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Chastity Garner’s plus-size style influencer career really began when she fell out of a tree. While in college, she had dipped a toe into the fashion world by working as a plus-size model, but when she fell out of the tree — an accident that resulted in a torn ACL — she knew her modeling days were done.
“I am from the country, so I do country-type things sometimes,” Garner, who is from a small town in Georgia, tells Yahoo Style. “So I fell out of the tree, tore my ACL, and literally that week I started my blog. I knew I wasn’t going to make it in modeling — I couldn’t even wear heels anymore — but I still wanted to be in the industry.
“Right then and there, I started a personal-style company, and started the blog as a way to give complimentary style advice.”
This happened more than a decade ago, and in that time, Garner has taken that little blog and turned it into a massively popular website called GarnerStyle. Garner is also one of the masterminds, alongside CeCe Olisa, behind the annual body-positive conference theCURVYcon, which this year will happen in conjunction with New York Fashion Week.
“My early blogs were about fashion, but not so personal-style focused,” Garner recalls. “I was talking about fashion and talking about brands, launching plus-size collections and things like that. I was basically just giving people advice on how to dress. There wasn’t a lot available [for plus-size people]. I’m talking like 10 stores, tops. I was getting a lot of things tailored; I was sewing skirts together — there was just a lot you had to do to be fashionable and plus-size then. That’s one of the things that captured my audience. I had great style, and was wearing things that most girls at my size didn’t see other people their size wearing.”
Garner recalls the feeling of loving fashion but not being willing to find stylish clothes in her size. “I felt left out,” she says. “There just weren’t really any options for me. I lived in a small town where there’s not really access to plus-size clothing. I wore a lot of men’s clothes for a long time. I knew how to make men’s clothes work for me: Tommy Hilfiger had carpenter jeans that fit me; Ralph Lauren, polo shirts and things like that. But I just really couldn’t participate [in fashion] the way I would have loved to, and the way my peers were.”
Garner’s blog grew in popularity (thanks to posts on everything from chafing to plus-size dress bargains), while across the Internet, other plus-size people were finding one another — and realizing that through a body-positive movement, they could be a force for acceptance and change. While more plus-size clothing options became available, Garner’s style also changed. “I’ve definitely gotten more body positive as I’ve gotten older,” she says. “When I first started blogging, I was following all the flattery rules: no horizontal stripes, no fitted clothes; always cinch your waist.” Things are different now.
“To me, fitting yourself for flattery every day of your life is not really a body-positive thing because you’re basically trying to make yourself look different. Now, sometimes I dress for flattery and sometimes I dress because I want to wear it,” Garner says.
“I love a moto jacket — I always feel like I’m going to kick butt in it.”
A post shared by Chastity Garner Valentine (@garnerstyle) on Oct 17, 2016 at 9:17am PDT
And kick butt she has, in flats no less — Garner hasn’t worn heels since that fateful tree fall. Her work as a body-positive influencer has reached hundreds of thousands of followers, and the plus-size style landscape is definitely far more diverse than it was even a few years ago — thanks in large part to the work of bloggers such as Garner.
“I am a catalyst for change,” Garner says. “I have the best job in the world.”
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