Jeannette Burchfield’s Fat Babes of Columbus Celebrates Inclusivity and Fashion for All
The co-founder of the nonprofit body-positive collective encourages everyone to live colorfully, no matter their size.
In season one of the Hulu show Shrill, the main character, Annie (played by Aidy Bryant), attends a Fat Babes Pool Party. While hesitant at first to take the plunge, she eventually warms up. “I just gotta get in that pool!” she says before jumping in the water. After watching the episode, Jeannette Burchfield was determined to have a body-positive pool party, too. She recruited some friends—Hannah Godown, Krystal Orr and Elizabeth Chinn—and formed Fat Babes of Columbus in May 2019. Two months later, the group had its first pool party. The event sold out in minutes and even led to a feature on the Today show. “It’s definitely something that we need more of,” Burchfield says, “a safe place for everybody to feel like they belong and are able to just let loose and not worry about folks whispering and poking fun at you.”
There’s been so much evolution in plus-size fashion and how we talk about it. What was it like when you started out? I used to volunteer some of my time with the Alternative Fashion Week. … It was a bunch of Ohio artists coming together and doing something fun and funky, unconventional. I was like, “Wow, everybody is unapologetic in wearing what they want to wear.” But I noticed there [weren’t] a lot of bigger bodies doing it as well. There’s bigger people out here, but there’s not a lot of representation. I thought that it was important to put a voice on that.
Has your approach to social media changed since you started? It has changed dramatically, but I still have an emphasis on making people feel like a better version of themselves. It could be with clothes, it could be with beauty, it could be with starting therapy or doing whatever makes you feel happy. I feel like it’s celebrating the little joys.
There are so many tropes about what you should or shouldn’t wear based on your size. But you’re like, “You can wear anything!” It’s really affirming to see someone actually doing that. That’s another cool thing that I look forward to, because a lot of [people] are like, “I would never do that,” or “You actually got me to look at some stuff today,” or “I tried on this pastel dress and thought of you.” It’s just little steps; you have somebody in your corner. We have a little community that we can lean on to be a little bit braver. It takes a lot to be brave.
What’s helped you be braver? I mean, you gotta like yourself first, you know? I think that helps. And it’s not easy every day. My husband helps tremendously with some of the things, because I feel like I’m having FOMO or imposter syndrome: “Why did they ask me to do that?” And he’s like, “Because they like you.” Sometimes it’s good to have somebody to talk to, even if you’re just talking to yourself about it. There’s a reason people wanted to hear that, and as awkward as I am, people feel like that’s relatable. … I’m like, chaos. I feel like that’s awesome. That’s a part of my confidence. Let your freak flag fly.
Follow @mellamoesjae and @fatbabesclubofcolumbus on Instagram.
This story appears in the April 2023 issue of Columbus Monthly.