Home / Articles / Volume 13 (2016) / "A World of Beautiful Fat Babes": Community-Building Practices in Plus-Size Fashion Blogs
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This paper focuses on the community-building practices of plus-size fashion bloggers. Because of the stigmatization of fatness in mainstream fashion media, plus-size women have turned to online resources to express their sense of fashion and to construct communities with others who have similar interests. In a qualitative analysis that builds on Herring’s (2004) computer-mediated discourse analysis (CMDA) approach and Wenger’s (1998) community of practice theory, three categories of community-building practices are identified in blog data. The bloggers show their engagement with the group by expressing a sense of belonging, negotiate a joint enterprise by vocalizing a sense of solidarity among plus-size fashion consumers, and offer support to each other through a shared linguistic and discursive repertoire.


Plus-size fashion bloggers, as described in this article, are women who write style- and fashion-focused blogs and who are above the average dress size. Because of the social stigma associated with being overweight and the lack of representation of larger women in fashion media, a network of plus-size women pursuing their interest in fashion through blogging can be considered an example of an online community of marginalized people. Thus, the study contributes to a current topic in blog research: blogging as a means of empowering and supporting marginalized groups.

Specifically, I study the ways in which plus-size fashion bloggers describe their in-group interactions in blog posts and comments in order to answer the following questions:

1) How do these bloggers construct and maintain a sense of community in their interactions?

2) In what ways does this group of bloggers function as a community of practice?

Using a computer-mediated discourse analysis approach (CMDA, Herring 2004, 2013), I identify and discuss the linguistic and discursive features that can be characterized as community-building in a corpus compiled from 20 interconnected blogs. I consider the group of bloggers to be a community of practice (e.g., Wenger, 1998): an aggregate of people who get together to engage in particular activities and, in the course of their interactions, negotiate shared practices, including shared linguistic behaviors.

Today’s blogosphere is full of blogs constructed around specific interests. In recent years, the discursive and linguistic features of blog genres such as academic blogs (Luzón, 2011), politicians’ blogs (Lehti & Laippala, 2014), and even dog blogs (Leppänen, 2015) have been studied. Modern blogs have also followed the general trend of online content becoming increasingly focused on social interaction (Seargeant & Tagg, 2014, p. 3). Indeed, as a result of commenting and connecting with other blogs through hyperlinks and social media, blogging has become quite conversational (e.g., Wei, 2009, p. 537). Although the community-building potential of blogging has been investigated before (e.g., Blanchard, 2004), due to the ever-evolving nature of the blog (Myers, 2010), new research is needed on the ways in which a sense of community is constructed through and reflected in the language of specific blogging groups. Language-focused approaches to online communities of marginalized people are also needed, because the study of CMD can "potentially lead language scholars to forge more comprehensive theories of discourse and social action as a result" (Herring & Androutsopoulos, 2015, p. 143).

I will begin by discussing recent research on online groups of marginalized people. In the next section, the concept of plus-size fashion blogging – also known as "fatshion" blogging1 – is introduced in more detail. After that I discuss the theoretical concepts of virtual community and community of practice, illustrating why the latter is a useful framework for studying online interaction. Following the theoretical sections, I describe my data and my methodological approach, before moving on to the results of the empirical investigation of the blog corpus.

My findings show that the community-building practices of plus-size fashion bloggers can be grouped into three categories: Community is constructed through a sense of belonging, a sense of solidarity among plus-size fashion consumers, and a sense of support. These practices also reflect the three characteristics of communities of practice, as defined by Wenger (1998): mutual engagement, a joint enterprise, and a shared repertoire. I argue that the community of practice approach is a beneficial framework for studying interaction within online groups because it enables us to move away from the often problematized question of "what is virtual community" to focus instead on how the members of different social aggregates are "doing" community through shared practices. The findings of the study are in line with previous studies of plus-size fashion blogging (e.g., Gurrieri & Cherrier, 2013; Harju & Huovinen, 2015); however, they provide a new, linguistic perspective on this category of blogs.

Online Interaction and Marginalized Groups

The potential benefits of online interaction for marginalized groups have been widely recognized in recent literature. Marciano (2014), for example, studied online interaction in an LGBTQ group, focusing on the Israeli transgender community. The study illustrated that cyberspace potentially fulfilled three functions for transgendered users: It could be a "preliminary sphere" where the users were able to "virtually go through" certain experiences before enacting them in their offline lives, a "complementary sphere" that acted as an addition to their offline social worlds, or an "alternative sphere" that enabled them to adopt identities that were not possible offline (Marciano, 2014, p. 830). In Kupferberg and Hess’ (2013) study of online social interaction among adults living with visual impairment and blindness, it was discovered that the participants "interactively co-constructed a multi-functional and safe virtual space" where they could share their thoughts and emotions, as well as present problems and receive support. This idea of a group finding a "safe place" online is also present in Vaisman’s (2011) study of Hebrew blogs written by teenage girls labeled as Fakatsa – a subculture of girls facing social judgement because of their preoccupation with appearance and fashion (p. 181). In a way comparable to the plus-size fashion bloggers under investigation in the present study, Fakatsa girls embraced a derogatory label and turned it into a positive resource, constructing their blogs as shared social spaces where they could interact and "be recognized and understood by their in-group peers" (p. 191).

The online interaction of people living with eating disorders has also been studied extensively. In a recent study of the Pro-Ana online community, Yeshua-Katz (2015, p. 1348) found that group members "police group identity by creating community norms and using boundary maintenance strategies." To fight the public stigmatization of their community, the group members engaged in a process of identifying and removing members who were referred to as "wannarexics"; people who did not have an "authentic" eating disorder, but used the community as a way to gain information on dieting. The "wannerexics" were seen as a threat to the safe space that the group members had constructed online, and the authentic members attempted to eliminate this threat by using "implicit norms and explicit rules" to police and maintain group identity (p. 1356). Similar "policing" was also evident in Stommel’s (2009) study of a German discussion forum on eating disorders, where "novice" members used discursive and linguistic means, such as humor and group-specific abbreviations, to "apply for" community membership (p. 145).

