The body confidence movement has gained huge momentum over the past few years, with social media acting as a catalyst. This movement has much in part been driven by plus-size influencers who have aimed to normalize different body types, especially within fashion, whilst putting pressure on brands to move away from just representing one size. More brands than ever before are listening to their audience, understanding how crucial it is to be inclusive through the representation of all body sizes and shapes. Some brands have joined the movement seamlessly, others have not. This leads us to questions such as “how does a brand align with the body-positive conversation in a way that feels truly authentic?”, “how can brands cater to and connect with plus size audiences through influencers?”, and “how can brands work with plus-size/body-positive influencers in a way that is most impactful?”
To understand further, we sat down with Holly Marston, a UK-based body confidence influencer who has accumulated over 200,000 followers across Instagram. Holly talked us through her journey of becoming a body-positive influencer, revealing the pros and cons, as well as expressing her opinion of how brands can do better to navigate the body positivity movement. So let’s jump straight in!
How Did You Get Started Building A Presence Across Social?
I did some research on how to grow an Instagram page as I didn’t want to jump in and start posting when it could have all just been for nothing! So I had a quick Google and noted down some generic pointers to get me started. The core guidelines that I found were finding your niche, using hashtags, finding your community and posting every day. Because I already followed and knew people in my niche, I contacted them directly and asked for any tips and tricks to grow my page – and most replied. So after some research, I decided to bite the bullet and shoot a batch of pictures to post daily for a month and see what would happen. It was probably after a month I saw my followers grow, but the first major growth was probably about three months in, when I was reposted by some large pages on Instagram. I think I went from 6k to 25k in about a month, and after that, the ball really started rolling. I was only on Instagram for the first two years, now I’ve grown a following across TikTok and setting my sights on YouTube.
How would you describe your content across Instagram and what type of content would you say your audience knows you best for?
I would say my niche is plus-size fashion and body positivity, but I also do makeup looks and some lifestyle. My content is definitely image based, but I’m moving more towards videos because of the benefits of TikTok and Reels. I think everyone knows now that short-form video is where you’re most likely to grow as the algorithms favor this type of content, especially on Instagram at the moment!
What Is Your Prefered Content Format To Post Across Instagram And Why?
I prefer Instagram image posts because of the fashion aspect of things, it allows me to fully control and creatively direct everything in the shot. But with video, it’s a bit harder to do that. However, I have got more into speaking on my Instagram Stories because I like having a conversation with my followers and knowing their opinions on stuff I’m talking about.
What Content Resonates Best With Your Audience And Why Do You Think That Is?
Definitely the body positivity/ acceptance angle. It’s weird actually, my audience is made up of 50% men and 50% women, and you would think posts with tighter, more revealing clothing would appeal to just males but it appeals just as much to my female audience. I think it’s because it’s the best way to communicate the body acceptance message, as fewer clothes generally mean more confidence to show everything off.
Your Content Is Often Focused On Self Acceptance & Body Postivity, Can You Talk Us Through Why That Is Important To You?
The reason I started the page in the first place was due to a lot of people in real life telling me that they admire my confidence and wished they had it. Back then, I wasn’t even self aware enough to know I had confidence, never mind knowing that at my size you’re generally less likely to be confident due to societal constructs and prejudices around weight. I think a big part of this, though, was my early desire to follow creators on social media that represented me and my body, as I knew from a young age that following the stereotypical slim & beautiful influencer was just not going to benefit me. So I was inspired by the figures I had looked up to as a teenager and inspired by the people in my life who had admired my confidence despite my size. So it’s important to me as I feel a sort of responsibility to show people who think you can’t be happy with yourself over a size 12, that you can live your life not caring what other people may think!
What Are Some Of Your Top Achievements From Your Career As An Influencer?
Ultimately, above everything else, it would be that I’ve created a community of women that tell me I have had a huge impact on their confidence and self worth since following me. I get messages every day telling me this and this is why I started the journey in the first place. I didn’t expect to grow to nearly 200k followers at all and the opportunities that come with this are great, but helping people will always be the number one. Another achievement would be the connections with people that I would never have had if not building a platform in the space that I have. Rhianna’s main makeup artist and head artist at Fenty Beauty, Pricilla, follows me and we engage with each other which is crazy to me. I’ve also connected with Lil Wayne, which I would never have thought in a million years would happen. Also, nearly all of the people I grew up following have followed me on social, and we talk regularly which is so strange to think about. I’ve also made connections with people within brands such as PLT, Fenty Skin, ASOS, Nastygal and Crocs to name a few!
My social media presence has also led me to be scouted for modelling and I have begun that career path because of it all. I don’t think this would’ve happened without it. Then I love all the brand events I’m invited to and I have made so many connections and good friends from these experiences.
What Is Something You Wished Everyone Knew About Being An Influencer?
That it’s not as easy as it looks and it’s not just posting a pretty picture. As an influencer and content creator, you have so many jobs put into one. If you think about it, if a company was shooting marketing material for their website there would be a model, makeup artist, photographer, creative director, stylist, editor, marketing manager etc! As a content creator, you’re all of these. You have to have skills at everything if you want your content to stand out from any other account, and turn your platform into profitable channel of revenue.
