Mainstream body image positivity may often suggest that size six women are the be all and end all of fat activism. But if there's one thing that many of the celebrities who are simply existing above the standard Hollywood size two are missing, it's a visible belly outline — or VBO, as it's often called for short.
When Glamour Magazine included Amy Schumer in its plus size-focused issue in Apr. 2015, the comedian was quick to point out that she wasn't plus size. Across social media, I quickly saw a lot of fellow fat folks virtually groan until an article by the The Establishment put a voice to these frustrations, allowing the plus size community to utter a collection sigh at the cooption of our bodies (and the terms we use to describe them) by non-fats.
While everyone's body is different, a lot of plus size individuals don't have flat stomachs. Depending on what they wear, the outline of where their bellies hang will likely show. For years, shapewear has been viewed as the "solution" to what so much of the fashion industry and society at large deem a problem. The message was (and still very much is) that it's OK to have curves, as long as one doesn't look fat.
The ladies who truly inspire me as a fat woman are not slightly-larger-than-average-celebrities. They are the women I see every day across social media who have embraced their VBOs. Loving your belly and being brave enough to show it is a journey. But these 48 babes proudly rocking their VBOs constantly remind me that it's OK to be fat.
"Flashback to 2012, my #VBO coming out pic," wrote body positive YouTuber Annie Elainey in this caption. "The first time I felt comfortable enough with my body to wear my visible belly outlines proudly! Find that radical self love!"
"I finally reached a point in life where I'm not trying to hide," Samantha Stocklein tells me via Facebook. "This is my body, it's who I am. And you can like it or you can ignore it, but I'm going to show it.”
Photographer and blogger Chelsea Memmolo is one of my personal VBO style inspirations. When she wrote that she has "vbo in errthang," the IDGAF attitude that she has towards showing off her VBO became crystal clear.
"It's just a belly... why should I try to hide it? The suit looks cute on me AND my belly," says Karen Ward of the boutique Your Big Sister's Closet over Facebook.
"I love this picture, because I am just in the moment not caring what anyone says about my body," blogger Curvy Girl On A Budget tells me via social media. "I am free to wear what I please!"
"When I took this image, I just felt so comfortable and free. To me, that was the best feeling in the world," writer Ama Scriver says on Facebook.
Comedian and blogger Rachel tells me, "Because fuck trying to hide the shape of my body."
"When I think of VBO, I think of dresses as that's normally what it's referred to. But I have permanent VBO," blogger My Bella Moxie tells me. "You can see my belly line when I wear pants and trousers; that's just the way my body was made — and I'm OK with that!"
The blogger behind The Not So Secret Diary Of A Wanna Be Princess tells me via Twitter, "This is one if my favorite outfits because technically it's a top that's two sizes 'too small.' [I] love wearing it as a dress and feeling great while breaking fashion rules."
“This is one of my fave dresses and I wear it to work ALL the time," says blogger Hollie B. of Pretty Big Butterflies over Facebook."I felt liberated wearing it because I can be who I am at work, in a corporate environment, and not just in the comfort of my friends and family.”
"I have stopped worrying about my VBO more and more over the years and now I simply don't care and embrace it fully," blogger Mookie's Life tells me.
"I love this look because my belly looks cute in these high-waisted jeans and I felt really tough like I was kicking men in the balls everywhere," Emily Ramblin Rose tells me.
"I love this photo of me because I feel so beautiful in this bikini top," says designer Ali Buttons. "I can tell how confident I feel by the look on my face, belly showing and all! I bought it immediately and I'm totally gonna rock it!"
"I love challenging myself to embrace new areas of my body," Briana of Mamafierce tells me via Facebook. "My VBO is not my fave attribute, but it's a part that comprises one fabulous whole."
"This is my favorite picture of my visible belly outline because this was the day I wholeheartedly accepted every aspect of body: No hiding, no editing, no shame, just me and my body," blogger Curvaceously Bee tells me.
"This image is my favorite because you can't hide anything in a bikini and I'm sick of having to hide my VBO all the time. Hell to the no-more," says blogger Stina Scott.
Plus size model Brittney Tamang tells me, "I have never felt more sexy: VBO and NO retouching; this is my body... and I love it."
Blogger and Italian-sister-in-my-head Angie Found shares a straight-to-the-point lyric for her explanation: "I'm sexy and I know it."
"This post was from last summer after the crop top debacle in O Magazine," petite plus blogger Style Cassentials tells me. "I was so annoyed by the advice that I went a step further and decided to show off my visible belly outline, too. It was a big step for me — my VBO is definitely the area of my body about which I'm most insecure, but I look at these pictures and see my beauty."
South African blogger Mind The Curves shares this catalog shot as her favorite VBO moment.
“My body is beautiful — all its lumps and bumps, how it moves and jiggles. It's taken me a long time to love who I am without feeling any shame about the skin I'm in," blogger Bessie Pledger says. "[I] love it because it's me and I'm rocking it!"
"I love this image," says model Kat Stroud. "Not only does it show my glorious belly but it also breaks the rules society has put on plus size bodies about what we can and can't wear! Crop tops will forever be a staple in my wardrobe!”
Reality star and plus model Sabrina Servance from Lifetime's Big Women: Big Love tells me, "This outfit is two things I'm normally afraid of: White and tight lol. But after snapping this pic and looking at it, I was like, 'Geez why do I worry so hard about these things?' I'm wearing it again to another event and I'm stoked.”