Based on the existing literature, two themes can be distinguished that characterize the online interaction of groups of marginalized people. On the one hand, online environments are constructed as shared, "safe" spaces where marginalized individuals can receive peer support and form relationships with others who are in a similarly marginalized position. On the other hand, these environments are also characterized by a strong sense of "in-groupness" that defines through shared rules and norms who is accepted into the community and who is not. Both of these characteristics can be observed in the discourse of plus-size fashion blogs.

Fashion and Plus-Size Women

Personal fashion blogging has "enabled women traditionally excluded from the realm of fashion imageries to enter its visual scape" (Rocamora, 2011, p. 421). Although there has been an increase in the representation of plus-size women in mainstream media in recent years, they are still largely ignored in the world of high fashion. This has led to fashion-forward plus-size bloggers creating new spaces for themselves online and, by doing so, producing their own fashion discourses (e.g., Connell, 2013).

Blogs written by plus-size women have been the topic of some recent studies in the fields of consumer research (Scaraboto & Fischer, 2013), market research (Gurrieri & Cherrier, 2013; Harju & Huovinen, 2015) and women’s studies (Connell, 2013). Harju and Huovinen (2015), for example, studied a sample of 12 "fatshion" blogs from seven Western countries as a "post-feminist identity project" (p. 1604). Drawing on Butler’s concept of performative identity and Bourdieu’s cultural and social capital, they discovered that the bloggers used four discursive practices in negotiating their (performative) identity: destigmatisation of fat, reappropriation of older fashion styles and social space by demanding cultural and social visibility, communality, and mimicry (p. 1606, 1616). They concluded that these practices – which they divided into two broader categories of "similarity-seeking" and "diversity-asserting" tactics – "display skillful appropriation, manipulation and negotiation of existing cultural discourses surrounding gender, fashion and the market" (p. 1618). Both types of practices could function as resistance to normativity, although similarity-seeking tactics could also be seen as sustaining normativity (p. 1620). Gurrieri and Cherrier (2013, p. 277) also investigated how plus-size bloggers "both subscribe to and challenge beauty ideas" through a theoretical lens of queer theory, discovering that the bloggers "(re)negotiate cultural notions of beauty through three performative acts – coming out as fat, mobilising fat citizenship and flaunting fat" (p. 280). However, while the bloggers challenged the normative construction of beautiful and ugly bodies, their "beauty experiences [were] nevertheless situated within the 'mainstream' material domain" (p. 292). Both studies reflect an interesting conflict that seems to characterize the plus-size fashion blogging phenomenon: The bloggers are simultaneously situated within the sphere of fashion media and outside of it, resisting certain aspects of the normativity of fashion but sustaining others.

Whether they are sustaining or resisting normativity, the popularity of plus-size fashion bloggers has had its effect on the fashion markets. Many retailers exclude larger sizes from their clothing lines, or offer significantly fewer options in these sizes, which is viewed as discriminatory by the Fat Acceptance Movement (Scaraboto & Fischer, 2013). Popular plus-size bloggers can use their publicity to act as representatives of women dissatisfied with the clothing options available in their size, and they may even influence the retailers. Scaraboto and Fischer (2013, p. 1244) refer to these bloggers as "institutional entrepreneurs" who "attempt to change aspects of institutional fields and who are sometimes successful in doing so."

As well as being marginalized by the fashion industry, fat people are marginalized by society. Fatness can be considered a stigma (Goffman, 1990), and in modern Western society, fat people are often openly disparaged and made fun of. Fatness is connected to "reckless excess, prodigality, indulgence, lack of restraint, violation of order and space, transgression of boundary" (LeBesco & Braziel 2001, p. 3). Moreover, as Harjunen (2009, p. 15) points out, the marginalization of the fat body is also a gendered phenomenon, since "body size has become a central determinant of social acceptability for women" (emphasis added). In addition to fighting marginalization by the fashion industry, plus-size bloggers seek to challenge this connection between being a certain size and being socially acceptable. For example, although the word "fat" has negative connotations, many bloggers use it deliberately as a way to lessen its stigmatization (e.g., Scaraboto & Fischer, 2013).2

There is clearly a desire among plus-size women3 to change the way they are perceived both in fashion and in society, and blogging is one conduit for this. Harjunen (2009, p. 39) considers the popularity of "fat blogging" as one sign of the shift that is happening from "a medical paradigm of 'obesity' towards a more diverse paradigm of fatness." Plus-size bloggers, and the communities of practice they form, can thus be considered a part of online participatory culture, which "weakens the power of mass media in defining social reality and truth" (Androutsopoulos, 2013, p. 49).

Virtual Community

Although "virtual community" is one of the most researched topics in the field of computer-mediated communication (CMC) (Marciano, 2014, p. 825), the concept remains a subject of debate among scholars. For example, early CMC research has been criticized for labelling all groups that interact online as virtual communities, often without attempting to ground these claims in empirical evidence (Herring, 2004).

Despite the difficulty of defining virtual communities, a number of researchers (e.g., Baym, 2010; Herring, 2004; Luzón, 2011; Rheingold, 1995) have produced sets of criteria which can be useful tools in studying the online interaction of specific groups. These include properties that can be observed in discourse, such as humor, identities, and information sharing, as well as linguistic features, such as specialized uses of vocabulary words, punctuation, and abbreviations.