In What Ways Do You Feel Instagram Has Made The Platform A Better Place For Influencers?
Since I began my journey I think it’s actually just become worse. The only thing I can think of that would be a positive from my 2 years would be the insights now available to look at as you’re able to adapt your strategy to this.
What Ways Do You Feel Instagram Can Do Better To Support Influencers?
I think it could do a lot. For years creators have seen a decline in support from Instagram, mostly through lack of engagement and shadow banning. It’s also impossible to try to contact them with a query so you have to fend for yourself and adapt to all the new changes. One thing I do wish is that Instagram would be more transparent about their updates.
Why Did You Decide To Grow A Presence On TikTok?
TikTok has been a great platform to jump on as it’s relatively easy to grow and has a completely different algorithm to Instagram – so it’s refreshing. Each piece of content anyone puts out is treated the same within the algorithm, so everyone has a chance of growing on there if they create good content. I only had posted around 10 videos before one went viral and reached 3 million views which gained me 60k followers overnight.
What Brand Do You Want To Work With In The Future And Why?
To be honest, I’ve worked with most of my dream brands already. A big one for me was Savage Fenty. I guess the next step is trying to work with high-end and luxury brands, but luxury fashion is often not size-inclusive and I don’t like promoting brands that don’t offer plus sizes, because my audience wouldn’t be able to buy.
From Your Experience, What Things Can Brands Do To Ensure A Partnership Is Effective?
A lot of brands I worked with in the early stages of my career as an influencer never used to send over a brief, so it was hard to know what they wanted. But now I’m with management they always ask for one and I jump on calls with brands to know exactly what they’re expecting of me, especially if it’s a big job. Obviously replying in good time is great because deadlines are always tight. Most work I do I have to turnover in a week or less so having quick correspondence is essential for it to work.
How Do You Feel When You See Bigger Brands Becoming More Inclusive In Their Marketing?
I honestly just feel skeptical at this point. Most brands have jumped onto the inclusive bandwagon as a marketing strategy as they know it’s trendy right now, instead of doing it for genuine inclusion. For example, Rhianna’s lingerie brand you would think would be the most inclusive ever, as that’s what the brand ethos and marketing material screams. But actually no, it’s no more size inclusive than an average brand and the fitting of pieces is actually awful. One of my friends who is a size 8 had to get large when she’s usually small, so to think what this would be like for larger bodies is disheartening.
What Advice Would You Give To Brands Wanting To Be More Inclusive?
Speak to people directly who have experienced being excluded from shopping from popular brands that everyone else is. Also, don’t make your products different when you add a plus-size range, just scale the sizes up. There is such an issue with this currently, as every brand moving into more diverse size ranges for some reason designs completely different styles – so it solves no issues of inclusion at the end of the day. It’s like they’re just ticking a box and don’t actually care about what consumers want.
Looking To The Future, What Are Some Of Your Aims For Next Year?
I want to start my YouTube journey and see where that takes me. I also want to grow my TikTok and Instagram further to hopefully work with a wider range of brands. A big goal is to open my own business and sell merch this year and next, which is something I’m working on with my management at the moment. I also want to gain more experience modelling and see where that path takes me. But really, I’m just riding the wave and seeing where it all takes me.
Finally, What Advice Would You Give To Those Wanting To Build An Audience Across Instagram, Especially Within The Vertical Of Body Confidence?
There are so many things that you need to consider and do in conjunction to potentially grow on Instagram. But none of this matters if your content isn’t up to scratch. So focus and perfect this first by researching what your potential audience wants to see. You could do this by finding people and pages you aspire to be like and analyze what content is doing well for them. Secondly, I’d say to try to interact with the people in your niche as they’ll support and help you grow if you build good relationships with them. Reach out to as many people you know in your niche and try to build a connection. Then at the moment, content wise, I’d say focus on creating videos such as Reels, as these seem to be having the most organic reach. This is because Instagram is trying to compete with TikTok and they have just announced that it is not going to be just an image-based sharing app, it will focus on video. This has all come from TikTok’s high engagement rates from short-form videos.
In conclusion, the responses clearly demonstrate how important it is to value the creative lead of influencers when planning a campaign. Influencers build a community of followers who look to them for inspiration or advice, but can only make use of their voice if a brand truly offers what they stand for. Instead of jumping on a trend or movement because it’s current, brands should ensure all their marketing stays true to a brand voice, and be transparent and knowledgeable about topics they want to market around. This eliminates the likelihood of potential consumers feeling used or not taken seriously.
Just as influencers are growing, so are platforms, and as creators turn to video as the preference for releasing their content, this will result in video platforms such as TikTok and Youtube taking center stage, and traditionally image-based platforms like Instagram continue their move towards video.
The main takeaways are clear; value your influencers’ creative lead and utilise this within the strategy by recognizing the benefits offered by authentic engagement with their audience!