Just 36 percent of grade-six Canadian girls consider themselves confident. By grade 10, that number drops to 14 percent, according to a Public Health Agency of Canada report. Yes, we now live in a world where plus-size models like Ashley Graham can appear in Vogue. But the pleasingly proportionate, plump-lipped size-14 model still represents many archaic beauty standards: an hourglass figure, no bulging belly, a conventionally pretty face and big breasts. So what of the pear-shaped ladies who don’t fit the Kardashian-model for socially-acceptable curves? FLARE interviewed three diverse women in the fashion industry who challenge these traditional beauty standards to ask about their personal experiences with body discrimination. First up: Calgary-based fashion and lifestyle blogger Inemesit Etokudo.
FLARE reached out to the 24-year-old Nigerian-born, Calgary-based fashion blogger after she took to Snapchat (see above) to express her anger over the lack of diverse representation at a Calgary blogger meet-up. Etokudo is a logistics scheduler for an energy transportation company by day and runs her own eponymous fashion and lifestyle blog by night. She’s been blogging for a little over two years, but, she says, it hasn’t been an easy road. She struggled with body-image issues growing up and it remains an ongoing struggle in the face of her online haters’ wrath. But it isn’t the trolls that get under her skin—instead, it’s the negative comments from her peers in the plus-size fashion community that hurt the most. When Etokudo began promoting a healthy lifestyle on her blog last summer, some body-positive bloggers told her she couldn’t possibly be proud of her figure if she was trying to change it. Etokudo admits she once allowed these comments to affect the way she expressed herself online but she has since decided she is going to fully embrace who she is and work towards implementing change instead.
Read our full Q&A with Etokudo below to learn how she overcame body image issues, dealt with hate comments from fellow plus-size bloggers and how she’s using her platform to change the way young women view the fashion industry.
What inspired you to start a fashion blog?
It came a lot out of my university experience. I went through the awkward teenage years we all went through and my self-esteem and body image issues were pretty low going into university. But then, after getting there and seeing the diversity on campus and seeing people not afraid to be who they are, I really took that as an opportunity to express myself through fashion. I’ve always loved fashion but I was always too shy, or I didn’t know that options existed for plus-size people at that point. So, in university, I did some research and found some cool brands and went from there.
What are your favourite brands?
Addition Elle—it was the first brand that I fell in love with and they’ve been producing plus-size clothing for Canadian women for such a long time. [Note: Etokudo has worked with Addition Elle to promote their activewear line.] ASOS Curve: they’re just so dope. New Look, which is a company based out of the UK, is also amazing. I do like shopping in Europe because you’re getting pieces that no one else here will see. Forever 21 Plus is a standard for basic pieces. I’m starting to really fall in love with Fashion Nova Curve. They’re producing clothing you really can’t find anywhere else for plus-size individuals. It’s a lot of club gear and body cons—the stuff that most retailers are scared to make for us.
Why do you think most retailers are scared to make this type of clothing?
Because of outdated beauty ideals. They [retailers] think because we, as plus-size consumers, don’t have flat stomachs or smooth backs, we won’t want to purchase clothing that accentuates these so-called “flaws.” Instead, some plus-size retailers still produce clothing to help us look “slimmer” as opposed to clothing that makes us feel good, playing into this toxic notion that plus-size bodies shouldn’t wear certain trends. However, brands like Fashion Nova Curve not only provide curve-hugging pieces, they celebrate the fact that everybody, regardless of weight or size, has the right to access these types of designs. They are unapologetic about creating plus-size items that mirror the latest trends and create a safe space where women like myself can feel liberated enough to put on that body con mini-dress, visible belly outline and all!
What do you think 12-year-old Inemesit would say about who you are today?