Herring (2004, p. 344) assumes that "virtual community is possible, but that not all online groups constitute virtual communities." Following Herring, I take this assumption as my premise. I am interested in "the ways in which […] users imagine and discursively construct online communities, and what the consequences of this are for the way people communicate via social media" (Seargeant and Tagg, 2014, p. 10). However, instead of asking "what is a (virtual) community," my interest lies in how individuals are "doing" community online. The concept of a community of practice provides a useful theoretical lens for investigating these processes.

Communities of Practice

The communities that form around fashion blogs are based on a common interest rather than geographical proximity.4 Therefore they can be studied from the point of view of a community of practice: "an aggregate of people who come together around mutual engagement in an endeavour" (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 1992, p. 464). In the course of this endeavour, "ways of doing things, ways of talking, beliefs, values, power relations – in short, practices – emerge" (p. 464.).

The concept was originally developed by Lave and Wenger (1991) for the purpose of describing workplace communities (see also Jucker & Kopaczyk, 2013), but it can be applied to recreational groups as well. Communities of practice do not just refer to groups of people who "share a characteristic feature;" they can also be groups of people who "interact and share ways of doing things" (Jucker & Kopaczyk, 2013, p. 6). A community of practice is thus defined both by its members and by the practices of those members (Jucker & Kopaczyk, 2013, p. 8).

According to Wenger (1998, p. 72-73), three features define practice as a source for community: mutual engagement, a joint enterprise, and a shared repertoire (see Figure 1 below). Mutual engagement refers to regular interaction (Holmes & Meyerhoff, 1999). This regular interaction arises from a shared interest (e.g., plus-size fashion) that connects the members of a certain group of people. A joint enterprise, in contrast, refers to a shared aim that the group members work towards in their interactions; something they engage in pursuit of (Jucker & Kopaczyk, 2013, p. 7). How explicit this enterprise is depends on the community, but in the blogging community under investigation here, offering support, challenging fashion’s beauty ideals, and pressuring the fashion industry to provide more choice for plus-size women can be seen as contributing to the joint enterprise. Finally, a shared repertoire can be described as a collection of community-specific characteristics and resources that shape the way the participants say or do things within the community, including, for example, linguistic resources such as group-specific vocabulary, phraseological conventions and interactive patterns (Jucker & Kopaczyk, 2013, p. 7).

Figure 1. A model of a community of practice

Data and Methodology

The empirical data for this study consist of textual material collected from 20 blogs that were discovered through a Facebook group aimed at plus-size fashion bloggers. In choosing suitable blogs for the study, the following criteria were implemented. The blogs eligible for the study had been active in the year 2014, i.e., the authors of the blogs had posted new content regularly (roughly once a month or more frequently) during this year. Blogs that had not been updated at all towards the end of 2014 or had been updated only sporadically during the same year, were excluded, as were blogs that were relatively new and thus only contained a few posts. Because I am interested in the interactive aspects of blogging, only blogs that contained at least some comments were chosen for the study.5 However, not all of the individual blog posts included in the final corpus contained comments, and the distribution of comments within the corpus varies. To qualify for the study, the current,6 overall theme of the blog had to have a clear emphasis on plus-size fashion. All authors of the chosen blogs are based in the United Kingdom and write their blogs in English.

At the time of data collection the Facebook group had 140 members, and after the implementation of the aforementioned criteria I ended up with 35 blogs. Initial contact with the authors was made in early 2015 via email. Since the blogs were discovered through a private Facebook group, I considered it ethical to seek informed consent from the authors before using their blog material. Because I wanted to be open about my own identity, I also mentioned the fact that I myself write a blog with similar content, knowing that some of the bloggers might recognize my name from that context. The actual names and screen names of the bloggers were anonymized, as were the names of any other people who appeared in the blog texts or comments used in the research, excluding celebrities and other public figures. Bloggers who participated in the study appear in the examples as "Blogger_1," "Blogger_2," and so forth with randomly assigned numbers. When other names are omitted from the text, an explanation is provided in square brackets, e.g., "[another blogger]."

Out of the 35 bloggers I contacted, 20 replied to my email, and I compiled the final corpus from the public archives available on their blogs. Since my research interest is the social interaction among bloggers and the ways they describe it, the corpus consists of blog posts where the topic is meeting other bloggers (e.g., fashion event posts and posts about informal blogger "meet-ups"), or other bloggers are otherwise explicitly mentioned (e.g., challenge posts, where a blogger challenges other bloggers to write a certain type of post, such as a post where they "style" one another). It should be noted that most of the bloggers in the study interact with each other offline as well as online. While it was not my intention to focus on blog posts that described offline meet-ups, these types of posts contained the most references to other bloggers, and thus they ended up being a substantial part of my data. Gurrieri and Cherrier (2013, p. 283) also identify "fatshion specific events" as an important part of the communal activity of plus-size bloggers.

Most blogs include "tags" that make it easier to find posts related to a specific topic; if tags were included, I used them to find posts relevant to the analysis. If tags were not included, I searched for relevant posts from the blog archives manually, utilizing the search engines incorporated into the blogs. When possible, I chose posts about events and challenges that were discussed in several of the blogs. Altogether the corpus for the study consists of 100 blog posts, including 323 reader comments (as well as the reply comments written by the bloggers). Depending on the total amount of relevant posts in each blog, 4-6 posts per blog were included. In addition to a close qualitative analysis of the corpus, I also observed other material that had been posted in the blogs in order to gain a better understanding of the social world of the bloggers.

