With 165,000 followers on Instagram, social media star Callie Thorpe, 28, is on a one-woman mission to reshape the way society views plus-size. This month, as she fronts Happiful’s body-positivity workshop, Callie reveals the truth about body-shaming abuse, her journey to happiness, and the secret to finding her self-confidence
People are really bored by perfection. It’s something we’ve been sold our entire lives and it’s unachievable,” says Callie Thorpe, perched on a stool in the Museum of Happiness in north London, sipping her cup of tea and enthusiastically welcoming the ladies arriving for the workshop. She’s explaining why BoPo – that’s social media shorthand for body positivity – is having a moment right now.
The wave of empowering self-confidence is flooding the internet: the Instagram body warriors celebrating stretch marks because they’re real and natural. The advocates of self-love who pose filter and make-up free to prove that unedited faces and bodies are not to be feared.
And the plus-size women who showcase their curves with pride – role models who are applauded by a new generation who believe we should feel good whatever weight we are.
Callie, 28, is a hearty promoter of every such message. A size 24, plus-size model and one of Britain’s most successful social media influencers, she’s a powerful poster girl for self-acceptance and body autonomy, and passionate about reshaping the way that fashion sees body types.
Women deserve to feel good in their bodies, and plus-size women in the industry are pushing boundaries by saying that we need to see more diverse women of different sizes. We also need to see more diversity in regards to disabled women and black women,” says Callie. “Representation matters and there are more women who don’t look like those people in the pages of magazines than there are who do.”
I hated my body and was utterly convinced that being fat was the cause of everything wrong in my life
She’s right. In the UK at least, the average woman wears size 16 clothes, and plus-size is gaining more and more momentum on the high street. As well as trailblazers Marks & Spencer, Evans, Debenhams, Asda and Primark, Gap caters up to a size 24, Asos stocks 20 plus-size brands, and House of Fraser’s plus-size range offers sizes up to 28 from a selection of designers. The UK plus-size menswear market is also forecast to be the strongest performer over the next five years, with an estimated growth of more than 22%. There are plus-size fashion weeks in London, Paris, New York, Hamburg and Montreal, and plus-size models Ashley Graham, Tess Holliday, Robyn Lawley, and Candice Huffine have been making waves Stateside. It’s significant progress.
In the UK, Callie can take credit for helping to – in her words – “reframe people’s thoughts on image and weight”. Her Instagram posts – seen by a devoted army of more than 165,000 followers – consistently highlight her status as a life-loving, body image game-changer. One of her most recent posts said: “I feel more secure than ever with my personal style. Maybe it’s to do with age and caring less about what people think, or the fact that I’ve grown to love being a little different.”
The journey to self-love was a long one. Growing up in a village near Newport, south Wales, Callie was an average-sized child until a prescription of steroids in her teens to medicate her asthma caused her to gain weight. Callie soon found herself on the receiving end of cruel criticism from people who couldn’t accept her bigger size.
“I’ve always heard subtle comments like, ‘You’ve got such a pretty face, if only you would lose weight.’ One day, in my teens, I was in the post office and an elderly woman said, ‘You’re too overweight and you’ll never find a man or be successful if you don’t lose it.’ I was crushed. Then at school a couple of boys nicknamed me ‘calorie’, which was hurtful.
“Growing up, I was always popular, but I was the funny, fat friend. My confidence issues were never because of my personality; I always liked my inner self. What I didn’t like was how I looked in the mirror, and over the years I was desperate to lose weight because I hated my body and was utterly convinced that being fat was the cause of everything wrong in my life. After university, I was in a dead-end administrative job while my friends were living their career dreams and travelling the world. I was depressed and despised myself inside and out.”
By 2012, Callie was stuck in a cycle of “oppressive diets” and using laxatives to assist with weight loss. “I was a mess,” she admits, and it showed in her choice of words in her first blog, Slimming In The City, documenting her weight loss.
Finding a place where I could appreciate my body and feel accepted was life-changing and the blog snowballed
“I was self-depreciating. I called myself all sorts of names; I hated myself. It was a way of punishing myself to feel accountable to people I didn’t know. I thought it would help me and, actually, it made me feel worse. It was crippling,” says Callie.
The day she went online to buy plus-sized swimwear for a holiday to Barbados and stumbled across GabiFresh.com, a body-empowering blog belonging to American plus-size designer Gabi Gregg, Callie’s life changed forever.
“I’d never seen anybody be so open or happy about being plus size, or confident about finding ways to enjoy fashion. It made me realise that without positivity, I’d never find happiness,” she recalls. Callie swiftly ditched her diet blog and launched a new one called From The Corners Of The Curve, charting her slow but sure journey towards embracing her size.
“I was still self-conscious, but I was learning about what it means to be kind to your body,” says Callie. “I began experimenting with fashion and wearing clothes that I’d been taught by the media were off limits to plus-size women – prints and jumpsuits, dungarees, even crop tops. That was just the beginning.”
By the time of the holiday to Barbados, Callie’s newfound confidence enabled her to wear a block colour bikini for the first time – a milestone moment that was met with rapturous praise from women who admired Callie’s self-assurance when she posted a photograph online.
“Finding a place where I could appreciate my body and feel accepted was life-changing and the blog snowballed. I began writing pieces about life as a plus-size woman, talking about real issues, like chafing on holiday or feeling confident in lingerie, which other women could relate to.”
Within four years, Callie had attracted more than 100,000 followers on Instagram and brands including Evans, New Look, Curvissa, Nivea and La Redoute were taking notice. In 2016, the year she became the first ever plus-sized columnist for Marie Claire, Callie signed to Milk Management, the first major modelling agency in the UK to have a “curve” division.