How a Philly Lifestyle Blogger Went From Apologizing for Her Body to Loving it
Once Emily Tharp, known as @herphilly on Instagram, saw more images of people who looked like her, she became far more comfortable in her own skin.
This story has been updated to the specific brand where Emily Tharp worked.
Who I am: Emily Tharp (@herphilly)
Where I live: Rittenhouse
What I do: I’m a social media and marketing specialist and a lifestyle blogger.
“I grew up in Ocean City, New Jersey. It’s a beach town, but people were definitely thin and tan for the most part. I was pale and always bigger. I played sports — soccer, lacrosse — but for whatever reason, I was just bigger than my friends. I always felt different in that way than some of my girlfriends growing up.
When I went to college at the University of Delaware, I started to see that the world was a little bit larger than Ocean City. The transition for me being fully comfortable with myself didn’t happen until my first job, though. I started my career at Charming Shoppes, out in Bensalem. It was a parent company for Lane Bryant, Catherines, and it was called Fashion Bug at the time. So it was women’s specialty apparel. At that time, I was probably a size 14 — on the low end of what’s considered plus size.
I started working at this company, and I did a ton of stuff there. One of the responsibilities was that I had to work with bloggers — we didn’t really call them influencers at the time — that were considered plus size. So I remember seeing Gabi Gregg (@gabifresh) and Kellie Brown (@itsmekellieb) and Nicolette Mason (@nicolettemason) and a lot of girls from the UK, too. Basically the originators of plus-size fashion blogging. Seeing those photos and how cute and fashionable those women were, that really started to change my opinion of myself.
The brand where I worked, Sonsi, sponsored an annual event every year called Full Figured Fashion Week. We’d dress these bloggers in different vendors that we carried and also worked with plus-size stylists, so I saw it from all angles. I felt for the first time, ‘Holy shit, these women can be super fashionable and still have a butt and curves.’ It was a real epiphany for me.
Another transition was when I moved to Philly. I had broken up with a longer-term boyfriend, and I was starting to do online dating. At one point, I was going on three dates a week. (It’s not a life that I’m looking back to longingly.) I remember feeling like, ‘Oh, OK, it’s not like you’ll never get a boyfriend if you’re a size 14.’ In the grand scheme of the world, not everyone looks like Ocean City, New Jersey.
The first area of clothing that I really started to love myself in was bathing suits. I think it as just about finding ones that were built for someone who looked like me instead of trying to fit into, say, PacSun. I’d previously had ones that were like paisley-print spanx. They just didn’t look like what my friends were wearing; there were a lot of layers and swoops of fabric to cover up my stomach, and even then, I felt like I should be sucking it in everywhere. Then I started finding ones that were hot pink and leopard. Then I was like, ‘Hell yeah.’ They made me feel so much better than the covering-up pieces I was wearing before.
My first bikini, which I just wore to the beach again this weekend, was from Forever 21’s plus-size section. I think they were one of the first [non-specifically plus-size companies] that carried plus-size. I really like Aerie — I get a ton of clothes and bathing suits from them — and I get a lot of stuff on Asos. I also started, for my blog, working with Lilly & Lime. They are for D cups and up, so if you have a larger chest. They have bra-type tops, and I’ve liked a lot of their swimsuits, too.
Whenever I used to wear a crop top, I always wore a tank top under it. It was almost apologetic, like I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone else because I look like this. Even though I’m a size 12 and when I look at the research and everything that’s out there, it’s a very normal size in the United States. The first time I tried on a crop top without something under it, I felt like my life changed. (I wrote a blog post about it.) It was like, ‘I look good in this, and it is a crop top. It doesn’t matter that I have stomach.’ Once I got past that, I felt so many different things about myself change.
Since then, I’ve also found a workout that I love — spin. I did years at Flywheel. At first, I was terrified to go, like so scared. But I loved that it was in the dark. That got me comfortable. Then I was moving up to the front rows, and I became friends with all the instructors. There were times where I was going three or four times a week. It was similar to sports in that I found a community. But I also think the reason I was really drawn to Flywheel was the competitiveness of it and the stats and the numbers, so I could keep track and say, ‘This was a good workout’ or ‘I need to take it easy today.’
It ended up being too much to keep up as I was getting older, and certain priorities were changing. Now I do yoga at Sanctuary Yoga — I try to go two times a month— and I go to Revel Ride eight times a month, both through ClassPass. I normally sit in the back now ‘cuz there’s only two rows there. But when I really need a little boost, I’ll sit next to the mirror. I love looking over at myself and seeing that I’m keeping up with everyone else in the class and my body can do this. It’s nice to remind myself of that.
And when Instagram started gaining popularity, I found so much inspiration there. I just love following other curvy women. I try and share visuals of them often. I’m always thinking about how there might be some girl who’s 22 years old who just hasn’t seen women who look like her yet. Once you do see it, it starts to click.
In terms of local people to follow: I really like @alesandrabev. She is amazing. She models for a lot of Philly companies. I love @journeytocourtney — she’s lost a ton of weight recently, but she still talks about realistic things in being healthy and loving yourself. This girl’s in the ‘burbs, Lehigh Valley, @everythingamilyann. I found her because I was looking up what Lilly Pulitzer dresses look like on curvy women. She does try-ons all the time to say, ‘This is how it fits my body, and I’m this size.’ She has a ton of followers for that.
I also used to wear makeup every single day. I still love makeup, but I wanted to see how my acceptance of myself would be if I wore it less. I started posting on my stories more without makeup on as a way to test it out. My current boyfriend and I met when he DM’ed me after he’d been following me and casually replying on a couple of posts for a while. He was like, ‘I wanted to say I think you look really beautiful without makeup.’ I was like, ‘Oh, are you hitting on me?’ He was like, ‘No, no.’ I was like, ‘Cuz if you are, that would be OK.’ A little sliding into DMs success story. But I think not wearing makeup definitely ties in with me being more comfortable with myself.
My advice for younger girls is: If you’re struggling and you’re like, ‘Oh, I can’t wear this because it’s not supposed to be for women my size,’ just wear it. Go out with your most supportive friends and wear the thing and see when the world does not end, that it’s OK and it’s great and very normal. Once you’re out of high school and college, you recognize that the world does not revolve around you, and people are not looking at you and thinking, ‘Can you believe she’s wearing that?’ It’s about how you feel in those pieces, not what other people feel.”