Jae’lynn Chaney is going places. From Hawaii to the Dominican Republic to trendy Portland hotels, this Vancouver-based travel blogger evaluates her experiences and enthusiastically reports back to followers on social media. While she’s at it, she models new clothing and touts a useful product or two.
Chaney has such an extensive and loyal following that she’s considered an “influencer,” or a person with the ability to persuade her fans to buy a product or service simply by mentioning it on her social media channels. High-profile companies pay her to review their products and services, not unusual for social media celebrities. What’s extraordinary about Chaney is that she’s at the forefront of a new phenomenon: plus-size influencers.
“For so many years, the narrative we’ve seen is that, ‘You don’t fit into society’s standards of beauty, so you have to be miserable and don’t travel and don’t go places and wear clothes that you don’t like,’ ” said Chaney, 25. “A larger individual who’s found love and travels the world and who’s happy and confident and who helps others find those things is why people connect with me. I give them hope and inspiration that they can live their best life, no matter what their size.”
The idea that larger-bodied people should be afforded the same respect and opportunities as anyone else isn’t new. The current thinking about body positivity (celebrating all body sizes) and body neutrality (body size is neither good nor bad) has its origins in Llewellyn Louderback’s 1967 essay in the Saturday Evening Post, “More People Should Be Fat.” In 1969, Bill Fabrey, inspired by Louderback’s ideas, founded what became the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. In 1979, Louderback published the book “Fat Power: Whatever You Weigh Is Right.”
What’s new is that national brands are finally appreciating that power — namely, consumer power. Airlines, hotels, theaters, clothing lines and big box stores like Walmart and Target are getting the message that Chaney and hundreds of other influencers are shouting every day: Larger-bodied people will not be told that they can’t be fashionable, comfortable or just plain happy.
“When I get on social media, I see tons and tons of people working with brands, demanding change from brands, that they increase their sizes and accommodate their plus-size customers,” Chaney said. “I love it. I love seeing us get what we deserve and what we’ve deserved for a really long time.”
Chaney took a circuitous route to self-acceptance and advocacy, surmounting staggering odds to find success with her company, Jae Bae Productions. She said that she hasn’t always shared details about her background but now finds courage in her story because she’s “been through a lot of things and if I can make it, anybody can.”
She was born to teenage parents and raised in a family battling drug addiction. She was 11 when she first experienced true homelessness, she said, slipping in and out of housing for the next six years and struggling to stay in school. Nevertheless, she earned her diploma when she was 17, a few days after moving out on her own. A year later, she enrolled in college at Washington State University Tri-Cities. She graduated in 2018 with a degree in business administration and management.
“That was my ultimate goal — to have my own business,” Chaney said. “I really wanted to build something for myself.”
A few months after receiving her degree, Chaney became very sick. Her whole life changed, she said, going from a corporate job and international travel with her fiancé to doctor’s appointments and debilitating symptoms that kept her homebound. Health care professionals focused on her body size, she said, and told her they couldn’t help her unless she lost weight. It was a frightening and deeply discouraging time, she said.