The analytical approach I used in my investigation of the corpus was Computer-Mediated Discourse Analysis (CMDA) as defined by Herring (2004, 2013). The CMDA approach applies methodological paradigms used in linguistic research to the analysis of logs of verbal interaction that takes place in online environments (Herring, 2004, p. 339). Rather than being a single, clear-cut method, CMDA is a toolkit "grounded in linguistic discourse analysis for mining networked communication patterns of structure and meaning" (Herring, 2013, p. 4). According to Herring (2004, p. 341), CMDA applies to four domains of language: 1) structure, 2) meaning, 3) interaction, and 4) social behavior. On the structural level, phenomena of interest include the use of special typography or orthography and new word formations. On the meaning level, CMDA researchers can focus on the meaning of words and speech acts, as well as larger functional units of language. The interactional level consists of phenomena such as turn-taking and topic development, while on the level of social behavior, occurrences of conflict, power relations, group membership, and expressions of play can be studied. As a possible addition to these four domains of language, Herring identifies a fifth domain, which consists of participation patterns. These can be observed in, for example, posting frequency and message length.

As in linguistic discourse analysis in general, the goal of CMDA is "to identify patterns in discourse that are demonstrably present, but that may not be immediately obvious to the casual observer or to the discourse participants themselves" (Herring, 2004, p. 342). A CMDA study may be conducted using either quantitative or qualitative methods (Herring, 2004, p. 343); in the present study, I employ a qualitative approach, because many of the discourse practices I am interested in would be difficult to study using quantitative methods. I read through each blog text and comment, making notes of any repetitive themes or patterns that could be observed in the four domains of language. As I focused on the textual features of the blogs, I did not include the fifth domain of participation patterns in my analysis.

I manually classified the blog posts according to: a) topic (e.g., challenge post, fashion event post, blogger meet-up) and b) types of discourse practices that could be identified. To help in the classification of the discourse practices, I compared my observations to a set of features that have been characterized as properties of social interaction in online communities in previous research (Baym, 2010; Herring, 2004; Luzón, 2011; Rheingold, 1995). These properties are presented in Table 1 below, where they are grouped according to their respective domains in the CMDA framework. I also compared my observations with the three characteristics of a community of practice as defined by Wenger (1998). Figure 2 illustrates how I approached each research question in my analysis.

Domains of language (Herring, 2004)

Properties of social interaction in online groups


Genres and jargon (e.g., Baym, 2010, p. 77), references to group, abbreviations, "us vs. them" language (e.g., the use of first-person plural pronouns in contrast to third-person plural pronouns) (Herring, 2004, p. 356-60), acronyms, punctuation, emoticons (Luzón, 2011, p. 253)


Advice (e.g., Baym, 2010, p. 82-86), exchanging knowledge (e.g., Rheingold, 1995, p. 13-18), acts of positive politeness (Herring, 2004, p. 356)


Evidence of social relations over space and time, e.g., mentions of earlier interactions (Rheingold, 1995), addressing other participants by name, direct references to others’ messages (Luzón, 2011, p. 253)

Social behavior

Affective use of humor (Luzón, 2011, p. 253), roles and identities (e.g., Baym, 2010, p. 84-89), emotional support (e.g., Rheingold, 1995, p. 13), verbal reactions to violations of appropriate conduct, evidence of governance and rituals (Herring, 2004, p. 356), forms of play (e.g., Baym, 2010, p. 77)

Table 1. Properties of online social interaction used in the analysis of blog material

Figure 2. Research questions

Three groups of community-building practices were discovered in the analysis: practices that expressed 1) a sense of belonging to a group, 2) a sense of solidarity among plus-size fashion consumers, and 3) a sense of support. In the following sections, I discuss the discursive features of these three groups of practices in detail. Bolded text is used in the blog extracts to emphasize specific discursive or linguistic features.

Part of Something Bigger: A Sense of Belonging to a Group

When describing their experiences of attending events, the bloggers stressed the importance of spending time with other plus-size women, and they expressed a strong sense of belonging to a group. Meeting fashion-forward plus-size women and being able to relate to them was often described as out of the ordinary. It was "something very new" (Example 1) that opened up "a whole world" (Example 2) to these women – hinting that this feeling of being a part of a group had been absent in their pre-blogging life.

(1) Plus North last year was a real game changer in my life and the highlight of my year. Being surrounded by people who had had similar life experiences to myself and knew how it felt was something very new to me. (Blogger_1)

(2) Being exposed to so many plus size women in one place who were confident, happy and had access to relevant fashion had such an impact on me. My favourite thing about Plus North is that they use non-professional models for the catwalk (including me, heyyyy!). Seeing women who had fat tummies, cellulite on their chubby thighs and body parts that I could relate to walking down the catwalk confidently completely overwhelmed me and made me a bit teary! It opened a whole world up to me that I didn't really know existed and I am forever grateful to Plus North for that! (Blogger_6)

In these descriptions of belonging, life as a plus-size woman was discursively constructed as an identity-defining experience, something that only the members of that particular group could understand. At the same time, the group was also juxtaposed with the "others," meaning thinner, "straight-size" women.

(3) For the first time I was surrounded by women who had experienced the same troubles, stereotypes and wardrobe malfunctions as myself! What became apparent to me is how so many of the current fashion brands are embracing us bigger girls as women who can look just as stylish as our smaller counterparts, and that we also deserve that right. (Blogger_14)

(4) Boohoo have created a line that truly stands out against the other plus size retailers because they've designed what many of us plus size girls have always wanted and that's clothes that our slimmer friends would want to wear. (Blogger_12)

Herring (2004, 355) refers to this phenomenon as "self-awareness of group as an entity distinct from other groups." This can be observed in the inclusive use of the first person plural pronoun "us" in reference to a particular group: "us bigger girls" (Example 3) and "us plus size girls" (Example 4). The group is then contrasted with another distinctive group; "our smaller counterparts" (Example 3) and "our slimmer friends" (Example 4). Interestingly, I could not find any examples in the corpus where the bloggers referred to smaller women as "they." "Us vs. them" language, which is mentioned as a part of the structural level of Herring’s (2004, 361) CMDA framework,7 was thus achieved only partially, through the use of inclusive pronouns.

