A few months ago, Lebanese-American model, blogger, and designer, Nadia Aboulhosn launched a capsule collection of thigh-high boots for women with fuller thighs. Shoes. Seems innocuous enough, almost trivial if you’re not in or particularly interested in the fashion industry. Except it’s not. It’s not because the presence  of these thigh-high boots – or previous lack thereof – has huge implications for women, body image, inclusivity, and what society at large has deemed ‘okay’ for how women should look or what they should be ‘allowed’ to wear according to normalized global standards.

...people don’t really think about wide-legged women.

“Over the years, it was just more difficult to find thigh-high boots that fit over my wider upper thighs,” recounts Aboulhosn, whose weight will range, depending on the time, between 150 and 200 pounds (around a size 14 to 16; EUR 44 to 46). “But I still forced it to fit – I would get the lace-up heels and all that. I realised how many people would ask me where I got mine from – they had difficulties fitting them on their legs. Because people don’t really think about wide-legged women.”

One of the campaign shots for Nadia's (center) collection of footwear, including thigh-high boots, for Fashion to Figure, also featuring Tabria Majors.

The fact that she was unable to find thigh-high boots to fit her size 14 thighs carries with it an assumption; that only women of a certain size should have the privilege of wearing these boots; that women above a certain weight class are not deserving of as much sartorial variety; that they should shrink to fit the options in the market. The unsavory reality is that many people can’t wrap their heads around the notion that perhaps these women don’t want to shrink; perhaps they are perfectly okay with their size and weight, and the options should cater to them, and not the other way around. Because yes, there are plus sized brands, or brands which carry pluz-sized collections, but the variety is strikingly lacking. Case in point: thigh high boots.

On social media, there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me - that were bigger – being half naked in bras and short shorts.

“I mean, I pitched this to brands for years but nobody would pick it up,” the 5 ft 3 model remembers. “Like hey, you guys wanna do a capsule? We should do a plus-size collection, it would do really well – there are a lot of people who want something different and not just all-black pieces of clothing.”

Photo by Lee Gumbs

Her pitches were largely ignored. But the tides are slowly turning, propelled forward in increments by people just like Aboulhosn. Her collection of footwear for Fashion to Figure – in case you’re wondering, the aforementioned thigh-high boots sold out twice and needed to be restocked – is just the latest in the now 30-year-old’s quest championing inclusivity and diversity. For the past 10 years, she has become something of a poster girl for self-confidence and size inclusivity.

“This stool only fits one butt cheek."

Born to a Lebanese father and American mother in Florida, Aboulhosn has been steadily making a name for herself for the better part of a decade. She started her blog while working in a small Middle Eastern restaurant, after being rejected from fashion school, in 2010 – the pre-Instagram era. She has since modelled for Seventeen (her first ever modelling gig, where the magazine reached out to her after seeing her photos on her online blog), American Apparel, and Teen Vogue; been on the – highly controversial – cover of Women’s Running in 2016 (because clearly, women who are not a size 0 don’t run); starred in a Good American campaign; and collaborated on fashion lines with the likes of Boohoo and Lord & Taylor. She also continues to run her successful blog, and has more than a half-a-million-strong following on Instagram, where she largely (pun intended) gives no shits about being blunt, raw, scantily-clad, and dead honest.

 A shot from the Good American campaign Aboulhosn starred in.

Though of Arab origins, she maintains that that has never been an issue for her in terms of modelling, partially due to her upbringing in the US (she visits Lebanon often but has never resided there). “I don’t really get criticized for it in that sense - my dad is really the as-long-as-it-makes-me-happy type. He came to America when he was 19 year old so he understands how different things are here,” she explains. “I mean, my mom always doesn’t want my nipples to show,” she adds with a laugh.

I wish we could eliminate the ‘plus-size’ term, and just have a clothing line or clothing lines or brands that have size 0 to 30 or whatever, right?

Rather than any sense of Arab cultural conservativisms being an issue, the real issue has been her size. “For a long time on social media, there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me - that were bigger – being half naked in bras and short shorts,” she says simply. “I’ve always had people criticizing what I wear.” Society will often correlate skimpy clothing to skinny women; larger women should cover up. They will applaud women who lose the weight but refuse to validate the ones who keep it of their own volition.

Except the reality is the majority of Americans are a size 14 (size 44 EUR) – in fact a recent study by the International Journal or Fashion Design, Technology and Education suggests that the average size of women is actually now 16-18; Plunkett Research estimates the same. The retail market however, refuses to validate, or acknowledge, this very real fact. Much like the thigh-high boots conundrum, according to a 2018 article on Racked, when retail analytics firm Edited observed 25 of the biggest multi-brand retailers in the US (including Macy’s, Shopbop, and Net-a-Porter) which combined feature more then 15,000 brands, they uncovered that only 2.3% of their women’s apparel is plus sized.

