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Featured, Rants

Size ain’t nothin’ but a label


I was overwhelmed by the amazing response to my recent guest curator post on Etsy. Before listing my picks from the site, the team very kindly let me wax lyrical about Big Girls Browse and why I started it, and it was lovely to see some of the reactions from the Etsy community.

One comment in particular really stood out to me. Niftyknits said “I’ve been trying to pretend I’m still a UK14, not 16…but this gives me the courage to say heck – I’m a 16!!!”

I was so touched when I read that, because it sums up the exact reason I started this site. We live in a world where there’s so much stigma attached to a stupid number printed on a clothes label, and there shouldn’t be! Your dress size does not define who you are.

In my experience UK 16 (and sometimes even 14) seems to be a real trigger point for a lot of women. For many of my slimmer friends, it seems to be the unspoken barrier between being ok and being ‘fat’ (and I mean ‘fat’ the way an obviously not fat girl does when she turns to her friend and yelps “OMG I’m soooooo fat”). I don’t really know why this particular size has such bad connotations. Perhaps it’s because, for a long time, 16 was the biggest size a lot of shops sold, and the crossover to the plus size market.

Now that’s not so true. As a nation, we’re getting bigger. Size 16 is now the average. The likes of New Look, M&S, Next and George stock larger sizes as standard. Evans, meanwhile, starts at 14, not the 16 that most people assume.

My dress size has yo-yo’d between a 12 and 16 for all of my adult life. Over that time my body mass index (BMI) has been everywhere from 22 (healthy) to just under 28 (overweight). I have never been obese (a BMI of 30+) though I’m sure a fair few internet trolls would tell you otherwise if they saw a picture of me in a bikini.

My comfy weight (what model Crystal Renn refers to as the ‘set point’ in her book) is around a size 14, with a BMI of 24. This is on the high end of the healthy range, but healthy all the same. At that weight, I can enjoy myself, have the odd treat and resist becoming the Crazy Diet Girl that I was at my slimmest. But I frequently go above that weight, and it really doesn’t make much of a difference. I don’t morph into a different person when I put on 5lbs.

I once put a picture of myself on a blog and stated my dress size in the accompanying post. I was a size 14 max at the time. One woman took no time in getting her claws out to comment “Size 18 more like!”

I was livid. How dare she? I was proud at that time to be maintaining a so-called healthy weight. The last thing I needed when I was actually making an effort was for some nasty little witch I’d never met to make me feel bad about myself.

But then I thought about it, and I decided that by being pissed off, I was just as bad as this woman. I was letting dress size rule my life. Who cares if I was a size 18? IT REALLY DOESN’T MATTER. The only thing I had any right to be upset about was the fact she thought I’d felt the need to lie about it!

The label in your clothing means nothing. It’s taken me a long time to realise that. There’s no magic change when you go up a size. You don’t suddenly become a heifer overnight. It’s just a number.

Two women can wear the same dress size and look completely different. Height, body shape, muscle mass, waist-to-hip ratio, even the size of your boobs can contribute to what dress size you wear. The BMI scale (which dictates that a woman of average height, were she a size 16, would probably be slightly overweight) doesn’t take into account the fact muscle weighs more than fat, or the fact that big breasts aren’t a choice. It also doesn’t take into account the reasons women are the size they are; from lifestyle to genetics to the medication they’re on (including, of course, the contraceptive pill). One woman’s 12 is another’s 22. It doesn’t matter what the label says as long as you’re happy.

More importantly, and the point I was trying to make when mentioning the comment that woman made, is that size is in the eye of the beholder. Unfortunately, there are some people who will always look at women and see fatties, whether they’re size 12, 16 or 26. But there are just as many others who’ll look at a size 16+ and see a voluptuous, sexy woman who’s got better things to do than obsess over the label in her jeans. And that is a very attractive thing indeed.

If, with this site, I can make just one or two women of a similar size to me feel better about their bodies, then I’m happy. I’ve come to terms with the fact I wasn’t built to be super-slim, and I’m concentrating on being happy and having a healthy attitude towards my size instead.

And the happiest, healthiest people are the ones who don’t obsess, or care, what a label says!

