Stella Williams On How Authenticity Changed Her Career - Exclusive Interview

Stella Williams is a body-positive influencer and model known for her honest clothing hauls and reviews. As a plus-size fashion influencer, making fashion fun and accessible for all sizes is a big part of her mission. She'll be speaking at The BodCon 2023 on the "My Body is Not a Fashion Trend" panel, where they'll be discussing fashion trends that are not size-inclusive and the impact that has on self-esteem.

During an exclusive interview with The List, Williams discussed her panel topic and why it's so important to her to always be authentic and to create a community where others can come as they are. Recently, Williams experienced some backlash after she shared her not-so-positive review of the Woods by Jordyn clothing line. As a plus-size content creator, Williams said she's no stranger to online hate, and although she did apologize for her "harshness" on a recent episode of the BodPod, she did not take back her opinion and sees her honesty as the most valuable thing she can offer to her community.

Building her community through authenticity

I know it was several years ago at this point, but what first made you want to start posting content?

I first started posting content ... I actually come from a corporate America background and was on track to work for the United States government. My sister's a creative, and one day she was like, "Hey, do you want to go do a photo shoot?" I was on vacation, and it was my first time in California — very new. I went out and did this photo shoot, and she shot this very short video. It ended up being a five-minute video. We went back to the house, and she showed me iMovie — she's editing — and I'm like, "What is this creative world?" Coming from a corporate background, [this was] something that was so new. I didn't know exactly what I was going to make, but I was very excited at the opportunity to be creative, not having that opportunity before. That was the spark of it.

You've amassed all these followers. Do you ever feel the pressure when you're posting about how it's going to be received?

Absolutely not. I felt that pressure. I used to live in Los Angeles, and I felt that pressure living in the city of fame and climbing and getting more social status. But the more that I calmed myself and blended and learned and met my community, it took all that pressure off ... The community aspect trumped anything external I was trying to validate out of my career. Now, I post [what I want]. People who want to stay, stay. People who want to leave, leave. My community's strong enough to where they take me for me, and I love that.

How she learned to be true to herself

Do you feel like you have a message that you're trying to make come across [with your content]?

My overall goal in my content ... is to teach people to be themselves. Since the beginning of my career, I've been myself — very blunt, very transparent in who I am. I joined the internet in 2016 when it was the beauty world on YouTube, and everything was curated and perfect, and I'm naturally not that person. When I jumped in, I tried. If you look back at old videos, you can see me attempting to have that perfection. I let it go. I let it go in 2016 — I was like, "This is not me. Take me for me."

[I was] showing people that. They can go back to the beginning. A lot of my OG followers love seeing that because they're like, "We've been with you since the beginning, and we saw how you [were] being yourself, and you made it work." That gives so many people [encouragement] ... They come back to me like, "Stella, you are you because it's real ... [You] have given me the encouragement to do this myself because you're not curated or super creative." I feel like I reach to the people who don't naturally have that.

Facing backlash for her clothing review

You recently had some backlash from one of your reviews. How are you able to handle that criticism and still stay true to what you think and keep sharing that?

It's strength. This is the first time in my journey that [my criticism] hasn't been because of my body. Usually, it's a lot of body shaming. I get a lot of heat for the way I naturally look — that's built me a thick skin. It's also allowed me to be comfortable in my voice. The recent backlash ... my community was thankful that I did my job. [I did] what I do. I look out for their wallets. I look out for where they're spending their money.

I produce so much content of [reviewing] items, literally so much stuff to purchase — clothes, items for your home, perfumes, whatever. People are willing to spend their money, and I take that job incredibly seriously. If I don't feel like something is worth [its cost] for my followers, who trust me with that opinion, I'll say it out loud. At the end of the day, that is my job. A lot of the backlash came from people not in my community. I received so much feedback saying, "Thank you for being honest because this is why we follow you." That was so encouraging and helpful.

Why has it always been important to you to stay honest [in your reviews]?

It's so important for me to stay honest because I used to be dishonest at the beginning of my career, because I thought that's how you had to make it.

This is my truth. I am an awkwardly shaped girl, and there was no space for me in 2016 to — one — move to Hollywood, and two, try to make it into anything. Everything I learned was to lose weight, fix this, nip this, tuck that. I learned that my honesty would take me furthest. Now it's important for me to show that authenticity is it.

Staying confident and not viewing your body as a trend

You're also speaking at BodCon this year on the "My Body is Not a Trend" panel. What does that topic mean to you?

This topic means everything to me. I hold so much of my weight in my stomach, and people are like, "Fix your stomach. Remove your stomach." I'm someone who's ... I've always been this size, this shape. I've embraced that this is who I've been made as a person, and my body is not a trend. A lot of the recent conversation [has been] about the BBL (Brazilian butt lift) era being over, and "thin is in" in these topics of conversation. I will literally get comments from people saying, "Are you going to fix that?" like my person is an external part of myself.

