Jul. 1 2020
Anna O’Brien is made of glitter and lazers… at least that’s what her half a million Instagram fans say. The influencer and body-positive activist (who actually started out working in software) is the author of A Life Full of Glitter, a best-selling book dedicated to meeting women where they are… and adding just a little more sparkle. And speaking of sparkle, Anna has amassed more than 6 million followers on TikTok because honestly, who wouldn’t want to watch her shine?!
We asked Anna how she stays motivated, what it’s like to be creative in a crisis, and how she thinks the fashion industry can take concrete steps to become more inclusive.
What were you doing before you became a full-time influencer?
I was working on software that enabled content strategy at a company called Sprinklr. I was a product manager, and I built content ecosystems for brands like Nike… Part of content is being creative, but there’s another side that’s all tech. I started my account for two reasons: to test content performance to show clients, and to have something to do that wasn’t work. I was employee 20 at a startup, and I was working all the time. I just started to post whatever I was wearing that day and whatever was on my mind, and it blew up.
Was it scary to leave your job to pursue your own work full-time?
I love consistency, and being an influencer has absolutely no consistency. It’s funny; right after I quit my job, the one year-long contract I had that I was counting on cancelled. It just fell through.
What did you do?
I was depressed. And I let myself be upset for a couple weeks. But at the end of the day, if you’re an influencer (and this is counter to the advice that most people will give you), you have to not think about the money. You have to return to whatever brings you joy… because that’s what people connect with. So whenever I’m in a down place, rather than look at the numbers or focus on strategic content, I return to whatever makes me the most joyful.
Something that is a constant source of joy for me is getting outside of my comfort zone. If I can conquer one scary thing, then I can conquer so many other scary things. And it creates a tangible example of something I was able to overcome. So I always try to seek out opportunities that are overwhelming when I feel like I’m not at my best, because it gives me a reminder of how strong I really am.
What advice do you give to your followers that is hard for you to take?
Make time for yourself and do things that aren’t for the cameras, or your work, or anyone else but you. I’m constantly trying to be better at that. [And] I’m a giver, and I’m always trying to give people the shirt off my back. There’s a friend of mine, Color Me Courtney, who always says “gas mask first,” as in, you have to help yourself before you help others… and I’m really bad at that.
How do you choose the brands you work with?
I never like to partner with someone whose products I wouldn’t use. So when it comes to partnerships, I’m looking for something I believe in… I worked with Oreo, for example, and while they aren’t a “need,” they are joyful, and positive, and delicious.
You talk about the importance of inclusive fashion. What are the main areas you want to see improved?
The clothing [that companies] make in “thin” sizes should be available in plus-sizes. It’s always so confusing to me when a brand spends all this money to launch a plus-sized line, and it’s not just the same things that they’re already making for the thin community. Plus-sized women don’t want different clothing, we want the same clothing. For me, the biggest need is for people to understand that. We just want to look like any other woman. We don’t want to be defined by clothing only being available at certain stores, or in a different section. I think we’re starting to move toward a more inclusive view of fashion that isn’t about what is most “flattering,” but what best defines and supports you.
What’s something you wish more people knew about plus-sized fashion?
I am obsessed with fashion history, and if you read about it, fashion has always been used to define class. Always. [For example], laws in medieval times forbid peasants from wearing certain patterns. When we look at plus-sized fashion, and it having to exist in its own world, it’s creating classism by size. In order to fully tear down the boundaries between thin and plus-sized women, that form of classism has to be destroyed. Clothing defines the community, and it’s a real example of “I can’t have the same things as you,” or “I am physically prevented from having the same things as you.” And that’s a form of control.
What brands are doing a great job of inclusive fashion?
There are two indie designers that I think are absolutely fantastic. One is called Big Bud Press. They’ve been size inclusive since the beginning, and they go from XS to 5XL. Another company that just started to become more size inclusive is Mokuyobi, and they go from XS to 4XL. They’re both fashionable and forward brands. But for mainstream clothing, American Eagle is making amazing strides.