Chαstity Garner Valentine is not one to shy away from a challenge.
Along with founding her successful lifestyle blog, GarnerStyle.com, which has 1 million followers on Facebook, she co-founded theCurvyCon with business partner and fellow curvy influencer CeCe Olisa. You can watch the three-day event — which is filled with celebrities, body-positive influencers, and their fans celebrating plus-size diversity — live on Yahoo Lifestyle on Sept. 7 and 8.
“Bringing something like this to life was a huge challenge,” Valentine tells Yahoo Lifestyle. When Valentine and Olisa launched the conference in 2015, “we had a limited budget and resources. We’re trying to give our girl an elevated experience — ‘champagne taste on a beer budget’ — it was definitely a challenge for us. But we both had high expectations of ourselves and tried to figure out how to make it work on a tight budget.”
Creating her blog and organizing events like theCurvyCon stem from Valentine’s desire to make body diversity and acceptance more visible. “I feel like I’ve had a hand in giving people a different perception of themselves, where they feel they accept themselves more and they see the beauty in themselves,” says Valentine, who has nearly 270,000 followers on Instagram.
“I’ve gotten letters from fans and how they used to look at themselves like they weren’t worthy, and now they definitely feel worthy and deserve love and feel beautiful,” she says. “That for me [is positive], having an impact on people’s lives and that they will impact someone else in a positive way.”
But Valentine didn’t always feel comfortable in her own body when she was growing up. What held her back, she says, probably “was looking at my peers and friends and really being one of the only people who looked like me. I outweighed everybody by about 50 to 70 pounds. All of my friends were thin.”
“Comparing myself to what people around me looked like is what kept me from being body positive,” Valentine adds. “Their body types — that was something that was celebrated in the media. ‘This is what you’re supposed to be.’ Having the messaging from mainstream media and being a bigger girl was something difficult for me to deal with as a teenager.”
By the quarter-century mark, Valentine had had enough and realized it was time to accept her body: “I remember on my 25th birthday [thinking], ‘Remember you’ve always been a version of this person, this body type. Up or down you’ve really looked like this all your life. At this point, if it hasn’t changed now it’s probably never going to change. You can be unhappy with it or thank God for what you have and work with what you’ve got.’”
Valentine clearly chose the latter.
She also knows the importance of being choosy about who you follow on social media, as the images we see often have a big influence on how we feel about our bodies. “We should be following people who are supportive of what our image is,” Valentine says. “As a 5-foot-9-inch black woman who is plus size, it might not be healthy for me to follow a woman who is 100 pounds and short. If I feel like I’m [trying] to emulate that body, that’s not going to be supportive of my own mental health and well-being and self-care.”
Valentine says it’s just as important to unfollow people who negatively affect your self-esteem by making you feel bad about your body or envious of their — let’s be honest, filtered — lives.
Fashion also plays a “huge” role in body positivity, Valentine notes. “When you feel like you look good it can manifest itself from the inside out,” she says. “When there weren’t many offerings as far as [plus-size] clothing, people had to dress in a way that didn’t reflect who they were and who they wanted to be. When we have more options, we have more confidence.”
And she knows the benefits of having a good tailor. “The biggest compliment I get on my clothes is when I get my clothes tailored to perfection,” she says. “I feel like the more structured my clothes are, the more expensive they look. I know people don’t want to spend the extra money on it, but everyone has things that are hard to fit on them. It’s worth it to do.”
Finding clothes that suit her style isn’t always easy, though. As Valentine points out, the lack of plus-size stores makes buying an outfit last minute — such as for an event — a real challenge. “I’ve gone to stores to try to find clothing, shopping for hours and not really coming out with anything, because there’s not a huge variety of brick-and-mortar places,” she says.
“Place confidence in things you earn, not in things you didn’t,” she says. “What I look like on the outside, that is genetics. Instead, I think about my starting theCurvycon, and when I was younger I was an athlete and smart in school — that was where I put effort in. Whenever I feel I look like this, it’s not a great day, I think, ‘I’m an awesome auntie, things are going well with Curvycon.’ I truly go to the positive things that are going on in my life.”
She even has a positive perspective about the hard times she went through as a teenager. When asked what advice she would give to her 16-year-old self, Valentine says: “Don’t worry about looking like everyone else. Everything I had to go through as a child and a teenager, it actually prepared me for what I’m doing today. If I looked like everyone else I would not be here today.”
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