Accessories, Clothing, Coats & Jackets, Dresses, Featured

Top Ten: The New Blue


Wearing denim doesn’t have to mean wearing jeans, and this season there are loads of alternatives to the plethora of skinnies, jeggings and boyfriend jeans that are still filling the rails everywhere from M&S to Mango. I know lots of you – like me – have trouble finding jeans that fit, so save yourself the nightmare shopping trip! Shirts, jackets, dresses, skirts – this Spring, the alternatives are endless.

So I’ve put together some suggestions of jean-free ways to wear the fabric. If you’re really brave, you could tackle the double denim trend (yes it’s back!) and team a jacket or shirt with your favourite jeans or jeggings. I prefer to play it safe, though…

For a different take on denim, try 70s style button down dresses, worn-looking shirts (a la Christina Hendricks) or a boob-friendly grandad tunic (wear a good bra and undo a few buttons). If that’s still not for you, why not go for interesting pieces that are denim blue in colour, but made of softer, more pliable fabrics?

I’ve picked some of my favourite blue buys from a variety of shops. Some are high street, some are specialist, so there should be something for everyone. Size ranges are listed with each product, and nothing’s over £60 so there should be something to fit all budgets.

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Featured, News

Gemma for Evans


No, I haven’t been given my own Beth Ditto-esque fashion range (yet) but I am very honoured to be the first guest blogger on the brand new Evans blog.

As the market leaders in the UK when it comes to 14+ fashion, Evans are hugely influential. But theirs is a mammoth task; as one of only a handful of brands catering for the plus size market in this country (and the only one to have a truly significant number of stand-alone stores on the high street) they have to do a bit of everything, from trends to workwear to classics to formalwear (plus shoes, lingerie and so on). I think it’s great that they’re adding another place for customers to interact and discuss what they like, what they want and how they want to be involved, and I’m sure the blog will be huge news as it grows.

I’m the first of many guest bloggers, and having seen the plan for the next few months, I’m definitely going to be reading long after I sign off and hand the baton over to another blogger! They’ve got some huge names involved, and there’ll be plenty of great content about all aspects of the industry – not just what’s in store at Evans – which is great from a corporate blog.

Read it here, just don’t forget who sent you!

Curvy Models, Featured, In The News

Crystal Renn does high fashion


The new issue of V Magazine is definitely worth picking up for the groundbreaking photoshoot that pitches celebrated plus size model Crystal Renn against model-of-the-moment Jacquelyn Jablonski in a fashion face-off. Can a curvy girl really pull off high fashion like a catwalk model? We say yes, as Crystal works her magic in tricky looks like body-con dresses, leotards and flippy mini skirts…

Far from showing up either the slim or the curvaceous model as a false beauty, both girls looks brilliant in the shoot, more photos of which can be seen on the Daily Mail website.

The shoot, by photographer Terry Richardson, is apparently part of a wider campaign to encourage magazines to feature more of a mix of models, rather than just the size 4’s that frequent the catwalks. As the face of Evans and a outspoken voice for the plus size model industry, Renn is a great choice for a shoot like this. She’s curvy, but she’s still healthy looking. A former anorexic who gave up trying to conform to fashion stereotypes in favour of being happy and healthy, she’s a role model for all curvy girls. Though 5’9 with the measurements 38C-30-42, she’s still smaller the average British woman!

Pick up this issue of V Magazine on January 14th for the full photoshoot.

Clothing, Featured, Websites

Shop by body shape at Joy of Clothes


In general, brands and shops tend to organise clothes based on occasion or style (unless we’re talking H&M, in which case there’s more of an irritating jumble sale approach) but I’m sure many of us would appreciate more attention to what suits certain shapes. Imagine walking into a shop and having a whole section devoted to pear-shapes, hourglass figures or apple shapes, alongside the tall and petite section.

Then rub your hands together with glee when you discover that it now exists – online at least! Some friends of Big Girls Browse have created the perfect solution for shopping by shape…

Joy of Clothes is a new site that brings together clothing from across the web (in all price ranges) and sorts it by body shape and colour. It allows you to find the perfect pieces without having to sift through loads of unsuitable shapes and styles, and then links directly to product pages on retailers website.

