How I learnt to love my plus-size body through fashion


“Once I started seeing my body draped in clothes and patterns and cuts I liked, it just became harder and harder to hate it.”

I remember the first time I ever felt good about my body, like really good. I was wearing a dress I’d bought from Wheels & Dollbaby. It was leopard and slinky and clung to my hips and slid over my non-flat stomach and it fit my body like it liked my body – it even made me like my body.

Growing up, clothes had always felt like torture to me, a reminder that I didn’t look how I wanted to look. It was the era of heroin chic, Nicole Richie was considered fat and plus-sized influencers and the body positivity movement just didn’t exist. Flat stomachs, low rise jeans and blonde hair were in.

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I was brunette and couldn’t wear low rise jeans without my tummy protruding over the top. I just wanted to look like Britney Spears or any cast member from Home & Away, but instead, I looked like me, and the fashion of that time just didn’t make me feel good. Most shopping trips ended in tears.

At first, my relationship with fashion was all about concealing, covering up and hiding. The aim was to trick people into thinking I was thin, but I would have happily settled for just being invisible. In short, I dressed like Billie Eilish way before it was cool, or a celebrity trying to conceal a pregnancy. I spent so much time feeling bad about myself, it never occurred to me to focus on ways to feel good about myself. ‘You better werk’, was not yet in my vocabulary.

Still, I was obsessed with fashion. I loved flicking through magazines, trolling through Tumblr, googling outfits that the ladies wore in Sex and The City, creating Pinterest boards and I obsessively followed Alannah Hill’s career – I loved her mix of feminine and clever. I was immersed in fashion, but in a removed way. It felt like something I could admire, but not something that I could participate in.

But then something shifted. Partly, it was the times. We started seeing more celebrities that reflected my body; Adele, Kelly Osbourne and Ashley Graham, and partly I was just sick of sitting on the sidelines of fashion, constantly gazing at the runway through the lens of my own self-hatred thinking ‘I’ll wear that when I’m thin’.

The one thing people love to tell plus-size women is to find things that suit you, but usually, that’s code for ‘hide your body’. So I took the opposite approach. I found things that fit me – like really fitted me. I dressed like a celebrity in the early 2000s, but with my own twist.

Clothes that clung to my hips, skirts that showed off my meaty thighs and things that emphasised my body. Once I started seeing my body draped in clothes and patterns and cuts I liked, it just became harder and harder to hate it. My body suddenly felt like the most perfect accessory and the most fabulous statement.

From there, things began to evolve. In my early twenties, I was obsessed with feeling sexy – I wanted to reclaim my body and show the world that anybody could be sexy, that sexy wasn’t reserved for Paris Hilton. It was fashion defiance. I fell in love with brands like Wheels & Dollbaby and Alannah Hill. I wanted everything short, low cut or skin-tight, sometimes all at once. I was going for Courtney Love meets Newtown hipster meets Katy Perry.

Interestingly, the more comfortable I was able to feel in my body the more I moved away from sexy and into fun, quirky and empowering. I embraced designers like Obus, The Variety Hour, Ganni, and Frida Las Vegas. Bright colours, statement pieces and clothes that made me stand out – clothes that made me feel more like myself. It was no longer about showing skin but rather about feeling like my own main character in a Sex And The City-esque show, minus the fixation on boring men and designer brands.

These days people often describe me as fashionable, perhaps because I’m willing to wear a bold print or try a new style, but I’d say it comes more from inner confidence. I’m clearly someone that actually has fun with fashion and I don’t take it too seriously. Sure, I follow trends but I also make my own. I’m never going to embrace the white T-shirt trend because I’m too clumsy with my takeaway coffee, and I’m never going to wear low rise jeans. I just can’t, I’m sorry!

I’ve found my own style and I embrace new pieces and new looks, while always staying true to my vibe which aims to be ‘rich eastern suburbs mum x camp queen’. Obviously, my relationship with my body isn’t solved. I have bad days, good days and sometimes bad months and then good months. It ebbs and it flows.

But now I have a wardrobe that always makes me feel like a bolder, more fabulous version of myself. By dispensing with the usual conventions and rules of fashion, particularly for the plus-sized, by being myself and embracing my body, I found my perfect fit and have curated an incredible wardrobe.

To keep up with Mary Rose Madigan and her colourful outfits, follow her here.

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