Twelve-year-old Inemesit would not believe it. She was super-shy and had just moved to Canada. I would never imagine this being a thing at all. At the same time, I wish I could talk to 12-year-old Inemesit and tell her, “It’s going to suck for a while, kid, but you’re going to find your own and you’re going to grow into someone who is strong and passionate about what she does.” The struggle is real, it always is, but you’ve just got to hang in there and never forget who you are—that’s the really important part.
Why is it important for you to get this message across?
Firstly, because it’s still so fresh in my mind, the struggle I went through. Every time I went shopping for clothes, I would end up in tears. I was so uncomfortable with myself. I am really trying to target women and young girls and trying to break that stereotype before it makes it into what “normal” is for them. Another reason is the race side of it. Being a black woman here in Calgary has really opened my eyes. Calgary is not as diverse as Toronto, where I grew up. Moving here [a couple years ago], I felt unrepresented. I really try my best to work with Calgary individuals and to cultivate people of colour in Calgary because I think it’s so necessary for us to be out there and to show that we also exist, so that young women who look like us know that there’s an option out there. Finally, it’s a healing process for me. Through this blog, I found so much inner power and strength that I’m now at the point where I can throw up a picture of myself in a two-piece and not care what people say. Yes, it gets really difficult at times and the number of trolls I’ve encountered is unreal, but that’s all part of me coming into who I am and being so sure of who I am and allowing that strength to make sure that it doesn’t affect me. Every time I post something, I’m getting more and more comfortable with my body.
Have you received positive feedback from your followers?
Yeah! One of the women [I work with] has a daughter who’s seven years old and her mom would show her pictures of me, just being like “look how cool she is! She’s so dope. Look at her pictures and her colours!” She told me this young girl got so inspired that she started choosing her own clothing; she was like, “No, I want to wear hot pink today because Inemesit wore that four days ago!” That’s insane to me but that’s why I do this.
On the flip side, you also said you get a lot of hate comments—even from other plus-size bloggers! What’s that about?
Man, that was the biggest shock since the day I started the blog. I recently decided to get more active. It’s not about losing weight, or looking a certain way, because my body has fluctuated so much in my lifetime. It’s about being healthy. Alberta is full of hiking trails and in the summer, I wanted to get fit. I started being really open about it, posting videos on Instagram and the actual body-positive women would comment and message me saying, “You’re not body-positive. You’re not loving your body because you’re trying to change it through working out.” I can take men saying that, because whatever: they’re trolls at the end of the day. But for a plus-size woman, who I’m trying to reach out to and who I thought was in the same position as myself saying that, it’s really awful. It made me realize that maybe the body-positive movement needs some restructuring. It has slid to become something that I don’t think it was intentionally supposed to be. That really deterred me and I stopped posting videos of me working out. I know I shouldn’t have done that but it was honestly just a bit too much for me to handle. Luckily, Addition Elle recently sent me some workout gear and I posted about it and the feedback I’ve gotten is mostly positive but there are still those trolls.
What does body positivity mean to you?
I come from a family of active people. We all played sports. I was never raised to believe that your body should limit what you can or cannot achieve. So, hearing these [troll comments] was so alien and foreign to me. It’s just never crossed my mind. For me, your body does not dictate what you do. It’s your drive and your willpower. When I heard these comments, I really took a step back from the whole body-positive term and had to re-evaluate exactly what it meant to me.
What do you think led to this shift in the way some people view body positivity?
The term “body-positive” has been diluted—it no longer carries the same power it once did. When this movement first began, at a time when plus-size advocacy was just beginning, it was an open call for every man and woman who felt othered by the fashion and beauty industry to stand up and advocate for their bodies. Now that plus-size acceptance is spreading (which is always a good thing), body positivity has become a tagline or catchphrase to gain likes and followers. It’s no longer rooted in a movement that pushes the boundaries in order to create change but rather works to glorify the “pretty side” of plus-size that the masses will find easier to look at. This term now invites body-shaming because people argue about what kind of bodies we can be body-positive about, which is the complete opposite of what the original intention of this movement was. In addition, the movement has now become so fixated on the “right” type of body that it sets us up for feelings of failure when we do not achieve that perfect “coke bottle” figure now usually associated with plus-size in the eyes of mainstream media. Gorgeous, plus-size women with bodies similar to ours, including visible stretch marks and cellulite, are often times airbrushed and smoothed out by the campaigns they are working with to fit a mold that is only willing to open up just slightly to let some plus-size bodies in. Body-positive is used as a catch-all phrase by these same campaigns, further leading to self-doubt and body image issues in young girls and women who do not see themselves as what the media deems body-positive. I think it is time for a new movement that embraces all bodies, especially those who have been othered by the new body-positive.