The chosen body shapes are all-encompassing and far less patronising than the ridiculous Trinny and Susannah offerings (I don’t want to be a skittle, brick or goblet, thanks). Most interesting for women like us is the addition of ‘full hourglass’, for those lucky women who’re curvy with a great waist.

It’s early days for the site (it’s still in beta) but it’s amazing how quickly you get sucked into it. The shape-to-product matches are chosen manually and not by a piece of software which means there’s little room for error, I was really impressed at the choices for my body shape, and the option to narrow by product and colour as well as sorting by price is useful.

But why am I telling you all this? Go and take a look for yourself, and see what you think!

Featured, Lingerie, Shapewear, Shoes, Tried & Tested

The Ultimate Shapewear review – updated!


Forget the corsets and girdles of old. The new breed of hold-you-in foundation garments give you a sleeker silhouette without the pain of more old-fashioned alternatives. Since we’re bigger on average than we used to be, it’s no surprise that women are queueing up to buy products that’ll make them appear slimmer or more toned. But which do you go for? To help, I’ve tried everything from smoothing tights to powermesh slips in my search for the best shapewear…

Spanx Higher Power high waisted briefs £27

Many would consider Spanx the ‘original’ shapewear. Obviously they’re not (just look at undies from fifty years ago) but as far as the modern revival goes, this brand does really take things to the next level, and ‘higher power’ is the star product for those who want to flatten their tum, lift their bum and define their waist. It was the first product I tried, and since then I’ve been hoooked on the power of good shapewear.

With a waistband that sits directly under your bra, these beat old tummy-control knickers because you’re not left with a roll of flab over the waistband. They shape you from hips to waist. On the legs they’re more like low-denier tights, slowly graduating up to a powerful, thick fabric that’ll definitely give you a slimmer appearance.

Spanx work because they’re powerful without being painful more mildly uncomfy) they don’t roll down as easily as some other products, and they definitely make you look slimmer. However, they’re not sexy; the nude ones give you the appearance of a sausage in its casing, and there’s a hole at the crotch with two ‘crossover’ gusset sections that allow you to go to the loo without removing them – this isn’t exactly attractive but it does the job!

8/10 – marks lost for the ugly factor!

Flexees Waist Nipper $26 Maidenform

Like a simpler and less attractive alternative to the corset, this does a similar job; helping to hide ‘muffin top’ and smooth the stomach and waist to create a more hourglass shape. While it doesn’t make you drop inches in the way a good steel-boned corset can, it does help to create a smooth line and stop any wayward flab from spilling out (mmm, nice) without the pain of a corset. The hook and eye fastening is extremely secure; mine is quite a tight squeeze but I’ve never had the stitching come loose or a hook break or bend. It’s made from a stretchy, control fabric similar to what you’ll find on most bodysuits and girdles, and because it fits in the gap between bra and knickers, can be easily sneaked off if you suddenly need to impress. I have this in nude and find it works really well under trousers and slim-fitting tops to create a smoother line.

9/10 – Works well, does the job perfectly, except under very fitted items where the hooks show.

Gok Wan ‘Sex Kitten Corset’

Many of my clothes are quite fitted at the waist because I like that 40s/50s bombshell look, and this corset is very good for creating that nipped-in silhouette, but also has the added bonus of looking attractive in its own right. You can team it with nice undies and you can go to the loo like a normal human being. It looks pretty, gives a flattering shape and definitely hold everything in. So far, so good.

Like the other pieces from the Gok Wan shapewear range, a good deal of though has gone into the construction of the garment. Though some of the branding is a bit in-your-face (I could have done without the bright pink ribbons with ‘Gok’ scrawled on them) I did appreciate the attention to detail; the ‘modesty panel’ under the ribbons, the fact the lacing fastens at the waist and not at the hips (gives more ‘pulling’ power!) and the double hook & eye fastening to secure it properly at the bust. It also has a really nice sweetheart shape at the neck, rather than being straight across and giving a shelf-like effect.

