Vanessa Manley On Body Positivity, Fashion, and Finding Your Authentic Self Online
Vanessa Manley is a 22-year-old body positivity activist from San Jose State University. She has almost 75,000 subscribers on YouTube and almost 10,000 Instagram followers, but she’s humble about her success. Manley is active on social media, and shares her struggles and triumphs regarding her body image. On top of advocating for self-love and body positivity, she shares make-up and fashion tips with her audiences.
I started watching Manley a couple years ago when I was looking for thrift haul videos. I instantly fell in love with her bubbly personality and love for body positivity. I’ve been keeping up with her content ever since, and last week, I was able to meet and interview her. I don’t have many plus-size women in my life, so I wanted to ask her about topics that I’m not able to confide in with other people.
When did you get your start on YouTube, and why did you start making videos?
I started right after high school, when I was 19. Wow, I’ve been doing it for so long now. My first ever video was made when I went on vacation with my aunt, and it was a shitty-ass vlog. I formatted it totally wrong, so it turned out horrible. Someone mentioned it looked “90’s” and I was like, “sure, that makes me feel a bit better.” I put black bars on it by accident, I had the crappiest camera, it was just a mess. I was so proud of it though, I was so happy at the time that I was making something for myself and it was such a great memory of being on vacation with my aunt and being able to document it and feeling like a true YouTuber.
I think everyone should try and make a YouTube video at least once, and be creative, because those memories I look back on and it’s so lovely to be able to see them. I was just watching a video of when I got Ashton, my cat, and I was so glad I had it because pictures are great, but videos are so much more. They have more emotion and remind you of a time in your life in a different way than a picture ever could.
Do you still enjoy making YouTube videos? What motivates you to keep going?
I still feel awkward before every video I make, and that never seems to go away, but it’s worth doing because of the responses I get. Not all of them are great, I get sad when everyone talks about the numbers of how many subscribers and views I get, but I guess that’s the only thing they can connect to. I especially hate it when they talk about money because it’s so rude to ask someone that and you would never do that for someone else’s job.
But when it comes down to it, the messages keep me going. I get so many girls telling me how I helped them with their body image or their emotional state or their mental health. I just received a message yesterday from this girl saying how she watched my video about my asymmetrical boobs and she tried wearing a bralette, which is a more revealing bra, and she finally feels free. I was so happy because that’s amazing, like truly amazing. She said she decided to tell her best friend about her insecurity, and now she feels like a weight has been lifted from her and she thanked me.
That’s so awesome!
That is the kind of thing that I want to spread. As much as I love fashion, it feels very superficial sometimes. So many people go through periods of negative body image and why should they be alone? Why shouldn’t we talk about this? And why shouldn’t you be supportive of people in any way that you can? This is the change that I want to make, and YouTube is the platform I find most approachable, and the easiest way to reach a wide, young audience. Everyone’s on their phone, so, might as well.
When did you start blowing up on YouTube and Instagram and how did it affect your life to have more followers and attention?
I really haven’t blown up, [laughs] but two years ago I made a video called “Festival Lookbook” and it got 22 million views. I don’t know why. Most of my current subscribers came from that video. I have a few others that reached a million, but that was definitely the biggest one. It got shared in different countries and I kind of wish it didn’t get that much popularity because I got a lot of unwanted attention from it. Lots and lots of foreign males commented really creepy stuff that made me uncomfortable. I get that daily on Instagram and YouTube, which results in me blocking lots of people, which sucks.
I’ll open up my Instagram and it’s ridiculous how many unwanted sexual pictures and creepy, unwanted messages there are from men I don’t know. It really affected me, I started feeling like an object. [“Festival Lookbook”] made me feel very objectified motivated me to make a video about my body — reclaiming it to be mine.
But it still affects my daily life, I’m active on social media so it’s something I can’t really escape from. I could post a picture, and if it’s even slightly revealing, I’ll get so many inappropriate comments about how I look and what these men want to do to me. This guy the other day commented on a video of me trying on clothes, “I literally fapped to this video of you,” and it made me so uneasy and uncomfortable because I was being completely objectified.
What are the positives and negatives of being so open on social media?
There’s a lot of positives! Connecting with people is so great! I would never have met you, so it’s cool that I’m able to do that. I’ve actually met a bunch of people that I would’ve otherwise never met because of social media. They all understand my situation of where I’m at with my body image and are so accepting, so it’s great to be able to meet them. You wouldn’t expect so many people across the world to be so accepting of who you are, and having that validation makes me so happy.
Social media also just gives me something to do. For a while, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, I mean I still don’t know what I’m doing, but I enjoy doing social media so, might as well keep going.
YouTube also gives me a creative outlet! I’ve always been looking for some sort of creative outlet, I’ve done painting, sculpting, name any kind of creative outlet, I’ve probably tried it. So, finding something I actually enjoyed in YouTube was so great for me. It helps me mentally because it gives me something to look forward to and strive towards.