"Despite identifying as a body positive person, I hadn't realized that I wasn't including myself as part of that, still opting to cover up and feel self-conscious," photographer Diana tells me. "This last year in particular has seen a shift [for me] towards tight dresses, trousers, and belly-showing tops, and I feel great. And for the first time in my life, I'm happy for my arm flab to be flapping majestically in the sunshine."
"I look like the ultimate plus size mermaid channeling my inner Daryl Hannah and loving my body regardless of (Spanish terms) my Peepa," says blogger Dana Martinez.
"I love this dress, it makes me feel sexy and feminine," Kat Henry, who won Ms. British Beauty Curve 2015, tells me. "So what that I've got a VBO? That part of me very much exists and I won't hide it under a damn smock! It's all me and that's all good! You like it? Rock it... to hell with anyone else!"
This plus size blogger tells me over Twitter that this look is her favorite. She made the skirt and it makes her feel like "a sexy fat mermaid of awesome, ready to take on the haters."
"Fave because I AM FAT," says blogger Fat Girl Flow. "No matter what the lighting is like, or how black my clothes are, my body doesn't hide... and I love it!”
Model April Raquel says, "This one is one of my favorite [VBO pictures]! Yes you can see my belly and yes I still slay!"
"I love this pic because I'm wearing something that I would have felt too ashamed to wear five years ago, clearly showing off my VBO in all its protruding glory," shares blogger Flight Of The Fat Girl.
Blogger ChloEllio sent me this as her favorite image via Twitter and says, "I love this outfit from River Island+ as it makes me feel confident and sexy. It's a style we rarely see in plus fashion, and I personally love the fit!"
Bustle fashion and beauty writer and all-around babe Georgina Jones tells me, "For as long as I hated it and the short time I've loved it, it will always be there and it'll always be a part of me."
CharlieB tells me, "This is my current fave because 1: I'm rocking my Ashley Nell Tipton crop and 2: I NEVER in a million years thought I'd be comfortable with my VBO in jeans. But here I am now rocking this shit on the regular."
“This image shows that I am unafraid of what anyone thinks," writes model Saucye West. "My body is so amazing! And I will adorn it in whatever I want!”
Wear Your Voice columnist Rachel Otis tells me, "I hadn't worn overalls of any form since childhood before this very liberating and modern-day Holly Golightly moment — and I love that I've gotten to a point where I'm happy to dress however my body wants to!”
"I think my VBO looks glorious in horizontal stripes, which is a double FU to anyone who thinks fat people can't wear what they want," shares blogger Just Me Leah.
"This photo shows how sexy a woman with curves can be, even if she has a little extra cushioning," says model Miss Mozzy Dee. "I love my tummy and every last bit of my bubbly parts!”
Model Jennifer Barreto-Leyva shares this image as her favorite.
Nicole Bette says, "I would never have worn this even a year ago. I still am getting used to the idea of showing my belly, but I looked hot in this!”
Burlesque performer Noella DeVille tells me, "I felt so sexy and powerful that night, rocking the VBO in front of a crowd."
"This is a recent photo of me where I just felt totally babelicious," says model Megan Kimberling. "I had done two other looks that day, wearing the same Yatir jersey, but it wasn't until I got into this outfit that I truly felt beautiful, sexy, hot, confident, [and] powerful."
Makeup artist Amanda Bourne tells me, "This is my first time wearing a bodycon dress with nothing to cover it up. I had no fear at all and felt super sexy in it."
Vanity Curves Boutique owner says, "This pic was from my 31st birthday shoot. I feel like this picture showed how amazing I felt."
"I loved styling this look and I felt really good in it," powerhouse babe Jessica of Proud Mary Fashion tells me.
"This is my favorite picture with my VBO proudly peeking through my dress," says blogger Ratna Manokaran. "I know a few years ago, this would not have been top of my list, only because I am not wearing any shapewear in this picture, and there are lumps and bumps and the dress isn't sitting 'properly' on me. Well, I would have found tons of reasons to criticize my body, a few years ago. BUT when I decided to love all my body parts not just parts I considered to be acceptable and sexy in my eyes, but even parts that were harder to love, I went all out. My belly was the hardest to love... but the love is here to stay.'
"I've been a stay at home mom for so many years I had to snap this pic because I feel so pretty in my work clothes [at a] size 2X," shares plus size artist Tormented Sugar. "I don't even worry about my visible belly or belly line."
"This was a favorite look from my heavily documented Palm Springs trip," model Leigh tells me. "I just posted another version of this pic that I prefer (styling-wise) but this one definitely shows my VBO more. I mean, wearing a G-string and fishnet dress around a pool in front of God and everybody as the *only* fat person around was pretty righteous. I had more conservative versions of this look planned but I was truly living in the 90-degree heat and clothes felt really oppressive.”
Although the order of these images was entirely random, I did want to end with Leigh's story. It shows that wearing what you want and prioritizing your own personal comfort should always come first. While un-learning social fat shaming can be difficult, these women all challenge the idea of what's acceptable for plus size individuals to do.
So bare that VBO with pride and forget what anyone else may think.
Images: Courtesy Saucyewest/Instagram; Courtesy Interviewees