The bloggers’ descriptions of feeling a sense of belonging also reflected the marginalized position that plus-size women have when it comes to fashion imagery. The blogger in Example 2 mentions how seeing women on the catwalk with "fat tummies" and "cellulite on their chubby thighs" overwhelmed her because she simply is not used to seeing women who look similar to herself in a fashion context. As Gurrieri and Cherrier (2013, p. 280) point out, there is great power in seeing people with bodies similar to our own being confident and happy. At the same time, the fact that the bloggers simultaneously resist and sustain the normativity of fashion (see also Gurrieri & Cherrier, 2013; Harju & Huovinen, 2015) is evident in Examples 3 and 4. While the bloggers highlight a sense of "groupness" with other plus-size women by using the inclusive "us," they also express an aspiration to be similar – or at least treated similarly – to straight-size women, saying that they can look "just as stylish" (Example 3) as smaller women and expressing a desire for "clothes that our slimmer friends would want to wear" (Example 4).

Although all of the bloggers voiced positive feelings of belonging to a group, participating in face-to-face blogger events – especially for the first time – was also constructed as a source of nervousness and anxiety for many. It became clear that even though a sense of community had been established online, face-to-face meetings could still be nerve-racking. Nine bloggers described these fears in their posts, followed by a narrative of overcoming the anxiety.

(5) I went with my husband and spent the entire time deep breathing my way through panic attacks and not speaking to people. Fortunately for me three wonderful ladies sat on a table with my husband and I and eased my anxiety by being generally lovely. (Blogger_6)

(6) I must confess that I was very nervous to go to the meet up, not only because the only person I had met in the flesh before was [another blogger], but also because I was meeting some bloggers that I had admired from reading their blogs and was a little ‘blogger star struck’. […] I had a brilliant time and I think we definitely need to do it again. Spring Fling anyone? (Blogger_1)

In Example 5, the blogger begins her narrative by describing a very powerful, negative reaction to being in a new situation and meeting new people – a panic attack – but then goes on to praise the other "wonderful" bloggers for easing her anxiety by being "lovely." Describing the other bloggers with positive adjectives can be seen as an act of positive politeness towards these women who are part of the same community; this illustrates the meaning level of the CMDA framework.

On the level of social behavior, the presence of roles and hierarchies within the blogging community was also evident. In Example 6, a blogger refers to being "blogger star struck" by other, more well-known bloggers she has admired from afar. By mentioning this, she takes on the role of a "newbie," a junior member of the blogging community, while placing the other bloggers higher in the hierarchy – a typical move in an online community of practice (see, e.g., Stommel, 2009 on the roles and identities in an online community of eating-disordered girls). However, her own status seems to change as her account of the evening progresses. When she ends her post, she portrays herself in a more confident manner by taking the initiative to suggest a new meeting. Again, the use of the inclusive "we" marks the blogger’s engagement with her community (i.e., the other plus-size bloggers who read her blog). It appears as though interacting with other, more "prestigious" members of the blogging group lessened her anxiety and increased her confidence, making her feel like a part of a community.

While nervousness and anxiety about meeting other bloggers in "real life" were frequently expressed, it was always highlighted that despite the initial nervousness, everyone felt welcomed and free to be themselves.

(7) I felt instantly at ease amongst this group of women, something which didn't even strike me as odd until I sat down to write this post 36 hours later. I was instantly myself - joking around, not afraid of being too loud or too weird. My anxiety didn't come into play at all as it usually would in social situations and much of that is down to the fabulous [other blogger] for letting me know she was so looking forward to meeting me. Normally I'd have been a bag of nerves on meeting a lot of new people but there wasn't so much of a flutter of an impending panic attack. VICTORY! (Blogger_2)

(8) I often have this fear that I'm not welcome. I go to some events and don't talk to anyone or end up on my own (this is getting less and less) but when I meet up with this bunch I never feel like that. (Blogger_16)

Thus, the face-to-face meetings of "this bunch" (Example 8) of bloggers were portrayed as events where one could feel comfortable, confident, and "instantly at ease" (Example 7). The use of the adverbs "normally" (Example 7) and "often" (Example 8) attributes the nervousness to the bloggers’ character and helps them to avoid performing a face threat towards the rest of the community; anxiety is something that happens on a regular basis, as opposed to something caused by these specific people (on face work see Brown & Levinson, 1987).

The idea of feeling like a part of a bigger collective was also echoed in the comments, where the readers expressed feelings similar to the bloggers’:

(9) I can completely relate to the first two paragraphs of this post, because I wanted the same out of blogging, and I've found that contentment with who I am from blogging, too! All thanks to the plus size community! It's as if you jumped in my head and stole my thoughts! I'm glad you've found your confidence and acceptance. There's a lot to be said for blogging in this community, isn't there?! (Reader comment for Blogger_1)

In Example 9, the reader – who also writes a blog – reinforces the sense of belonging described by the original poster by sharing her own experiences as well as displaying emotional support (Baym, 2010, p. 83-84): "I’m glad you’ve found your confidence and acceptance." The commenter’s repeated use of the word "community" also strengthens the feeling of being part of the same social group and highlights her engagement with others who write similar blogs. As opposed to merely finding "confidence and acceptance" through the freedom of self-expression that comes with blogging, the positive change is connected to blogging specifically "in this community."

