Dana Suchow, founder of popular blog, Do the Hotpants helped thousands of people when she came forward about her eating disorder and the truth behind photoshop. Her initial blog post was shared and featured in media outlets like Buzzfeed, Marie Claire, and the Daily Mail. Here, Dana shares with REglam the struggles that she has on a day to day basis, how she gets through them, and what happened when she got so much attention in so little time.
Emma: What inspired you to start Do the Hotpants?
Suchow: I started Do The Hotpants as purely a fashion blog, not so much body positivity. I was dating a prolific fashion photographer, so starting a fashion blog seemed like a good idea. At the time, I had binge eating disorder. Unfortunately I found that the whole industry of fashion was becoming a real trigger for me. When that relationship ended, I realized that I was going to have to change the direction of the blog because I couldn’t continue hiding what was going on with me from my readers. As I became more interested in feminism and body positivity, I realized there was a huge need for something like this. Do the Hotpants later became a body positive blog, as I started to become more honest and forward with my readers about who I really was. I needed something like my blog at my worst, so I decided to create it for everybody.
Emma: Was it a coping mechanism for you in some way?
Suchow: Absolutely! I would do a blog post where I would still do my fashion stuff and my posing in fancy clothes, but right next to those images I would say that I don’t feel good about my body today. It helped remove the stigma and shame of things that I was keeping inside. Once you talk about something, you remove the shame from it because it’s not a secret any more. When I realized I was helping people, it became the driving force that motivated me to keep going with my blog.
Emma: When you decided that it was time to come forward about your photoshopped images in 2014, did you have any initial fears or concerns about what your followers would think?
Suchow: That was a post I was thinking about doing for a while, but one night I was just feeling really great and I decided, ‘tonight is the night I’m going to put it together’. I didn’t expect it to gain any more traction than my usual blog posts. I thought I would be helping a small handful of people. But then it just started spreading like wildfire. I shared it on Facebook and it started getting picked up by small body positive websites, then one day I got an email from The Daily Mail, asking if they could share it. All hell broke loose after that! The post was supposed to be just for my followers. The way it went viral honestly just blew my mind and I wasn’t prepared for the response to it. That shows how we as a society are starving for stories of body positivity and unapologetic self-love.
Emma: It got a fairly positive response right? Did that at all change your point of view on your life and your body? How far did that change go for you?
Suchow: It was hard. For every 100 positive responses, I got one negative one and that one would really stick with me. I had to do a lot of re-work on myself. I went back to my therapist and would talk about the negative comments I would get – people saying that it was all fake, that I did it just for fame, that I was ugly, that my clothes were ugly. These words didn’t ruin my life, but it was difficult. To combat the negativity, I keep a Gmail folder of all the positive responses I received during that time period. And whenever I feel down, I go through them and remind myself how incredible it is that my story resonated with so many people. When I look back on that period of my life, I think I could’ve gone further with the message, maybe written a book, partnered with brands. I think I handled all that attention by going inside myself for a while, which at the time, was the only way I knew how to deal with it.
Emma: Why do you choose to dress the way you do? Where do you get your style inspiration from?
Suchow: I’m from San Francisco! I used to wear all vintage, polyester, 60’s and mod culture clothing. Then I moved to New York and everything here is all black and drape-y. I think my style has become a combination of these two cities. My style changes every week because if I’m feeling good about my body it could be different than on a day where I’m not. It’s funny, because I wear all black to work every day but on my blog I post photos of all these colourful outfits – yellow jackets, pink pants, crop tops. The woman on the blog is my alter ego. It’s hard to describe my style because my personal style is so different than what I put on the blog. On the blog I take a lot more risks.
Emma: What connection do you see between fashion choices and body positivity?
Suchow: It’s tough. I know so many people that don’t like their body. They cover it up, they are terrified of going shopping because the store might not have their size. I think we really need body positivity in fashion, we need fat bloggers, bloggers that aren’t afraid to show their bodies. It is a problem that we end up getting the same body type of women. Most of the plus-size body positive fashion bloggers have a big chest, small waist and big hips – very hourglass. We end up seeing that is the only way to look. And don’t get me started on the lack of visibility in disabilities. We are lacking diversity so much in fashion that we definitely need body positivity, I just don’t know if we’ll get to the point where everybody is accepted in fashion. Fashion sells an ideal image. Until every body is an ideal image, fashion isn’t the place to look. So I think we need to look in other directions. We need more body positivity in fashion but I don’t know if fashion is the right place for it. I don’t know if it’ll ever go as far as it needs to go for everyone to be accepted and treated like they’re beautiful.
Emma: I really liked the #MyBodyStory on your blog. What is your main goal with it & do you have a favourite story?
Suchow: I think my main goal is to let people know they are not alone. We all struggle. We all have body image issues, we fight depression or anxiety. We all have lost a loved one or have bad relationships. I want people to come to my site and say ‘You know what, I don’t feel alone!’. Even if you are sitting alone in your room on the computer, I want you to feel a little better about who you are.
I don’t quite have a favourite but there is a story by Emman that taught me a lot. Emma is a black man who struggled with being overweight and was born with one arm. This incredibly empowering story taught me that men struggle too. This story also opened my eyes to the stigma that society attaches to disabilities. There is no visibility into disabilities in magazines or on billboards. After Emman’s piece was published, the amount of people who came forward to support him was incredible to see.
Emma: Do you find that people are hesitant to send the stories in?
Suchow: Oh people are absolutely terrified. Most of the time I reach out to people because I know they are hiding an incredible story. As I do it more, people want to share their stories to remove their shame and inspire others. But when I was starting out, people were terrified to let everyone know they were raped, or that they had an eating disorder, or struggled with their weight. Everyone feels so alone in their struggles. A lot of people just are not ready to share yet. That is why we need body positivity: to help people come to terms. Hardly anybody is going to do it on their own if they don’t have the support and love of their community.
Emma: What are the strategies that you use to help you feel more body positive when you are having an off day?
Suchow: I go to therapy and I love my therapist. That is a weekly thing and it sets me on the right track for the rest of the week. But I do have my off days and the way I get over it is I to read my Instagram comments. I read the comments on the blog, I read the positivity folder in my Gmail. I keep those things as ammunition for when I need them.It doesn’t always help; when I’m depressed, I am allowed to be depressed. I keep these things in my back pocket because I know that times like this will come, and I always want to be prepared to combat that negative energy with a positive one.
Emma: Would you classify yourself an activist or a fashion blogger? Or do you fall in the middle?
Suchow: It’s funny, because this is a conversation I’ve been having with designers while I am doing a re-design of my blog. When they ask me, “what is Do the Hotpants?” I don’t exactly know. Am I a body positive feminist fashion blogger? Am I an activist? Am I just a platform for other people? I think I am a lot of things, and I am still trying to figure out exactly what they all are. It means, I am growing. I am now a really big feminist, an advocate for trans issues, and I try to fight racism too. Although I have broadened my platform, to me body positivity falls under many categories which makes it hard to say exactly what somebody is. Right now, my blog shows you, that you are not alone and I hope that if you go on my site or my social media, you will find something to help you stop hurting.