Doctoral dissertation

Transferred to a remote connection- Plus-size fashion bloggers use language to construct norms and to express a sense of empowerment within their online community

Hanna Limatius/ Kuva: Jesse Limatius
Fashion blogging has created new opportunities to those who have been previously marginalized by the fashion industry. In her doctoral dissertation, Hanna Limatius discovered that the empowering effects fashion blogging has for plus-size women can be observed in the language these bloggers use.

Plus-size women have been marginalized in the world of fashion for several decades. They have rarely appeared in traditional fashion media, such as advertisements and fashion magazines. However, thanks to digital media, this situation is changing. Plus-size fashion blogs have had a major role in bringing more diversity into fashion imagery.

In her doctoral dissertation, Hanna Limatius studied the ways in which plus-size women use fashion blogging to build communities, to construct identities and to increase their sense of empowerment. Her research data consisted of blog texts and comments collected from twenty UK-based blogs, as well as questionnaire replies from thirteen bloggers. Both qualitative and quantitative methods were used in analyzing the data.

The findings of Limatius’ study illustrate that although there is a strong sense of community within the group of bloggers, there are also in-group hierarchies and norms that have not been addressed in previous studies on the topic.

According to Limatius, plus-size women write fashion blogs for a variety of reasons. For some, fat acceptance activism and making plus-size bodies more visible in media and society are the main goals of blogging. Others, however, identify first and foremost as fashion bloggers, and wish to be seen in a similar light as thinner women who write fashion blogs.

Limatius’ study focuses especially on the role of language in the plus-size blogging community. Language was used to define the boundaries of the group by drawing lines between “us” and “them”. A linguistic approach also made the in-group differences within the blogging community more visible. For example, fat-activism-focused bloggers were more likely to use the word “fat” as a positive or neutral descriptor than others.

The use of traditionally negative terminology with no derogatory connotations can help bloggers feel more empowered, as they have “taken back” these terms from those who use them as insults. However, Limatius points out that different bloggers may have differing views on terminology, and discussions on the topic also take place within the community.

Limatius believes that the combination of different methodological approaches enabled her to form a more complete picture of the plus-size fashion blogging community.

“While the quantitative analysis showed statistical differences in the use of certain terms between different bloggers, the qualitative analysis provided important context as to why these differences existed in the first place,” Limatius specifies.  

Fashion blogs tend to have an overall positive tone. However, using questionnaire data Limatius also discovered some of the negative experiences the bloggers had encountered, such as competitiveness and jealousy. Some bloggers were more successful in attracting followers and commercial collaborators, which appeared unfair to others. Such experiences were not, however, discussed publicly.

The research on online communities of marginalized people tends to highlight the contrast between the marginalized group and the mainstream. According to Limatius, examining the internal dynamics of such communities is equally important.

“Even though all the bloggers I studied expressed that their sense of empowerment had increased through blogging, there was no straightforward path to empowerment. Some aspects of blogging may empower certain individuals, while the same aspects feel disempowering to others.” Limatius states.

The doctoral dissertation of MA Hanna Limatius in the field of English Philology titled Communities of Empowerment: Exploring the Discourse Practices of Plus-Size Fashion Bloggers will be publicly examined in the Faculty of Information Technology and Communication Sciences at Tampere University, at 12 o’clock on 4 April 2020. Because of the coronavirus, Tampere University’s dissertation defences are not organised as onsite events. However, it is possible to follow the public examinations via a remote connection. If the remote connection does not work properly, you may also follow the dissertation defence via Zoom.

The opponent will be Professor Crispin Thurlow from the University of Bern. The Custos will be Professor Päivi Pahta from Tampere University.

The dissertation is available online at
http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-03-1489-7

Photo by Jesse Limatius