A Focus on Fashion: Solidarity among Plus-Size Consumers

Although all of the fashion event posts in the corpus included references to other bloggers, there were some that focused less on the social interaction and more on the topic of the events themselves: fashion. In these fashion-focused posts, the bloggers’ marginalized position as consumers and their joint enterprise of wanting to improve the current situation became apparent. Reviewing products and brands is a common practice in fashion blogs in general, and this practice was notably present in the posts where the bloggers discussed events organized by brands, such as fashion shows and store openings. However, the presence of certain discursive elements made the marginalized position of plus-size women visible. Much like the bloggers studied by Harju and Huovinen (2015), the bloggers in my data sought visibility and acceptance as fashion consumers, both for themselves and for the larger community of plus-size women.

(10) Everything about the new Simply Be store makes it a joy to go shopping, a true experience that makes you feel proud to be curvy rather than ashamed. I love the design of the store, it is roomy but with a fantastic selection of clothes and the store staff are only too happy to help. (Blogger_12)

(11) What I love about this brand is that they aim to be fun, fresh, bold and edgy and they are carving out a look that really is all theirs! In all honesty what I love the most about their clothes is that they break all of the pre-dated rules for us "bigger women"! (Blogger_14)

(12) I had the pleasure of going to their event in London showcasing some of the new summer range, [and] boy let me tell you. Nobody throws an event quite like Curvy Kate. I was twerked with, grinded on and groped up and that was just the PR at Curvy Kate! (Blogger_19)

Brands that were "brave" enough to make plus-size customers "feel proud to be curvy rather than ashamed" (Example 10) and to "break all of the pre-dated rules" (Example 11) were applauded for their efforts by the bloggers. On the interactional level of the CMDA framework, bloggers repeatedly mentioned their favorite brands by name and linked to their products, and on the meaning level, brand representatives were included as part of the plus-size blogging community through expressions of light-hearted camaraderie and positive politeness that were similar to references to other bloggers (Example 12). The relationship between brands and bloggers is a mutually beneficial one; while the brands often gift bloggers with free products and can increase their blogs’ visibility through the social media coverage of their collaborations, the bloggers also act as an important link between brands and plus-size consumers. Influential bloggers can build a brand up, but they can also tear one down (see Myers, 2010, p. 24 for similar discussion on political bloggers and candidates).8

Harju and Huovinen (2015, p. 1615) noted "great parallelism" between plus-size blogs and traditional fashion blogs in their study. This was evident, for example, in the way the bloggers posed in outfit photographs. Similar "mimicry" could also be observed in the linguistic behavior of the bloggers I studied. On the structural level of CMDA, the vocabulary used in the fashion-focused blog posts reflected the bloggers’ position as both "insiders" and "outsiders" within the sphere of fashion media. The posts contained terminology from traditional fashion discourse (e.g., "fashionista," "lookbook," "pencil skirt," "peplum," "jeggings," "creepers") as well as jargon clearly specific to plus-size fashion (e.g., "visible belly line" (often abbreviated to VBL), "curvy illusion," "fat swap," "wide fit"). Both types of terminology can be treated as in-group jargon, since the bloggers appeared to assume that their readers would be familiar with the terms. Thus, general fashion vocabulary and plus-size fashion vocabulary were both part of the shared repertoire of the community.

While interactions with other bloggers were portrayed in an unfailingly positive light, there were instances in the corpus where a blogger expressed disappointment with some aspect of a fashion brand or event.

(13) Plus North 2014 was a blast. There were issues with the venue and if you went you'll know what I mean, I got [a] chance to see friends, meet people I speak to online and have a jolly good time. (Blogger_16)

Comment (from Blogger_2):

The whole place was ill thought out, what with the lighting, the lifts, the air con and everything else. It's a shame that the girls' hard work was slightly marred by the surroundings. But I still had loads of fun! x x

(14) Despite feeling disappointed over the beauty side of the night, the company definitely made it worth going and I'm already looking forward to next year's event where I shall definitely be saving up to take full advantage of the night! (Blogger_7)

In Example 13, the critique of the event is carefully constructed by both the original poster and the commenter. As a display of solidarity to the bloggers who were involved in organizing the event, the bloggers place the blame firmly on the venue, while the positive experiences of interacting with other bloggers are highlighted. The blogger in Example 14 uses a similar tactic, stressing that while she was disappointed by the (commercial) event itself, the company of other bloggers more than made up for it. On the social behavior level of CMDA, examples such as these can be seen as evidence of an implicit norm (Baym, 2010, p. 79) within the group of bloggers: when negative feedback is given, it must be constructive and directed at a non-blogger entity, such as a brand or a venue.

Beautiful Fat Babes: Empowerment through Support

Support has been discussed extensively in previous literature on online social interaction (e.g., Baym, 2010; Herring, 2004), and it is often said to be a key feature of a virtual community. In the case of marginalized groups, finding a supportive environment online is perhaps especially meaningful, considering that these groups are often ostracized or even attacked in "mainstream" online discussions. As Harju and Huovinen (2015, p. 1615) discovered, communal activity can be a source of empowerment for plus-size bloggers. In the interactions among the bloggers in my data, linguistic and discursive practices of showing support were frequent and varied. On the meaning level of CMDA, support was evident in the use of speech acts denoting positive politeness, such as congratulating and complimenting one another, as well as using affectionate nicknames like "uber babe" and "sister from another mister" (Example 15) and urging readers to follow each other (Example 16). Such displays of support and encouragement can be interpreted as what Gurrieri and Cherrier (2013, p. 283) refer to as the bloggers "mobilizing fat citizenship."

