Fandoms can be challenging territory for women to navigate, and if you happen to be a plus size woman, the struggle with acceptance, insecurity, marginalization, and gatekeeping only intensifies.
Marketing coach and writer Nancy Basile understands the struggle and is using her experience to empower other women to make themselves seen and heard in geek culture. After battling depression and learning to live in the moment instead of “someday,” Nancy offers support, encouragement, and solidarity to curvy geeks through her website, plussizenerd.com.
Plus Size Nerd has branched into a Facebook group, YouTube channel, and Instagram account. It’s an invaluable resource, safe space, and sympathetic community for women grappling with issues only plus size geeks fully understand.
A pop culture fanatic raised on Wonder Woman and Star Wars, Nancy got her start writing about The Simpsons, South Park, and animated television for About.com in the late ’90s. She’s freelanced for many outlets, including Comic Book Resource, and started her own pop culture blog, Media Medusa.
A geek fashionista and fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Marvel, DC, Disney, Outlander, and Harry Potter (she’s even written two books on the subject of the wizarding world), Nancy’s super power is encouraging plus size geeks to feel beautiful, dress up, cosplay, participate, and let nothing hold them back from fully expressing their love of that favorite book, show, or movie.
“I want those women to step out with such attitude and confidence that no one would dare to judge them as anything but fantastic,” she said.
You’re an online marketing coach and freelance writer whose website, Plus Size Nerd, is an “empowering space for XL women who are passionate about their fandoms.” It’s a wonderful resource! When and why did you decide to launch this project?
I launched Plus Size Nerd in January of 2018. I have so many friends who are plus size nerds and we were sharing news about good deals and where to get XL nerdy clothes and I thought, huh, I bet there are other women who are in the same boat.
It’s like you’re part of two different groups who are outside the mainstream, which makes you even more unique than other women. But it also makes it hard to find women who “get” what being a plus size nerd is like. So, I launched the blog!
The Plus Size Nerd website and its related social media accounts are all about women celebrating their curves and their fandoms. You seem very open and honest in talking about your own experiences. Tell me about your experience as a plus size geek and how you became comfortable with celebrating your curves and your fandoms.
I didn’t really embrace my size until long after I had my son, my first child. (He’s almost 17!) I suffered from depression for two years after I had him before I was finally diagnosed. It wasn’t until I made my way — slowly — back from that abyss that I started to embrace my size, my looks and who I was.
For so long I kept thinking, “Someday …” Someday I would be thin. Someday I would be gorgeous. Well, f that! I’m gorgeous NOW. Life is too short and I’ve worked too hard to let insecurity hold me back. So I didn’t get comfortable with “me” until I hit rock bottom and made my way back, through therapy and the right medication. Having plus size nerd friends helps too.
You’re a self-described “pop culture fanatic” who has “worshiped superheroes” since you first saw Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman. Tell me your geek origin story.
That is seriously my origin story. I remember being 5 years old and marking up a pair of underwear to look like Wonder Woman’s. I think I had some kind of undershirt or cami I marked up too. I put them on and went out into the yard spinning. Of course, right off the bat, a kid made fun of me. (There are always haters!) I remember being hurt that he didn’t see me as Wonder Woman like I did, but I also remember telling him to back off. And I just kept on spinning!
Superhero TV shows and Star Wars got big when I was 5-7 years old. I think that helped shape my obsessions. However, I’m drawn toward superheroes and characters like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because I would love to be able to walk into any situation, knowing I always had the upper hand, physically, if I needed it. I would SO jump to people’s rescue.
I want so badly to help other people who are down and out or being bullied, and I do the best I can, but if I was as strong as Captain America or as invulnerable as Wonder Woman, I would be so much more effective! Plus, as a woman, can you imagine how freeing it would be to not feel afraid walking in a park at night or down the street or at a club? I would love that.
You’re an experienced and prolific entertainment writer. You’ve freelanced for About.com and Comic Book Resources and started your own pop culture blog, Media Medusa. When and how did you first become interested in writing?
