A Sunderland blogger who flies the flag for body positivity has struck a chord with thousands of women across the globe.
Frustrated with the limited range of plus-size fashion available on the high street, eight years ago Laura Ferry set up a blog where she shared fashion and beauty tips with others looking for inspiration.
Little did she realise that her musings would change her life, but today being an online influencer has become the former call centre worker’s full time job in which her voice connects with countless women through her What Laura Loves brand.
“Back then places like River Island didn’t do an 18 in clothes and sizes overall in shops were smaller,” she explained from her home in South Shields. “I always struggled to find clothes and I wanted to wear the same kinds of clothes my friends who are an 8 or 10 were wearing, so I realised there was a gap in the market.
“I would travel to places like Manchester and buy online where there’s more choice and began sharing what I’d bought with people on my blog. There certainly wasn’t as many plus-size bloggers then as there are now, and those that did exist often had a ‘50s, Rockabilly style. So because I was more about girl-next-door fashion it was quite different at the time and took off from there.”
As social media began its unstoppable rise, Laura, 30, from East Herrington, started an Instagram page to supplement her blog, which has built up a following of more than 30,000, an online community who connect with her daily on topics such as fashion, beauty, lifestyle and mental wellbeing.
Her influence has seen her work with a number of major brands such as Boohoo, Pretty Little Thing and, most recently, Curvissa with whom she’s curated her own collection.
Speaking about why she’s struck a chord in a market now saturated with bloggers, Laura said: “I started talking about positivity and body confidence which can inspire anyone, no matter what their size. I think what changed my life was to stop caring what other people might think of me. I want to wear a bikini and feel the sun on my skin just as much as anybody else and my dress size shouldn’t stop that.
“People always seem to be thinking about that magical day when they might fit into a certain outfit, but that day might never come and, in the meantime, you’re missing out on living life.”
Though the internet has become a place in which people have forged online communities, it too exposes people to cutting comments, something which Laura has learned to deal with.
“I’ve received hate comments from a small number of people on Instagram. But putting myself out there to help others does leave me open to this and it really says more about the commentator than it could ever do about me,” explained the former Whitburn School pupil. “I’m not encouraging people to stay the same, I’m all about setting goals and smashing them. I know that feeling body confident and loving myself for who I am today has got me far further towards my goals than hating myself ever has.
“I go to the gym because I love how my body feels afterwards and it’s great for my mental health. I’m even working on motivational exercise videos for plus size and limited mobility people with a local personal trainer.”
As well as fashion tips, Laura’s also made an impact with sharing more personal sides of her life and after discussing her experiences of having a smear test she managed to inspire other women to take a potentially life-saving test they’d feared.
“I have a low hanging stomach and I was embarrassed to go for the test,” she explained. “I’d put off having my first one but made myself go, so when it came to the second one I videod the room and discussed the procedure and the amount of messages I had from people was unreal.
“I had ladies booking appointments they’d put off because they were ashamed of their bodies and one had even led to them discovering abnormal cells. It made me realise I could help people.”
Although Laura, who studied an MA in PR at Sunderland University, makes a living from promoting brands, she says she only endorses products she personally uses.
“There is integrity in what I do,” she said. “My followers know I only ever talk about things I’ve used that I believe in. I actually turn down more offers of work than I accept and will often put up content that isn’t sponsored, it might just be a face cream that is really good.”
Laura’s positivity has also seen her become a digital ambassador for the Prince’s Trust and she says she’s passionate about embracing diversity.
She said: “In plus-size modelling brands often use models who are beautifully in proportion with an hour glass figure.
“They are obviously beautiful, but that’s not to say other body shapes can’t be beautiful too. I have a mother’s apron shaped figure, in which my stomach hangs low which means clothes fit me differently.
“Everyone’s body shape is valid and women have the right to see that diversity, whether it be skin colour, ethnicity, body shape or height. So it’s amazing that brands like Curvissa want to work with me, a plus-size Mackem lass who their customers can relate to.”