However, I would warn you to be careful. I actually managed to bruise the skin under my boobs by pulling this too tight the first time I wore it. Don’t be tempted to yank it too tight if you’ll be wearing it for more than a few hours. Corsets improve your posture and keep everything well and truly strapped in, and overall, this is probably one of the pieces I wear the most, but it is restrictive (I rarely sit down / eat when I have it on)!

8/10 – Marks dropped for the overt Gok branding and the bruising!

Firm control low leg knickers £16 Marks & Spencer

As ‘big knickers’ go, these are some of the best. The waistband is thick enough that I avoided the awful muffin top (just about) but others might not be so lucky. I found these were great to wear with jeans (and long tops, natch) to help avoid too many lumps and bumps, but they began to dig in a bit by the end of the day. For the elevated price, I don’t think they’re as good a buy as a the even higher waisted M&S pants, a waistnipper or a pair of Spanx.

They wash well, you can tell they’re good quality and the anti VPL cut around the hips and upper thigh is clever, but overall, I think the price is too steep.

6/10 – Work well, but too expensive considering the potential for rolling flab at the waist!

Gok Wan Sassy Slip £55 at Simply Yours

Wow. Once I’d shoehorned myself into this thing, I was impressed, but I do have one tip when you’re shopping. If you’re a graduate of the Bravissimo school of bra measuring (ie. you’re quite curvaceous, but they’ve measured you as a narrow back size with a big cup) go up at least one back size when ordering this. Trying to get myself into 34DD was tantamount to getting an egg through a sieve. However, when I finally did it, I looked like I was about to be painted by Alberto Vargas.

This is the closest to a proper old-fashioned girdle you’ll find without buying vintage / repro vintage. The top is cut like the bra from the same range – a padded deep plunge with a slightly irritating bell charm on it. It’s got adjustable straps to make it halter / crossover if need be, and the hook and eye fastening extends all the way down to the hips. Then the rest is cut from a seriously hard-working powermesh that holds in all your wobbly bits to create a smooth line. It’s topped off with removable suspenders (four of them). Inside is a gusset with hook and eye fastening that makes getting it on even trickier.

All in all, though the results are amazing, I found this one quite a struggle. I’m sure if I had a bigger size it would be fine, and it’s perfect if you want to look amazing for a big night, but don’t want to have to reveal ugly shapewear at the end! However, just beware the powermesh really is powerful, and you’ll feel quite constricted.

7/10 – In a bigger size, this would probably get higher, but still loses a mark for that god-awful bell charm!

Spanx Hide & Sleep Full Slip £57 Figleaves

If you wear a lot of jersey pieces, wrap dresses, sheer items or fabrics that cling, this stretchy, full slip is a lifesaver. Though it’s not as shaping as some of the other items from Spanx, what it does is create smooth lines under your clothes, giving medium control to keep things where they’re meant to be and also stop VPL. Though it’s expensive, I thoroughly recommend it as I’ve worn my black one frequently (in fact, I have it on as I’m writing this). Unlike other options, this doesn’t feel restrictive or tight, and as an added bonus for those with big boobs, it can replace a ‘modesty cami’ if you wear the black version under something with a low neckline.

For the very brave, I also reckon the black version would make an amazing body-con dress!

10/10 – Comfy, flattering, and works brilliantly under fitted dresses.

Cette Magic Knickers Support £16.99

Imagine a pair of stretchy tights knit so finely together that they’re the approximate size of a postage stamp when you’re not wearing them. You’re not far off these babies if you have that image in your head. Probably the least attractive of the bunch, these super-powerful pants really do suck in your tummy, bum and thighs just like Spanx, but there are a couple of downsides.

Firstly, the shape is cut fairly low on the waist, resulting in the famous muffin top. There is a higher-waisted alternative that I’m sure would be a better option. Secondly, there’s no gusset opening which means every time you need the loo you have to wrestle with 140 denier of sheer torture. They do hold you in and they’re slightly more comfy and breathable than Power Panties, but all in all I don’t think they quite compete.

7/10 – They do the job but they’re ugly and going to the loo is a nightmare.