I started writing in elementary school because I loved reading, and because my father encouraged it. He had such high regard for writers that I think it motivated me to try it.
More than anything, though, I think I love writing because it’s the quickest way to create something and put it out in the world. I love words. I love wordplay. So reading good writing makes me want to be a good writer, to emulate that. I have such a need to create something wholly my own, put it out to the world and have them respond. Writing just seems to be the quickest way to do that because I have zero artistic skill!
Why do you gravitate toward writing about pop culture? How did you break into the world of entertainment writing?
Well, you always hear “write about what you know,” and pop culture is what I know probably better than anything.
As for breaking in, I was lucky. I started writing for About.com in 1999 when the Internet was just starting to take off. I was very interested in web design and coding, so I was part of it from the get-go. I stumbled across the Mining Co.’s (that was their name then) ad for someone who knew HTML and could write about The Simpsons. I got the job! After writing about The Simpsons for several months, the company changed to About.com and added South Park to my plate. Then, over the years, it simply became “Animated TV.”
When About.com’s traffic was dropping, I saw the writing on the wall and launched my own blog, Media Medusa. Then, About.com ended my contract and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I had been writing for them exclusively, but then I started freelancing and found a lot of opportunities. I applied to write for Comic Book Resource and, voila! I got the job! That opened up doors for other media outlets too.
Once you get that first “yes,” the rest gets easier.
You’re also admin of the closed Facebook group Plus Size Nerds, a “safe and supportive space” for discussion between plus size women. Tell me about the group and what the interactions are like in this space. Have you formed many relationships through this?
I absolutely LOVE the women in the Plus Size Nerds Facebook group. We all struggle with similar issues. Not necessarily insecurity, but how things fit, how much we sweat, how we have trouble finding things in our size, like that. The women in the group are incredibly positive and supportive and I just love them. We talk about geeky things, clothes and sometimes our day to day lives. I also love getting to know the women in the group. There are a few whose names pop up a lot, and I love that.
Why do plus size women need a space like this?
We have unique issues. It’s tough to talk about under-boob sweat and chub rub with someone who doesn’t experience it. Someone who’s not plus size won’t understand what it’s like to put on something that’s 2X or 3X and looks like a muumuu instead of a fitted dress. Plus size clothes are just bigger versions of “regular” size clothes; they have a different shape and structure so that you actually have a shape.
It’s also important to have a group behind you, supporting you and cheering you on, when EVERYTHING in media is telling you that you don’t look like you “should.” I don’t dislike thin women, hardly! But everyone knows what it’s like to find someone like yourself who can truly relate to your own experiences. It makes such a difference in how you feel about yourself and the world.
What are some of the obstacles, challenges, and issues plus size women face in geek culture that you hear about and talk most about in the group?
Cosplay is the first thing that comes to mind. There has been a lot of criticism — in real life and online — of plus size women who cosplay as, say, Princess Leia or Lara Croft or any other character who is perceived as thin. Fortunately, those voices are becoming quieter, but there’s still a stigma.
Really, women in general are still seen as outsiders in geek culture. Think about Gamergate. For whatever reason, men (boys) are reluctant to let women be part of the club. So, as a plus size woman, it’s an even steeper uphill battle because you’re trying to tear down two different biases: one against women; one against fat people.
In what ways do plus size fans need to be empowered?
Plus size fans need to be empowered not to be afraid to cosplay or wear a costume. They should feel empowered to own how they look, rather than try to hide or be someone else. Plus size fans should not feel “less than” when they idolize Black Widow because they’re not as tiny as Scar Jo. It should be more about what’s inside than what’s outside.
Too many women don’t participate in activities or go places because they don’t want to be seen; they don’t want to feel judged. I want those women to step out with such attitude and confidence that no one would dare to judge them as anything but fantastic.
I love that you feature a lot of beautiful and creative plus size cosplayers on your Instagram. Why do you make a point of doing this?
Because cosplay is for everyone. I know women who won’t go to the pool or the beach because they don’t want to be seen in a bathing suit. That’s crazy! They’re shutting themselves off from experiences, from parts of the world for appearances.