You’re originally from Nigeria and you went back to visit a couple years ago. Did you notice any cultural differences between Canada and Nigeria when it came to beauty standards?
Back in the day, the Nigeria that I was raised in, being plus-size was a sign of wealth. If you were a bigger woman, it meant that you ate well. It was actually something that people wanted to be. When I went back a couple of years ago, I saw that there was no diversity in Nigeria anymore. The Western influence has reached in a big way and there are women wearing jeans and brand names. Back in the day, people wore clothes to express themselves. You go back now and it’s like you’re walking down a street in Brampton. People are wearing denim and kicks. It’s a little bit saddening but it’s the time we live in. The body image ideals are very Western. You’ve got to be skinny; you’ve got to have that flat stomach. It’s kind of regressed backwards, which I find really sad.
You recently posted a story on Snapchat reacting to a blogger conference you went to in Calgary. Can you tell us about that?
The crazy thing about that was, I was not even invited. The individuals that were invited were all the “Calgary elite.” The inner circle, they all roll together, just them. But that’s not really what got to me. What got to me was there was zero diversity, both in size and in height; they just all looked the same. That is so not representative of Calgary and the creative sub-culture here. I was shook when I saw that because I know so many people who live in Calgary that are creative and just because they do not look like these individuals, they can’t ever obtain that level of notoriety in the city. My parents always told me, “You can never complain about something unless you have a solution.” I used that as a catapult to start some diverse groups here in Calgary. I’m looking at starting a collective and trying to include as many diverse individuals and creating a platform where we can all come together and help each other grow. I also opened up a guest blogger portion of my blog and I’m allowing anyone around the world who has an idea, or a piece that they’ve written, or they have a dope outfit that they’ve put together, they just email it to me and I’ll throw it up. I want to make sure that people have a place to step up. It was really hard starting my blog and getting traction; it took a while. I want to be there for people in a way that nobody really was for me.
Can you tell us about your collectives?
The first collective I started here in Calgary is called Young, Black and Well Dressed. This started as a photo project in which I called upon young people of colour in the city to participate in and show that we too can dress well. It’s a movement created out of frustration at seeing the lack of diversity present in Calgary’s fashion community and the need to celebrate black excellence and the outward rebellion against stereotypes. Young, black individuals have the capability to not only dress well, but be fashion icons and style trailblazers in the communities we occupy. Seeing images of young, black individuals in fine attire within a predominantly Caucasian city created enough of a shift in the overly negative images of black people we are constantly fed to create a disruption—a disruption I was all too happy to continue causing. I am currently finalizing a second group which will work to bring together the plus-size community here in Calgary through planned gatherings and panel discussions. It is so important to create a positive space for plus-size women to feel free to air out their issues with the fashion and beauty industry without fear of scrutiny. In addition, connecting plus-size individuals within our community works to eliminate feelings of alienation often faced by plus-size individuals in communities that have yet to accept this movement.
“I Was Bullied For Gaining Weight”: Insta Star Diana Veras Fights Back
Let’s Unpack Amy Schumer’s Reaction to Plus-Size Label
Plus-Size Model Ashley Graham: “Curves are not a Trend”
Canadian Blogger Opens Plus-Size Store In Toronto
Meet The Toronto Women Making Body Positivity More Inclusive