I caught up with Stephanie Yeboah to chat about empowerment, body confidence and why being fat should be celebrated not shunned.
As we start chatting it’s obvious that Stephanie is an empowered woman. I asked her what empowerment is to her – “I think self-love and self-realisation is essential. You can’t be the best version of yourself if you don’t love yourself and that means full knowledge and acceptance of who you are.”
Stephanie’s path to self-realisation has been an interesting ride. Whilst she now works in fashion, collaborates with big brands and uses her voice to empower others, it wasn’t always this way. She tells me “if you were to tell me 10 years ago that I would be a confident person, I’d laugh. I used to get bullied in secondary school to the point where I would be physically beaten for being fat. When I was 14 I was diagnosed with depression, and really couldn’t have felt any worse about myself”.
She tells me that there have been 2 turning points in her life. One was on approaching her 23rd birthday when she was due to go on a beach holiday to Barcelona. In order to go to the beach she felt she had to have a ‘beach body’, which resulted in losing weight quite drastically.
“I lost about 4 stone in 4 months in order to fit a beach body ideal. I did it in quite a harmful way – taking laxatives and fasting. At the time I didn’t think it was wrong because when you’re fat it’s assumed that you should do anything to lose weight, but I knew it didn’t feel good for my body. I felt guilty for that. My mental health was at an all time low.”
The second big moment of change for Stephanie was when she travelled to New York to escape how she felt. “A couple of years later I went to New York for a couple of months. It’s the classic, cliche thing to do, but it was life changing. I saw loads of women who were my size and confident I thought to myself ‘why can’t I be like that?’”
And with that realisation, Stephanie decided to follow her childhood dream of working in fashion. Fashion had always been a vehicle to empowerment for her, but prior to her trip she didn’t have the confidence to pursue it. She told me, “I filled out the application form for London College of Fashion only to delete it right before submitting. I just didn’t think I would be accepted in the world of fashion, looking how I look. I didn’t see any room for women like me”.
This all changed when Stephanie realised that there was a community out there who had her back. “Before going to New York I had never even posted a full length picture of myself because I was too worried about how it would be received. But when I finally did, I saw so many positive comments from women lifting me up and I realised that there was a community out there that I wanted to be part of and promote.”
After that awakening experience Stephanie feels a duty to feel confident in her own skin. “I love to push the envelope with my style and I love wearing clothes that society thinks a fat girl shouldn’t wear – mini skirts, mesh, crop tops. It’s a means of expression for me”.
We touched on fat phobia and the struggles that women like Stephanie face in everyday life. She stressed to me that she’s not a victim, but that privilege isn’t always an obvious thing, which is why it’s so easy to ignore. “If you can go to school and not get bullied for your weight, or you can pop to the shops and not be called a fat bitch, then that’s a privilege that some people don’t have”.
We talked about her future plans to help dispel skinny privilege and bring plus size women the fashionable clothes they deserve. “For plus size women it’s really hard to find fashionable clothing. There are only 2 physical stores with plus size ranges. It doesn’t make sense. The demand is there, and whilst a lot of places offer plus size online, it doesn’t cater to people who really need to try stuff on.”
Between doing guest lectures at Oxford University and writing her non-fiction book, Stephanie plans to bring fashionable clothing to plus size women. “My dream is to work on a plus size clothing line in the future. I want to enable women of all sizes to be unapologetic in their confidence.”