That same issue crops up for cosplayers. When you love a show, a book, and you want to represent that as part of your identity by cosplaying, nothing should hold you back, especially not your size. That’s why I feature those women. I want other women to know they can do it too.
It’s no secret you’re quite a Harry Potter fan. How were you introduced to J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world?
It’s funny; I avoided Harry Potter for a long time. I kept hearing about the books, but when something has a lot of hype, I sometimes poo poo it. Then I saw the first movie in 2001 and I was hooked. I bought all the books that were out at the time (I think four) and tore through them. After that, I was a goner.
What’s your Hogwarts house?
Would it be an exaggeration to say you’re something of a Wizards Unite addict?
OMG, no! LOL. I just played today. My poor children. They make fun of me all the time. I play it every day and I frequently watch YouTube videos about it.
I also learned you have visited the WB Studio Tour in London and I’m very jealous about that. When did you go and what were some of the highlights of your visit?
I went in 2016. My cousin’s husband was on sabbatical and he was part of a think tank of some sort in Oxford, so her family moved there for a year. I went to visit her for several days and we went to the Warner Bros. tour.
There are a couple of highlights I’m not going to share, because they’re surprises and I want everyone to experience that. After that, I would say my favorite thing was seeing the sets and props. I loved being able to surround myself with Dumbledore’s office and the Gryffindor common room. It’s so easy to feel like you’re really living it when all of that is around you.
You’ve even written a couple of Harry Potter-related books! That’s so cool! Tell me more about them, please.
One of them is a travel guide and one of them is a collection of essays. The collection of essays, Harry Potter In-Depth: Beyond Butterbeer and Boggarts, shares some of my insights and feelings about the wizarding world.
The travel guide, Finding Harry Potter in Lancaster County: A Muggle’s Guide, was born out of geocaching, actually. I love geocaching. When my kids and I would travel around to find geocaches, I would find these neat, out of the way places that were just beautiful or eerie. And because I’m always thinking about Harry Potter, I started thinking, “Huh, this looks like Godric’s Hollow” or “This looks like Hogwarts.”
So, I put together a travel guide that takes visitors to seven different places in Lancaster County, where I live, that double as places from the wizarding world, one special place from each book.
It’s also more than a little obvious that you are very into the Outlander series. You even went on an Outlander tour in Scotland, accompanied by a pocket-size Jamie Fraser. What do you love about that show?
Oh, my. I love the show because it’s so true to the books. I’m actually more of a fan of the books. Diana Gabaldon has taught me more about the 18th century than I ever learned in school! Her characters are so interesting. And, of course, I’m crazy about Jamie because he’s so noble, the 18th-century Captain America, if you will.
Plus, I’m in love with Scotland. I visited Scotland in 2008 as part of a Harry Potter tour of England and Scotland and I lost my heart. So, going back as part of the Outlander tour was a dream come true. (As it turns out, I’m about 34% Scottish.)
I think you’ve mentioned that your family is a gaming family. Do you guys game together? I heard you have a particular love of the Lego games.
We used to game together more when the kids were littler. Now, I’m not good enough to game with them! However, my husband still plays with them. They play Minecraft, Injustice, Civilization, and some other games on Steam. Sometimes we play games that I can handle, like Monopoly or Tumblestone.
And yes, I love, love, love the Lego games. I love their sense of humor and how they recreate my fandoms.
What are some of your other favorite fandoms?
Marvel, Star Wars, DC (mainly the trinity — Wonder Woman, Superman, and Batman), Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Disney and lately I’m really into The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
Your blog offers practical advice about plus size geek fashion, from where to find Harry Potter robes, to reviews, to geek cosplay tips, to style guides. It seems you’ve gathered a wealth of personal knowledge that you draw upon. Do you also have to do a lot of research for your posts?
Yes! As a freelance writer, you have to be really good at using the ‘net for research, so I’ve gotten pretty good at tracking down what I’m looking for. Some blog posts take 2-3 hours of hunting to find items. Others are much easier, because they’re more mainstream, like Disney.
