With plus-size pool parties, body acceptance, more people are showing skin this summer
Mayra Mejia was about 14 when she realized there weren't many clothing options in her size that made her feel good in her body.
"I was going to the women's section of Macy's or Kohl's and maybe splurging on Lane Bryant, but I was 14 or 15 wearing middle-aged women's clothing," says Mejia, now 36 and a style and culture writer. "That's all that fit me. I didn't really have a chance to establish my sense of style."
Memorial Day unofficially kicks off the summer season with beach trips, pool parties and outdoor happy hours. For many, it's a time of increased anxiety around clothing items that show off more arms, legs and stomachs than winter clothes. But there's a growing movement of plus-size influencers throwing out old ways of thinking that their bodies need to be covered up, and instead just dressing to celebrate their bodies.
"This time of year brings up a lot of body image issues for people of all body sizes," says Ivy Felicia, a body image and holistic wellness coach. "It can be mentally and emotionally taxing to wear clothing that reveals the parts of our body we're uncomfortable with."
Plus-size pool parties and the power of community
Mejia founded Plush DMV, a Washington, D.C.-area "inclusive, safe space for fat folks to meet, have fun and make friends," almost four years ago. She previously was able to find online communities for plus-size people, but real life was still more isolating.
"Whenever I would go out, I wouldn't see people that looked like me," she says. "I had a couple of plus-size friends that were afraid to go our or meet new people or try new experiences because there's a certain judgment for people that are plus size. I wanted people to feel more in community with each other."
While experts say finding people online who reflect the confidence you aim to embody is helpful, Mejia wanted to recreate that online camaraderie IRL. The organization puts on events including plus-size clothing swaps, happy hour meetups and later this month, a plus-size pool party inspired by Aidy Bryant's show "Shrill." A 2019 episode about a "Fat Babe Pool Party" was the first time many plus-size viewers saw a group of people who looked like them donning swimsuits without a second-thought.
"Having a space where you don't have to worry about how other people perceive you or think of your body is just so liberating in so many ways," Mejia says.
Body acceptance is in... but so is Ozempic
Raffela Mancuso had been a body image activist and content creator for a few years before Kim Kardashian's shapewear brand Skims reached out to send her a few swimwear pieces, which she recently posted videos and photos of herself wearing.
"It's the skimpiest bathing suit I've ever worn in my life," says Mancuso, 27, who grew up wearing jeans and hoodies even in the summer. "Maybe when I was younger that would have made me self-conscious or think that I can't pull it off, but I didn't feel like that, which was cool."
But having a larger following online also brings more scrutiny. She got into social media to fight beauty standards, but still finds herself getting nervous sometimes to post images that prominently feature her body.
"I don't think of myself as a confident person. I see myself as a person pushing through my insecurities and posting anyway," she says. "I'm still a person impacted by diet culture and fatphobia and my personal insecurities. Of course, I think we should see more fat bodies and there's nothing to be ashamed of and we should wear whatever we want. It's (just) harder sometimes to live it in my life."
A post shared by Raffela Mancuso | mental health, body image (@raffela_mancuso)
Mancuso had mixed feelings about posting content wearing gifted Skims pieces. On the one hand, it was cool that they were sharing their products with a broader variety of creators. But on the other, was she comfortable being associated with the Kardashians, a family that has a history of promoting unrealistic beauty standards?
Amid body acceptance champions celebrating all types of bodies, there's also pushback from parts of culture that say skinny is most attractive or falsely equate weight with health. The simultaneous message of body positivity and rise in Ozempic use are at odds with one another, but Mejia believes overall things are "a lot" better than when she was a teenager. She now feels confident in her skin, has a signature fashion style and plenty of favorite stores where she can find clothes she loves in her size.
"It's been fun to experiment and do things that I wasn't comfortable with before," she says. "I'm wearing short shorts now, and mini skirts. Before, I would never dare."
Tips for body confidence this summer
To those who associate rising temperatures with anxiety about showing more skin, Felicia says it's OK to feel nervous − but you shouldn't let feelings of shame keep you from having a good time.
More advice for feeling your best this summer:
Diversify your social media feeds. "The media you consume deeply impacts your perceptions of your own body," Felicia says. "Curating your feed to include bodies of all sizes, shapes, and shades can help you broaden your perspective of all bodies."
Spend time with people who celebrate you. "I don't surround myself with people that will make me feel bad about my body," Mancuso says, adding: "If somebody doesn't like (how you dress), you're hanging out with the wrong people. You don't need that negativity."
Re-frame how you talk to yourself. "Sometimes we have to train our brain to say, 'it's OK to accept myself and my body even though it's not society's standards of what is in," Mejia says. "I think we owe it to ourselves to be happy with ourselves, whatever our body looks like at this point."
More on body image and fashion:
Plus-size clothing isn't a trend – it's fashion's future, new book 'The Power of Plus' says
Jimmy Kimmel joked about Ozempic at the Oscars. We need to actually talk about it.
Kylie Jenner is ready to talk about the Kardashians' body image problem. Is it too late?
More Hulu’s ‘Shrill’ is a hard, honest and beautiful portrait of a fat woman, and I should know
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Plus-size influencers, fat pool parties and summer body confidence