I'm excited to speak at BodCon because a lot of people ... The media is effective, and a lot of people do start to hear these narratives, and they start to get low self-esteem. Anything they've built up over the last couple of years about their body confidence, they'll start to question because of these new trends in society. It's really whack. I'm excited to remind people that you can be successful being exactly who you are. There are multiple ways to love yourself in whatever journey you're going through in life. It's okay to be you. You don't need to change it just because society is shifting around you. You're already cool within yourself.

What is your biggest piece of advice for people trying to stay confident as the trends change to ignore those voices they might be hearing?

My biggest piece of advice — and this is from a very true, honest standpoint — is to seek out the communities that will help you with that journey. It is not easy when you are building confidence or self-esteem. That's why content creators do hold such a special place to many people, because they're literally figures that people can look up to and say, "Hey, I feel represented by this person." It is so important, not just for the content creator, for someone to look up to a content creator, but the community within that.

There are so many other people that you might become friends with or connect with online and be able to have these honest conversations that you may not be able to have with your family members or with your partners because of judgment. It's a safe space for you to grow and evolve in your self-love and self-confidence, which is so special for this period of time. It's incredible.

Promoting smaller creators on Curve Haul

You also have your community with Curve Haul that you promote other creators on. How did you decide you wanted to use that platform to share other creators?

That was the whole goal of Curve Haul. Curve Haul was born in January 2022. At first, it was an online boutique, but not really what I envisioned as a store. As my job, I'm getting packages in and out all day. I'm very, very aware of the material waste of where the clothes are coming from and educating myself — and now in 2023, educating the masses — on what this is costing our earth and that evolution over time.

With Curve Haul, I closed down the boutique. But what was so special about the boutique part itself was I was sending these PR packages to content creators, to women that could wear plus-size clothing. Because Curve Haul was sending these packages, they were now able to say, "Hey, I've worked with Curve Haul." Curve Haul also is a very hot buzzword online ... These girls were having brand new channels, maybe two months old, three months old, and then getting thousands of views because they were doing a Curve Haul review, and those buzzwords were getting them traffic.

It sparked not only a spike in views and followers, but then I'm getting emails. This is January [2022]. By March, I'm getting emails, like, "Oh my gosh, I got my first PR collab with this company or my first paid collab with this company." Also, it's showing that followers don't always matter, but the content they were creating was so meaningful in getting their views or getting them recognition, which was so incredible.

Now, in 2023, Curve Haul is more about, "Let's cut out the middleman — me right now, with resources of the kind of clothes I was selling — and let's promote you." It seems to be received so well. We get emails all the time of, "I would love to be featured on Curve Haul." It gives people the space to feel recognized. I know firsthand what it feels like to not feel like I had a seat at a table. I worked hard, and I embarrassed myself. I had to go through so much just to build my own table. Everything I do to give back is so the girls can skip that and get their flowers, and I hope that they get their flowers.

Stella's advice for upcoming content creators

Some content creators might see that as, "The more people who are in the market, the more competition I have." How do you stay out of that mindset and want to bring everyone up?

I love it ... I have this wonderful little art piece, and I have it in every YouTube video. It says, "What's for you won't pass you by." A large part of myself and my faith is giving back, is building up. It would be so selfish of me to gatekeep information. I've lost a lot of peer relationships because of that, of not gatekeeping things that were meant to be in the club of the plus girls or the club of the plus models in LA.

For what? If it's meant for you, it will be yours. I don't see emerging content creators as competition. I wish a lot of people would reframe their thought processes and start seeing them as peers, colleagues, and friends. Because ... there's no containment to the internet. It blows my mind that you would even see it as competition. I don't.

What would be your biggest piece of advice for any content creators starting out or maybe still on the fence about if they should post things?

Stop saying you're "aspiring." That would be my number one piece of advice. Stop saying you're an aspiring model or an aspiring content creator. Start saying that's what you do, even if you don't necessarily have the credits to back it up. Start creating your own content as if it were sponsored. That way, you're killing two birds with one stone. You're showing companies, "Hey, I'm capable of creating content for you and for something I believe in that I believe people should have for themselves." Also, you're treating yourself like a business and not someone looking for the fame or the glamor of what it means to be a content creator.

Tickets are now on sale for the highly-anticipated, third annual virtual body confidence conference, The BodCon 2023, taking place Sunday, March 5, 2023 from 11:00 a.m. – 6:35 p.m. EST. Its sister podcast, The BodPod, is a weekly podcast that dives deep into the people, brands, and topics that are making a difference in the way we view our bodies.

This interview has been edited for clarity.