(15) At Plus North this year I was fortunate to meet some uber babes who I have become (life long I hope) friends with. These ladies are [Blogger_20], [Blogger_19] and (my sister from another mister) [another blogger] (we're the middle foursome below.) All three ladies were nominated for best newcomer blog and I couldn't be prouder of all of them. [Blogger_20] scooped the award and I'm soo happy for her. (Blogger_9)

(16) Some nice simple ballerina flats in lilac as [another blogger] is a busy mummy on her feet all day but still looks stylish while doing so. Go check out her awesome blog and also check out the other bloggers taking part in this challenge. See if you can spot who styles me! (Blogger_17)

When participating in a blogging challenge, linking to the other participants’ blogs was an explicit norm – a prerequisite for taking part in the challenge. This was evident in the fact that all bloggers who participated in a particular challenge included a copy-pasted list of other participants’ names and blog addresses in their posts. Similarly, when using photos taken by another blogger, crediting them and including a link to their blog was a consistent practice, even though not all bloggers explicitly stated that they must be credited if their photos were used. Although a group of individual blogs lacks the same kind of governance as, for example, a discussion forum with a moderator, it became evident that there are rules when it comes to participating in collective challenges and borrowing material from others. As is typical of a community of practice, these rules are negotiated and maintained in interaction; a mutually beneficial, supportive atmosphere is sustained by crediting and mentioning others.

On the structural level of CMDA, support was also apparent in the way the bloggers regularly referred to others with positive adjectives such as "lovely" (Example 17) or "gorgeous" (Example 18). Occurring in 63 out of the 100 blog posts in the corpus, this habit was so frequent that it could also be interpreted as an implicit normative practice within the group.

(17) So after work on the 23rd I jumped on a train to London where I met lovely [another blogger] at the station and we whizzed to Covent Garden on the tube. (Blogger_18)

(18) I arrived into London around lunch time and met up with the gorgeous [Blogger_6], after some lunch and a flying visit to Primark we headed over to Evans HQ just off Oxford Street. (Blogger_4)

Another concept closely related to support that came up in the corpus frequently was that of inspiration. On the social behavior level of CMDA, bloggers credited other bloggers for giving them the confidence to start their own blog as well helping them to develop a more positive outlook on their body:

(19) For an awfully long time the only fashion inspiration that I had was kinda unrelatable and caused me more sadness than happiness. I'd look through fashion magazines and see clothes that I would never be able to buy because they weren't available in my size and then I'd just get frustrated that I couldn't find something similar in plus sizes and wish I was thinner. Well that was a few [years?] ago now, before I started reading fashion blogs and delved into a world of beautiful fat babes that inspire me and help me feel proud of my chub every single day . Here are a few of those babes in some recent outfit posts that are currently rocking my fashion world… (Blogger_18)

Once again, the marginalized position of the plus-size woman is vocalized in Example 19. For this blogger, fashion used to be "unrelatable" because the imagery offered by mainstream fashion media (magazines) made her feel excluded. The blogger uses a temporal contrast between what she used to be like before and what she is like now to highlight the significance of being inspired and empowered by other bloggers. Similar to the "overcoming anxiety" discourse that was used in event posts, the blog posts that described the author discovering plus-size fashion blogging frequently had narrative elements. In Example 20, the author’s switch from past to present tense marks the change occurred in the way she sees herself:

(20) Before I started blogging I was incredibly self-conscious about my arms and would keep them covered up until I couldn't take the heat anymore. Now, I don't care. I wouldn't say I like my arms but I'm just not bothered about them or by what other people think which, actually, is probably nothing. (Blogger_11)

In this way, the discovery of the plus-size blogosphere and the support offered by this online environment is discursively constructed as a significant turning point regarding the blogger’s self-confidence. However, while the support available through online resources was portrayed as essential, interacting with other bloggers face to face was also important:

(21) Whoooooo! I look forward to meeting you next year. :)

It was really nice to see everyone. I think for me, because most of my interactions with the plus size world are on the internet, it's easy to miscalculate how much of what I put out there gets heard. There needed to be some face to face interaction to gauge how people feel about me, and now I feel a lot more connected than I did before. So I really hope you get that experience soon. It's really life affirming! x x (Blogger_2 in reply to a comment from Blogger_17)

In Example 21, the blogger addresses another blogger who has not been able to participate in offline meet-ups, saying that meeting other bloggers in an offline context made her feel more "connected." However, she makes sure to protect the other blogger’s face by opening with a positive statement ("I look forward to meeting you") and stressing that this view is based on her personal experience ("I think for me…").

Discussion and Conclusion

The plus-size fashion bloggers in this study construct and maintain a sense of community through practices that express a sense of belonging to a group, a sense of solidarity among plus-size fashion consumers, and a sense of support. The linguistic and discursive phenomena that characterize these three groups of practices are summarized in Table 2 below, where they are organized according to the four domains of language in Herring’s (2004) CMDA model.

CMDA domain

Community-building practices


"Us vs. them" language; inclusive references to group; fashion-related jargon

Terminology specific to plus-size fashion; repeated use ot the construction [positive adjective] + [another blogger’s name]


Speech acts of positive politeness: complimenting, congratulating, displays of loyalty and affection towards bloggers and brands


Links and references to other bloggers and brands (addressivity); references to previous interactions

Social behavior

Evidence of hierarchies and power relations within the group; narratives of overcoming anxiety when attending events and being "blogger star struck"

Norms of appropriateness (brands and events can be critiqued, other bloggers cannot)

Narratives of becoming empowered by discovering plus-size blogging; displaying knowledge of other bloggers’ styles; normative practices of linking in challenge posts and crediting others when using their photographs

Naming other bloggers as inspirational role models

Table 2. Community-building practices in the discourse of plus-size fashion bloggers