Negatives … Unwanted attention for sure. I guess making the time for it? Oh my god. It’s insane to navigate being your own brand, and state how much you’re worth to companies trying to do brand deals. It’s really consuming. Marketing myself as a product is super weird. Having deadlines has really been affecting me too! I have to shoot a video today for a Chinese clothing company and I’m feeling sick, but I gotta persevere because there’s money you know. But, I’d say there are a lot more positives than negatives for sure.
When did you first start getting into fashion?
Being overweight as a kid, nothing fit me, so I would cry every time I would go shopping with my mom. It was so horrible. I went to try and look for trendy stuff and it was impossible because there was no junior and plus-size options, the only plus-size stuff was adult business wear. My mom took me to Macy’s and JC Penney’s and nothing would fit me. On top of that, my boobs were so much bigger than all of the other girls, so none of the bras fit me either, and it was such a struggle to find anything that remotely fit me!
It was a really hard time in my life because I wasn’t comfortable with my body, so the fact that clothes didn’t fit me and I wasn’t comfortable, that sucked. I persevered through all of that though and was like “No, I still love clothes,” so I went and found stuff that actually worked.
When you don’t like yourself that much, you try to grasp onto stuff that makes you happy, and clothes made me happy. When I had a good outfit, I remember people telling me I looked good, and it reinforced a positive image of myself that I needed. I needed someone to tell me, “You look really nice today,” like at the time that was so necessary for me. Now, I can finally tell myself that I look good when I look in the mirror. It was a long journey of finding what I like, what I didn’t like, and what I could actually fit into. It’s crazy how much it’s changed though, so many brands will sell plus-size clothes online, although they won’t sell it in stores. They still want to make a profit, but they don’t want to show they make plus-size clothes. Which presents a conundrum because it’s like should you shop at these stores, even though they don’t like you? Brands like Forever 21 act like they’re inclusive, but they aren’t actually.
Why do you think plus size representation is important?
Because it exists. Because of how much people say it, size 16 is the normal size of a woman, it’s true. It’s legit true, so why shouldn’t it be out there, why shouldn’t it be shown? And not just online, it should be in stores. Making people feel shameful about their bodies isn’t going to sell any clothes, so why is it happening? There’s such a big market to capitalize on for plus-size clothing but brands don’t do it because of society saying it’s shameful to be plus size. Society markets the idea that if you’re fat, you should feel bad about it and I’m like “No, I’m fat and I like myself,” and so many people are angry about it.
People are so angry that I’m happy with who I am and I would never put the pressure on someone else to feel any negative emotion towards themselves. When people see me, they think I’m lazy, and not hard working enough and indulgent and it’s not true. I eat as much as everyone else, I work out probably more than most people and I’m still treated like I’m a lazy piece of shit. It sometimes makes me look at other people and wish I was them because of their accepted body types by society, but then I’m like “No, I love who I am, and I don’t need to be someone else.”
Representation of body image in media needs to be addressed, even more so, because it’s not accurately shown and it isn’t as inclusive as it’s advertised. Body acceptance and positivity isn’t addressed in the media or in school, where you spend a lot of your time in your adolescence, and it really should be. Why isn’t negative body image being talked about when it’s hurting so many young women and men? It should be a part of the discussion. I know so many people who aren’t comfortable showing their body to their partner, and if body inclusivity and acceptance was talked about more, this wouldn’t be as big of an issue.
Do you think there has been more progress in the inclusion of plus size models in the fashion industry?
There’s a stereotypical way that the fashion industry wants to portray plus sized people, and I fall into that category because I don’t have a larger stomach, and it’s so messed up because people who don’t look that stereotypical way, aren’t accepted.
There’s only one model I’ve seen, Tess Holliday, who is actually plus size and is actively modeling. Most plus-size models have hourglass shapes, smaller arms, no double chins, and flat stomachs. A person who hates fat people would look at these models and be like “Oh, you’re so pretty, you should just lose 15 lbs.” To them, it just looks like the models are slightly overweight and that’s plus size. They think, “Oh I can handle that, I can be tolerant of that.”
They see the plus-size model as accepted and plus-size people who look different than that as disgusting. If the industry showed a woman with bigger arms, stomach, or thighs modeling, I don’t think it would be acceptable, people would be angry.
Then the whole “slim thick” thing comes into play. Since celebrities like Kylie Jenner have been gaining popularity, girls all want big boobs, flat stomachs, and to look exactly like their celebrity idol. This body type is becoming the norm, and people that look different are going to be thought of as ugly and worthless and less than.
Manley plans to graduate soon, with a degree in child development and to keep YouTube and social media as her hobbies. She puts out content on a regular basis and you can find her YouTube channel if you search “Vanessa Manley;” her instagram is @vanessaisawolf. Manley has a killer sense of style and an engaging online presence, so I see big things happening for her in the near future.