'It wasn't just about style': How the creator of Chubstr became a trailblazer for male body positivity

Image via Yahoo Canada.

Introducing EveryBody, a series by Yahoo Canada highlighting the people and organizations working to end weight stigma, promote size inclusivity and prove that everybody and every body has value.

Words by Bruce Sturgell

For most men, talking about body image is a relatively new thing. When I started Chubstr.com almost a decade ago, there weren't websites dedicated to fashion, lifestyle or body positivity for masculine plus size folks. There wasn't even much in the way of representation on social media.

Bruce Sturgell. Image via Chubstr.

For decades, men have been told that they aren't allowed to share their feelings, or care about how they look. They certainly couldn't talk about how they felt about their bodies. We're beginning to see that change, with men opening up and being more willing to step outside of their comfort zones, but there's still a long way to go in both body acceptance and men’s plus size fashion.

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I started Chubstr out of pure frustration over a lack of options. Back then, I lived in a small town in the Midwestern United States and had given up any sense of style in order to focus on my very important career. I went on a business trip wearing ill-fitting clothes and someone took my picture. When I finally saw the photo, I realized that I looked as uncomfortable as I felt and it clicked in my head that something needed to change. I wasn't happy with the clothes I had been wearing, and I wasn't expressing myself through my style, as I had loved doing years before. It was time to get rid of the polos and khaki pants with a trip to the mall.

Bruce Sturgell. Image via Chubstr.

Or so I thought.

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At that time, I was riding the line between being able to find a few things at the mall, and leaving empty-handed. Most times, I would walk into a shop, meet an exasperated employee who would explain that they didn't carry anything in my size, and I would leave frustrated and slightly embarrassed. I could go to the big & tall shops, but they were selling clothes for people my Dad's age - the kind of thing I was trying to avoid. This pattern repeated itself again and again over the course of 6 months, until one day, after leaving the mall with no options (and a little less confidence), I decided to head to Tumblr to create a blog and complain about my experiences. That's what the internet is for, right?

Sturgell and friends on set of the Swimsuits For All xKingSize summer swimwear collection. Image via Chubstr.

My new blog had the throwaway name Big Boy Fashion. I didn't put much thought into what I was posting at the time. Posts mostly consisted of photos of looks I had put together that I liked, tips on places to shop, and a lot of complaining about brands that didn’t have extended size clothing or weren't making it easy to find the products they actually carried in my size. Imagine my surprise when people began to like and share my posts, ask for advice and send in their own photos showing looks they put together. I realized there was something more important here than simply a place to call out brands; there were the beginnings of a community that wanted resources. Chubstr was born out of that realization.

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In March of 2011, Chubstr.com launched with a mission to help "Men of Size Find, Create, and Share Their Style With The World." Tips and guides, interviews, reader photo submissions - Chubstr became a resource to help people find what they needed in a world that hasn't been very accommodating to bigger people.

Image via Chubstr.

More importantly, the mission expanded. I quickly realized that there were people of many different backgrounds, ethnicities and genders getting something they needed from the site. It wasn't just men, it was masculine people. The messages and stories they were sharing with me were deeply personal. Stories of being bullied and moving forward, struggling to find their place in the world and succeeding. It wasn't just about style - it was about bigger people being as deserving of dignity as everyone else.

I began to interview people who were doing amazing things in their lives and just so happened to be bigger. A fat surfer, a plus size ACLU lawyer - people who weren't letting their size define them. These types of stories weren't being seen in our culture at the time (and still aren't all that often). Because of these articles and others the community continued to grow and new opportunities presented themselves. We began to do photoshoots featuring bigger models, companies started to reach out about partnering and the site began to get press. There was real interest in men's body image, fashion and lifestyle.

Zach Miko. Image via Chubstr.

I even noticed a catalog model on the Target website named Zach Miko and ended up interviewing him. The resulting article caught fire with worldwide press and he went on to become the first model to sign to IMG Models' new Brawn Division.

Over the years, I've talked to people who have started blogs because of something they saw on Chubstr. I’ve heard from guys who found confidence because of the pictures of models they saw in our photoshoots or on our Instagram pages and people who found clothing and other products made specifically for them that they didn't know existed. I'm proud of what the site has become and inspired by the community that has grown around it.

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What does the future hold for male body image, fat acceptance and body positivity? I think we're going to see more of everything. More interesting plus size people on social media. More products made for bigger people. Better representation of bigger body types in modelling and media at large- if a short and wide guy like me can be a model, we're definitely seeing progress. We've still got a long way to go, but I'm optimistic that we'll get there.

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