You also discuss the inconsistencies and unrealistic nature of the definition of plus size and the inconsistencies in sizing of clothing throughout the fashion industry. This is a constant source of frustration to women of all sizes, but especially plus women, who have fewer options when it comes to clothing. What have you learned about the industry that has helped you wrap your mind around these issues?
Nothing! LOL. What I’ve learned is to disregard the size on the tag as a judgement. If something is too small, it doesn’t mean you’re too big. I’ve also just resigned myself to the fact that sizing in women’s clothes is relative. And really, going up a size makes you look a lot better than trying to squeeze into something just because it’s a lower number.
What was it that first sparked your interest in geek fashion?
It used to be really difficult to find geek clothes that were flattering. Even just eight years ago, if I wanted a Captain America shirt, I had to buy a men’s t-shirt. Men’s t-shirts are square. We are decidedly not square! So, finding attractive geek clothing became an obsession.
Plus, geek wasn’t mainstream even 10 years ago. It wasn’t until Marvel exploded and Millennials who grew up reading Harry Potter got old enough to be consumers that companies started making geek clothes for everyone, including women. So, that was the first hurdle, just finding women’s geek clothes. The second hurdle was finding plus size women’s geek clothes. We’re finally over that hurdle!
What do you think needs to change in the fashion industry, and especially the geek fashion industry, so women of all sizes are fully represented?
The mindset of designers. It all starts there. How is it that fashion companies know, in hard data, that the majority of women are size 12 and up, yet they continue to focus on tiny sizes? We’re starting to see inclusivity in ads, but we have a long way to go.
What shops, retailers, and companies do you find yourself coming back to over and over?
Torrid, for sure. It’s my go-to for pretty much everything. I also like a couple of big department stores, like JC Penney and Macy’s. I have friends who find great plus size clothes at Old Navy and Hot Topic, but if I can find it at Torrid, I don’t keep looking.
What are some of your favorite geek fashion items that are in your closet right now?
My Borgin and Burkes t-shirt from Universal Orlando, my Captain Marvel dress, and my Harry Potter romper. They’re all attractive and comfortable.
What advice would you give to women within the geek community who are struggling with body image and self-esteem?
Firstly, the struggle will never go away. You’ll just find yourself struggling less. Secondly, surround yourself — in real life, on your walls, and online — with women who are like you. Those Torrid models are GORGEOUS. Ashley Graham is GORGEOUS. You don’t have to be a size 6 or even a size 2X to feel beautiful. Third, if you don’t feel good in what you’re wearing, don’t wear it. Clothes aren’t really about how you look in them, it’s how you feel in them that’s important.
Fourth, and most importantly, there’s only one judge on this planet that matters, and it’s yourself. We’re all walking around in our own bubbles. Other people aren’t really looking at you and judging you; they’re thinking about themselves. So, you get one turn, one go-around, one life. Why waste precious time being down on yourself? Wherever you go, there you are, so make friends with yourself. Be kind to yourself.
If readers would like to support Plus Size Nerd, what’s the best way they can do that?
They can start at the website, plussizenerd.com. Then, I invite them to watch the videos on YouTube about clothes, TV and movies. Then, if they’d like to hang out with a fun group of women, they should join the Facebook group (start at facebook.com/plussizenerd).
Do you have any future plans, goals, or dreams for Plus Size Nerd that you’d like to share?
My dream for Plus Size Nerd is a convention that’s part Curvy Con and part Comic Con. A coming together of women where we can just be ourselves and geek out. I would love for women to find Plus Size Nerd and feel welcome, feel at home and seen and supported. And for that following to grow and grow until we just have to have a convention of our own!
What’s left on your geek bucket list and does it involve a pocket-size Jamie Fraser?
LOL, Pocket Jamie and I definitely want to explore the Outer Hebrides a bit more. And I want to visit Nova Scotia and hopefully see the Northern Lights. I’m sure Pocket Jamie would enjoy that too.