Kelsey Miller | Fashion Dare: #VBO | ELOQUII Blog
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Fashion Dare: Get Ready To Be Obsessed With #VBO

Kelsey Miller, Contributing Editor

Fashion rules are BS, period. All of them. Silly at best, offensive at worst, each so-called “rule” of style is nothing but an arbitrary guideline tossed out into the zeitgeist by those mythic arbiters of cool. When it comes to plus-size fashion, the rules are even more restrictive and less nuanced than most — and they all boil down to one simple directive: Hide your body. Wear vertical stripes to appear thinner, throw on a belt to whittle your waist, and when in doubt, just cover it all up in black. These kind of rules are begging to be broken. And one trend is doing it, beautifully.

VBO — aka, Visible Belly Outline — is not a new concept. The term has been used in body positive communities for the better part of a decade. But even with the rise of size inclusive fashion and plus-size style influencers, VBO never became a breakout hit, like, say, the fatkini.

 

ANNOULA DRITSAS

It makes sense; VBO highlights a part of the body that most women (of any size) are generally taught to minimize. The thrust is simple: Rather than hide or minimize the appearance of your abdomen, just let it be seen.

“It’s kind of a revolutionary move,” says writer and style blogger, Liz Black, “to be like, ‘Hey, guess what? Here’s my stomach and I’m not really ashamed about that.’” Black has made it her business to expose the exclusionary practices in contemporary fashion (as she did last year with her viral photo series featuring sample size clothing on her own plus-size body).  “There was a constant reminder, growing up, that this was something that needs to be covered and hidden,” she adds, recalling her mother’s well-meaning comments, like, “‘Pull down your shirt. Your stomach is showing.’” Those messages didn’t end with childhood. They just took on a different language: “Think about all the fashion tips that you’re given as a bigger women. It’s always, ‘Wear a fit-and-flare so it shows off your smallest part and covers all the things you don’t want to see.’”

vbo sequin pants
LIZ BLACK


LIZ BLACK

“For the last few years, I’ve grown to be so comfortable with my body that I really just don’t care if you can see the outline of my stomach…My stomach’s not there for you, for better or for worse. It’s not there for anyone’s approval or disapproval.” — Liz Black

Black says it took a long time to shake off all that shame-based messaging, particularly when it came to her midsection. But once she took the plunge, stepping out to a fashion industry event in a bodycon dress, she never looked back. “For the last few years, I’ve grown to be so comfortable with my body that I really just don’t care if you can see the outline of my stomach,” she explains. “My stomach’s not there for you, for better or for worse. It’s not there for anyone’s approval or disapproval. It is what it is.” Furthermore, she adds, “Honestly, even if I wear shapewear, my stomach is still probably going to be visible.”

That’s what makes VBO’s very existence as a concept both curious and thrilling. Generally speaking, bodies have torsos. Some appear more flat than others, but nearly every belly comes with an outline of some sort. Trying to hide it is like trying to deny a basic element of human anatomy, and the fact that this is such a widely accepted axiom of style just proves how absurd the rules of fashion are. It’s silly that something like VBO even needs to be named, let alone become a trend. But it is, undeniably, and a growing one. A few years ago, there were only a handful of posts tagged #VBO on Instagram. Today, there are nearly 10,000, and that number is growing almost hourly.

At the same time, tummies are still considered something of a taboo. “I think it’s due to the stigmatizations around stomachs in general,” says Marie Southard Ospina, activist and journalist (and longtime champion of VBO). “[That’s] something women of all sizes certainly witness, but it’ll logically affect women of size a lot more.” She points to things like before-and-after belly images shown in weight-loss ads, and the infamous 2015 O magazine article, which said a woman could wear crop tops “if (and only if!)” she had an absolutely flat stomach.

MARIE SOUTHARD OSPINA

MARIE SOUTHARD OSPINA

Ospina first tried VBO as a college student, while studying abroad in Spain. Like Black, she’d grown up with the same instructions to conceal her tummy at all costs. But in Madrid, she says, “I saw a lot of plus-size women wearing bodycons, wearing form-fitting mini skirts, wearing things that were tight around their middles in a way that I never really saw American plus-size women doing. I started asking questions like, ‘Why can’t I wear that skirt or those shorts — or anything that I like, simply because it shows off my tummy?’”

She decided to try a form-fitting VBO look to go dancing one night in Madrid. “I felt really comfortable, surprisingly…I’ve definitely been showing it off ever since.” While Black has more of a who-cares attitude toward VBO, Ospina actively incorporates it into her style (how luscious is this look?) But both women stress that, exciting and important as the VBO trend is, it’s not a requirement — certainly not a new rule. “The belly is the center of your body, and it’s also the center of a lot of body shaming. It can be the hardest part of the body to show off after you’ve spent your whole life thinking it’s the main thing that needs to be hidden,” says Ospina.

VBO is primarily about leaping over that barrier, and discovering everything else you’ve been missing. “Every single time I’ve pushed myself to wear something that has been daunting to me, it’s just confirmed again that all of my hang-ups with these types of things really are just bullshit,” Liz Black concludes. “The world is not going to end if I go outside and someone can see the outline of my stomach.” Break this, the #1 rule of plus-size fashion, and all the others begin to seem meaningless, too. The world of style opens up, and suddenly you are free to explore. Bring on the horizontal stripes.

 

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