recent collaboration was announced that I thought was odd, yet pretty cool as I’ve been a huge fan of the collaborator. I voiced this on twitter and lo and behold, received an email a couple of days later stating that The Brand would no longer like to work with me.
What really hurt me about this situation was that I was never the only one making comments about the issues this Brand were involved in, but I was always the only one – who happened to be black – to be blacklisted. This brand are not known for being diverse, and only tend to use ethnic women as tokens. For anyone wanting to work with brands (especially if you’re an influencer of colour), I would highly suggest that you have a look at their campaigns and social media and see just how ‘woke’ and diverse they really are.
The situation above really opened my eyes to the industry as a whole, and it really honed into me that there are brands and peers who really don’t like to work with others who express themselves in such an unapologetic and outspoken way. What I gauged from the Brand is that it is okay to be direct and unapologetic, and to call out brands about their wrongdoing If you’re white (as they have recently celebrated and congratulated someone for doing this), but if you’re black, absolutely not. You’re a problem. You’re aggressive.
By NO means am I out here trying to tarnish brands all willy nilly and under different circumstances, I would never have talked about it so openly, but the sheer unprofessionalism and targeting in the situation above is something that has hurt and affected me deeply over the past 2-3 years, and I will never be working with them in any capacity again.
There will be people who will tell you not to be so loud. There will be people who will assume that your opinions are negatively affecting them (although in this case, that isn’t on you – if they feel affected by something you’ve said, maybe they need to check themselves/privilege), there will be brands who may expect you to simply be a coat hanger, and to have no opinion or thought on anything that’s going on in the world.
Navigating the community as a larger plus sized black woman is difficult to say the least and I think a lot of my peers in this space can definitely relate. It’s difficult to sometimes speak your mind for fear of being called aggressive, or angry. It’s difficult to speak up and demand to be paid equal to your white counterparts (we still don’t with a lot of brands), to be used in campaigns, or to just be visible in a space that praises and sees white, cis, hourglass shaped small fats with high cheekbones as the ‘plus size ideal’.
Peers and brands alike can sometimes assume that because we are unapologetic in the way in which we express ourselves, that we aren’t capable of having feelings. Or that we don’t feel hurt, or feel targeted and excluded. We are labelled as ‘aggressive’ and then treated horribly and are expected to just put up with it and it’s something I’m refusing to stand for anymore.
Being black and plus size in this industry means that you’re sometimes treated way different from others, even if the people treating you differently do not want to admit it. You’re treated a bit harsher, often used as a one off token, cut off a lot quicker and are treated as disposable. You will be labelled ‘difficult’ for standing up in what you believe in and asking for equality in campaigns and because you have that label attached to you, people assume you are incapable of feeling, or hurting.
It’s hard to call out brands you like for doing something wrong, but you have to do it. My motto has always been ‘everybody can get it’ which means, no one is above criticism if it means doing something that’s right, and if me being unapologetic in my activism makes me ‘aggressive’ or ‘difficult’, then I guess that’s what I’ll be, and you will have to deal with it because I will never change for anyone.