Sunday, May 28, 2023

‘I Have A Voice And I Shouldn’t Be Scared Of It’ Storyteller Jess Molina on Fashion and the Invisible Work of Social Media

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She’s a force for good in the fashion world and describes the thread that runs through her various jobs as storytelling, whether it’s social media, writing or acting. Loudly, Quietly founder Jess Molina talks to Emma Clifton about the creative challenge of dressing when you’re plus size and why social media is more freeing than magazines when it comes to showcases body types.

Jess Molina’s first brush with internet fame was a perfect microcosm for the full experience. Nine years ago, when she was living in Hamilton, a friend was running a campaign in favour of marriage equality and was encouraging people to write submissions as to why it was important to them. “It was the last day to submit and she was hounding me,” Jess laughs. “It was 2am, I was wide awake and I felt like I had something to say.”

She wrote a short piece and saved it onto the online forum, but she was worried that if the website fell over, she’d lose her words and the whole rush of creative blood to the head would be gone. So she decided to also save it onto her mostly unused blog, so she’d have a back-up version. When she woke up the next morning, it was chaos – but the good kind.

“I was getting personal replies from MPs, I got phone calls from friends, telling me ‘your letter was the talk of parliament this morning, it’s reached a lot of people and it’s really resonated.’” At the time, Jess was 21, doing a communication’s degree at university, and her tutors were also emailing her, full of praise for her writing. The piece got picked up by Stuff and became one of the lead stories. So far, so excellent. Then she went to the gym, only to get a message from her friend saying, “Don’t look at the comments.”

The internet had done what it often does and taken her whole-hearted personal piece of writing and turned it into a debate. “The haters started coming out,” she laughs. “It was so wild, that just [writing] what I had felt in the moment did that for me.” Growing up in a Catholic household, Jess had been worried about what her family would think but they were behind her all the way. “It was definitely ‘I have a voice and I shouldn’t be scared of it’ moment. And that I shouldn’t be scared of what anyone else thinks, because it’s my voice and it’s personal.”

Nine years later, Jess’ voice has only grown stronger, with her social media presence and blog Loudly, Quietly making her a force for good in Aotearoa. She calls herself a storyteller, because the thread that runs through her blogging, acting and social media work is all about telling a story. Jess’ love of writing started young; growing up in Manila, she began writing her first blog when she was 12. It was such a new concept, she laughs, that her parents didn’t know what the word was and referred to it as a ‘b-log’. It came from a need to write about what was happening in order to understand it.

“I write because I need to let something out, not because I think I need an audience. It’s enough that it resonates with me, that it’s important to me. If someone else reads something they needed to hear, that’s wonderful and it’s such an honour. But it’s mostly for me.”

Photo from instagram

One of the fields that Jess represents is fashion, an area that can often flip between not being taken seriously at all or, perversely, taking itself far too seriously. Either way, it’s not always easy to find the fun part of it. But Jess says it’s always been about self-expression to her. “I enjoy the art side of it: the structure, learning about designers, but at the same time, because I’m plus size, I never really fit into that world.”

“It’s about really owning what fashion means to me, because I go into shops and I don’t fit half the stuff. So it became about expressing myself through fashion, but I also had to be really innovative in terms of finding pieces that work for me. But I don’t take myself seriously,” she laughs. “It’s a fun thing for me to do – you get dressed every morning, you might as well make it fun.”

Staying true to your own personal style, even when sometimes you might have limited options, is the key to enjoying what you wear, Jess believes. “In terms of plus-size fashion, I’ve always struggled because most of the connotations of plus-size fashion are very bold prints, very bright colours, but that’s not me,” she says. “My style is so minimal: I want neutrals, I want beige, I want whites. But growing up reading magazines, the advice was always ‘don’t wear light colours, it’ll only highlight your size.’ It makes it so much harder to find your place in the fashion world when all the clothes you see that fit you, don’t reflect who you are.”

The rise of social media over magazines when it comes to influencing the fashion world has helped slowly change this, Jess says. “With magazines, you can’t curate what you see. They curate it for you. They tell you what fashion is, what the standard of beauty is. With social media, you’re in charge of curating what you see. By following people who love fashion and have the same body type or colour palette as me, it made me feel like I had found people who understood.”

And it’s clearly mutual – Jess is now so known for her work in the fashion space that she was selected to go on the Offline podcast by host Alison Rice (check out our interview with Alison here), where she talked about her love of fashion and also how she fits her creative work in. She favours quality over quantity when it comes to her writing. “I don’t want to contribute to the noise; when people come to my site, it’s thoughtful, it’s curated and it’s really special.”

There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes into checking in with her community as well. Because her writing isn’t afraid to go to vulnerable places, Jess says her audience is always super willing to match her energy and it feels like a very close-knit corner of the internet. “What doesn’t get seen on my social media is the amount of direct messages I get, and the paragraphs-long messages I get from people sharing their story,” she says. “It’s quite incredible, and that’s my favourite part. It’s something I really, really treasure.”

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