Body positivity has been whitewashed – people forget it's supposed to be a political movement
Sophia Tassew's candid conversations about being plus-size has helped secure her an army of loyal Instagram followers. So when the 24-year-old tells me she no longer believes body positivity is "much of a movement", I'm surprised.
"The movement has definitely been coopted and whitewashed, and that's why I've distanced myself from it a bit," she explains.
'Body positivity has been whitewashed'
During our chat, Sophia cites conventionally slim, white influencers who use the term as a hashtag on their posts, or contort their body to show off otherwise nonexistent rolls.
"People forget that body positivity is literally a political movement," she continues. "Fat people are constantly harmed, we go through so many things, socially, economically, politically and medically. People use the term without doing any research. We need to have respect for the movement, and the fat, Black women who created it.
"Fat women have spent all this time building it up, only for white women to take it over. And now we need to spend all this time re-educating people, or creating something new, which might end up being coopted too.''
Turning to Instagram, Sophia adds that there's a "difference between self-love and body positivity".
"When we talk about body positivity, we need to be quite specific," she stresses. "Is it that, or is it fat acceptance or fat liberation?"
Sharing body positivity stories
Still, Sophia isn't going to stop talking about being plus-size, even though she didn't set out to be "a body-positive influencer".
While she's aware that people view her as "confident", she says that she only reached this milestone by connecting online with other Black, fat women. "It's because of these women that I've found myself," she says. "My plus-sized friends act as a safe space for each other."
To this end, Sophia often uses Instagram to share the experiences of fellow plus-size women of colour with her 24,000 followers. She has a highlight reel titled "Your Stories", which aims not only to help those struggling with body confidence, but to educate non-fat people on lived experiences.
One recent topic of discussion was confidence in sex and relationships while being plus-sized, and another was around being treated differently after weight loss.
"I'm constantly learning about myself, my body, and the fat experience. And I've been really honest and transparent about that and my journey on Instagram. I see the good that does, because it did it for me."
It's 'ghetto' until proven fashionable
Looking back at her teenage years, Sophia tells me that she never had "any fashionable options to choose from like other women". So, she focused her attention on jewellery. "A massive part of my fashion journey was going into a store, and walking straight to the jewellery section," she says. "I had to rely heavily on accessorising myself to make sure I stood out even if my outfit was super plain."
Sophia Tassew grew up watching her mother clip in her gold hoop earrings every day. And when she was in secondary school, they became a part of her identity – aesthetically and otherwise – too. "I would keep my gold hoops in my pocket, and wear them after school. It's just something that's always been in my life."
The influencer is keen, however, to highlight the appropriation and whitewashing of such items. "The statement that 'it's ghetto until it's proven fashionable' is absolutely right," she asserts, pointing to their usage in high-fashion editorials, and when they are worn by non-Black celebrities. "Then it's 'high-brow', but when Black women do it, it's 'ghetto'."
'People are so inspired by their roots'
It's unsurprising then that Sophia has gone onto launch her own jewellery collection, Khula. Her bold, colourful designs are undeniably on-trend, but at once a homage to her East and South African heritage.
Speaking of how she's always wanted to dedicate something to her parents – who are South African and Ethiopian – she says: "Creating jewellery is something that I wanted to do for myself to learn more about where I come from. Even though I haven't been back for a long time, I want to validate my identity and heritage.
"People are so inspired by their roots and they mix traditional wear with their everyday Nike tracksuits. I want to be more consistent with that."
Sophia is also involved in an upcoming Black British history series A Quick Ting On. She's one of eight authors who will be penning their own book on subjects ranging from Afrobeats to the Power movement.
In the book, Sophia is naturally writing about her accessories. "It touches on my personal relationship with gold earrings and their importance in Black women's lives and Black culture," she adds. "It's something that I've always been passionate about."