Slimming bodysuit £14.99 JML

I wasn’t expecting great things of this bodysuit, sold through infomercials by crazy purveyors of mad gadgets JML. But actually, for £15 it’s not that bad. A sort of Spanx-lite, it doesn’t have the suck-you-in power of the more specialist products, but it does help to give a smooth line under a fitted dress or pair of tight trousers, and the added bonus of spaghetti straps means it stays up better than some of the cheaper underbust shorts. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by this, but it doesn’t sit up there with the ‘megabrands’ in shapewear terms. It’s also worth nothing the gusset has an unflattering hole (with no crossover section for modesty) and the fabric is very thin in places meaning you must buy the right size or it’s likely to rip.

6 / 10 – Ok, but nothing special.

note: parts of this feature were originally published on my old site, Catwalk Queen.

Clothing, DD+, Dresses, Featured, Sale shopping

Boob-friendly dresses from Bravissimo

Bravissimo has long been the secret haunt of girls with D+ boobs. Stocking all the big brands that cater to larger breasted ladies (Freya, Panache, Kalyani, Masquerade etc) in loads of back sizes (not just large, but small) and providing a measuring service that’s second to none, I know ladies who’ll sing the praises of this shop ’til kingdom come. In fact, I’m one of them! The Bravissimo angels can lift and support even the biggest boobs and sell pretty, not frumpy designs. And as if that wasn’t enough, they also sell special big boob clothing!

Offering up standard UK dress sizes with three choices of chest measurement – curvy, really curvy and super curvy – these clothes aim to avoid that annoying gape or pull that you find on the chest if you squeeze your D+’s into standard sizes. This is particularly useful on dresses and v-neck tops, which often end up revealing far too much bra as the standard cups strain on larger chests. Instead, you get custom-cut coverage, but without having to go bigger elsewhere. Lots are super-fitted and ruched at the waist for a gorgeous hourglass shape, too. The selection of secret support tops and nightwear is also great – after all there’s nothing worse than saggy boobs in bed!

Sizes go from an 8 – 16, so not particularly great if you’re a plus size, but with the generous cup sizes on these babies, you might well be able to fit comfortably into a smaller size than normal, meaning size 18s shouldn’t rule the range out if they have a store nearby where they can try on.

Right now there are various items on sale, including the lovely 40s style spot print dress’ for £39 and the fluted sleeve dress for the same. Outside of the sale, get a bit of Summer daytime chic in the incredibly flattering nautical striped jersey dress for £45.

Featured, Lingerie, Shapewear

Big Girl tries Gok Wan shapewear


He makes a living out of making women look and feel gorgeous, so it’s no surprise that Gok Wan has branched out into Big Girl’s secret weapon, shapewear.

The right slip, corset, bra or big knickers can really make a difference to an outfit. You can slim your silhouette, enhance those curves and keep everything in check.

Gok’s range offers a bit of everything from Bridget Jones esque knickers to the sexier slip and satin corsets. My tip is the Sassy Slip for £55. Don’t let the naff name put you off, this baby hoists your boobs, sucks in your tummy and has suspender clips for those looking to make their shapewear sexy. This is the closest to a proper old-fashioned girdle you’ll find without buying vintage. With a padded plunge bra, adjustable & convertible straps and a super-strong hook and eye fastening that extends all the way down to the hips it gives plenty of support up top. Further down there’s loads of seriously strong powermesh to keep your lumps and bumps at bay, and a hook-and-eye fastened internal gusset (not so much sexy as practical).

If you want something more practical, the same style is available in a bodysuit – the Curve Controller (£55). This is great under trousers, or if you hate the restrictive feeling of an old-fashioned girdle style.

Also worth a look is the Sex Kitten Corset (£45), which is made to go under your clothes, but is nice enough to be worn as a top if you’ve got the boobs to fill it out (just swap the bright pink ‘Gok’ emblazoned ribbons for the plain black). With clever design additions like a slightly stretchy section on the sides and beautifully curved sweetheart cups that flatter (and support) a bigger bust, this is the one to go for if you want something that’ll look just as good to others as it will to you. There’s a mini waspie version if you’d rather wear a bra, too.

View and shop the whole range here in sizes 34A – 42G or 8 – 32.