While the CMDA model was a useful approach to analyzing the blog data, I did encounter some challenges in categorizing the discourse practices according to Herring’s (2004) four domains of language. For instance, although the blogs contained a lot of interaction, the interactional level of CMDA is somewhat difficult to apply to blogs because it is more inclined towards conversational interaction. In the blog data, the interactional level was mostly apparent in cases of "addressivity," i.e., "naming the next speaker" (Herring & Androutsopoulos, 2015, p. 137) through a link or a mention. Additionally, some phenomena that are grouped under "structure" in Herring’s model are also clearly indicative of patterns in social behavior; a good example of this is inclusive pronoun use. In the CMDA model, pronoun choice is an indicator of "us vs. them language" (Herring, 2004, p. 361) and categorized as a structural feature, but I would argue that when pronoun choice is clearly influenced by the desire to include and exclude certain groups of people, it is also indicative of social hierarchies and power relations, which in turn belong to the social behavior level of CMDA. In fact, many of the practices I observed that belonged to the first three levels also had a social component to them, which made having a separate analytical level of "social behavior" problematic at times. While the CMDA model is still relevant in 2016, it requires updating to address the challenges of today, when CMD is more focused on the "social" than ever before. The model could be reformulated to accommodate the vast spectrum of online social interaction induced by new media and technologies. Herring (2013) herself has already addressed the challenges of CMDA in analyzing so-called "Web 2.0" phenomena by adding a new level for multimodal communication.

My findings give further support to the idea that recreational online-based groups can be approached through Wenger’s (1998) community of practice theory. A mutual engagement can be observed in the way the bloggers act as both authors and commenters; while their primary focus may be producing new content to their own blogs, they also comment on other bloggers’ posts to express an interest in their content, thus keeping up interactional ties between participants. The fact that the blog posts contained references to previous meet-ups and interactions, and the way the bloggers displayed knowledge of each other’s styles in challenge posts, also show that the blogging group has a history of interacting together. Thus, the bloggers have had time to develop routinized, shared practices. Even though the the blogs exhibit characteristics typical of fashion blogging in general, such as reviewing products and the use of fashion terminology, a joint enterprise of advancing plus-size women’s rights as fashion consumers is visible in the way brands are judged by what they offer to plus-size consumers in particular, as well as in the way the bloggers adapt fashion related genres and terms to suit their own needs. Additionally, a sense of community is constructed through practices that display a shared discursive repertoire, such as the seemingly normative use of positive adjectives when referring to other participants. There is also evidence of both explicit (e.g., linking to others when taking part in a blogging challenge) and implicit (e.g., not criticizing other bloggers) rules that have been negotiated within the community.

The combination of Herring’s (2004) CMDA framework and Wenger’s (1998) community of practice theory is a valuable approach to analyzing social interaction within online groups, because while CMDA acts as a methodological toolkit that enables the researcher to break down the data and to explore the specific linguistic and discursive features that characterize the interaction, the community of practice theory offers a way to move forward from the problem of defining "virtual community." Studying the shared practices of specific online groups is more fruitful than trying to generalize a definition for virtual community, especially in the case of marginalized communities where the ways in which people do and say things are often incomparable with "mainstream" communities.

To provide further insights into the language use of specific blogging communities, large scale corpus linguistic studies are needed in the future. Such studies could, for example, reveal more about the use of in-group vocabulary by comparing corpora compiled from blogs in a specific category with larger, more general CMC corpora. In the case of plus-size fashion bloggers, another relevant topic for future research would be the role of other social media platforms that the bloggers use to distribute their content and to interact with their audience, such as Twitter and Facebook. The interaction I observed in the blogs in this study was remarkably positive, which might be partly due to the fact that the bloggers are able to moderate and delete any negative responses. On other social media channels, the interaction may be less filtered. Moreover, because the bloggers in my study interacted offline as well as online, studies of blogging groups that only operate online are needed to provide a more diverse picture. This is especially important because although there were instances in my data where a blogger was unable to participate in face-to-face meetings, many bloggers seemed to consider face-to-face interaction important.

The present study contributes to a timely topic in the field of CMC: researching the ways in which socially marginalized groups make use of the new resources provided by digital media. Although the study’s findings are in line with previous literature on plus-size fashion blogs (e.g., Gurrieri & Cherrier, 2013; Harju & Huovinen, 2015), they add an important linguistic perspective to the topic, as well as shedding further light on the interactive aspects of plus-size fashion blogging. Like other research that has been conducted on online communities of marginalized people, the findings show the construction of shared, "safe" spaces online as well as boundary work between insiders and outsiders; at the same time, they reveal how community is discursively and linguistically constructed within this particular category of bloggers. In the future, detailed studies on how different marginalized groups use online resources are required to better understand the advantages of organizing as communities on the Internet.


This study was made possible by funding from the Eino Jutikkala Fund. I would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments.


  1. I use the term "plus-size fashion blog" as opposed to "fatshion blog" because it is the preferred term among the bloggers I studied.

  2. This is a similar phenomenon to what Vaisman (2011, p. 181) observed for Hebrew teenage bloggers and their use of the term Fakatsa; although the word has derogatory connotations, among bloggers it came to have a positive meaning of "being feminine and up to date with fashion."

  3. I use the term "plus-size", but when the word "fat" is used, it is used as a neutral descriptive with no derogatory intent.

  4. Proximity may be a factor as well: UK-based bloggers often interact with each other more than they do with, e.g., US-based bloggers.

  5. Most active fashion blogs contain at least some comments. Blogs with no comments are usually fairly new and thus would not have met the criteria for the study, in any case.

  6. Some of the blogs I investigated had started out with a more general outlook and later focused on fashion.

  7. This can be argued to be a social feature as well, however (see discussion).

  8. I observed bloggers reacting negatively to a plus-size fashion brand in late 2015, when a representative of a UK-based brand addressed a customer impolitely on the brand’s Facebook page. Within hours, bloggers had expressed their displeasure towards the brand all over social media.


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Biographical Note

Hanna Limatius [Hanna.Limatius@uta.fi] is a doctoral candidate at the University of Tampere. Her research interests include online communities, blogs, and fashion media.


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