I mean, my mom always doesn’t want my nipples to show

The market for plus-size women is not only there, it’s growing. According to research market firm NPD, when it comes to teenage females in the US – aka the women who will be tomorrow’s spenders – a third of them identify as plus size. Which is why women need boots that fit their “thicky-thick legs” as Aboulhosn called them on one Instagram post, and they need other women – like her – who show them it’s not shameful to wear said boots when you’re considered “plus sized.” This however, opens up an interesting dilemma about the term itself.

Aboulhosn believes the term “plus sized” itself to be problematic in the implication that it creates a binary, where one singular type of body is considered ‘normal’ therefore rendering anyone bigger than that to be considered not normal. “I wish we could eliminate the ‘plus-size’ term, and just have a clothing line or clothing lines or brands that have size 0 to 30 or whatever, right?” she asks.

I’m super hairy, because I’m Lebanese, so I would take hair bleach and put it on my beard and stuff, and take pictures of it and videos and stuff. And they’re like you can’t do this

As with endless words and terms however, debate has raged over whether they are factual, pejorative, or even empowering, but that’s a whole other can of worms. “If some women are empowered by the term ‘plus-sized’, then that’s them,” she rations. “Even with the word ‘fat’ – it used to be such a negative word but now for some people it empowers them, they’re fine with being fat. And they should feel empowered by that, if that makes them feel good about it. Words now hold different meanings to different people. People think differently.”

People do think differently, and to her credit, Aboulhosn has never given a damn about what any of them think.  

“This stool only fits one butt cheek."

“My hands and underboobs are sweating even just typing this.”

These are just a few choice excerpts from Aboulhosn's many, many Instagram posts. Though today, with more than 3 billion active users on Instagram, you can find just about every kind of person and persona on the social platform, for women in fashion when the platform kicked off, you were expected to present a certain, manicured version of yourself to the world. But Aboulhosn makes (and has always made) jokes about her weight, posts unflattering photos after workouts, with no makeup or on bad hair days, and discusses her PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) openly.

“I don’t like fabricating things. I think that’s what got me to where I am today, just because there weren’t a lot of people  early on who were being like that. But I just feel like the whole point of me being on social media and the reason why I gained people’s interest is because I was authentic, and I was myself,” she explains. 

Photo by Melisa Mendes.

She is entirely without filter, like a handful of Arab women of this generation who managed, in Instagram, to find a podium from which they could speak out their unfiltered truths, from Palestinian-American Faiza Rammuny of Expired & Fabulous to Salma El Wardany. This vocalization and give-no-shits attitudes makes them moving targets, but it is also precisely that candour that captivated audiences and turned them into inspiration for hundreds of thousands of women.

“My following gained like crazy. And people, modelling agencies and stuff, just didn’t understand it, and at one point, I would have managers telling me that I shouldn’t be doing that,” she shares. 

She was giggling, like laughing at me, and recording me – a video of a fat person working out

From illness to hair removal to uncomfortable bodily excretions, she has sugar-coated very little. “I’m super hairy, because I’m Lebanese, so I would take hair bleach and put it on my beard and stuff, and take pictures of it and videos and stuff. And they’re like you can’t do this,” she says with a laugh. “So when at one point, brands and agencies told me that I shouldn’t do certain things and I should do more pretty pictures, all this and whatever, it just felt like being in a toxic relationship.” 

 
 
 
View this post on Instagram

✌🏼✌🏼💋💋

A post shared by Nadia Aboulhosn (@nadiaaboulhosn) on

Aboulhosn’s profound self-assuredness should not suggest she has not struggled with her own self-image – or from the backlash that comes with confidently and unabashedly hanging out half-naked on Instagram. She’s had entire blog posts targeted at her – “when I first started blogging this guy dedicated an entire article just talking shit about me, saying I’m disgusting and that I’m literally built like a fridge” – and even people mock her to her face. At the gym a few months ago as she was working out, a girl began to try and subtly film her. “She was giggling, like laughing at me, and recording me – a video of a fat person working out.” Aboulhosn silently stared her down until she stopped. 

...if this random person I don’t know on the internet thinks that I’m shaped like a fridge…what the fuck does that matter?

But it’s her ability to brush off the bullshit and keep going that has allowed her to persevere, put aside the way in which the world can be a nasty place to larger women, and work her way up to being a successful woman, period. “If I give all this energy and spend time overthinking it and making it my top thing in my brain that this random person I don’t know on the internet thinks that I’m shaped like a fridge…what the fuck does that matter? I still need to pay my bills, I need to live my life, why would I waste all my energy on someone I don’t know, and if I did know them, I still wouldn’t give them the power to ruin my whole entire day.”

 

***

*Unless stated otherwise, all images procured from nadiaaboulhosn.com