Social Media Stars Making a Social Impact: Why & How Alysse Dalessandro of Ready to Stare Is Helping To Change Our World
Find your balance. As creators, especially in the beginning, we share every aspect of our lives. It took me a bit to realize that not everything is for everyone. You have to protect your own peace and be OK with the fact that not everyone needs to be a part of your platform. You only need to make peace with yourself — no one else matters.
As a part of our series about leaders who are using their social media platform to make a significant social impact, we had the pleasure of interviewing Alysse Dalessandro.
Alysse Dalessandro is a Midwest plus size fashion and travel blogger, LGBTQ influencer, writer, designer, and professional speaker based in Cleveland, Ohio. She started her first business, a pop-up vintage store in 2009, while earning her degrees in Journalism and Gender Studies in Chicago. This creative entrepreneur is best known as the creator of body positive fashion brand turned fashion and lifestyle blog, Ready to Stare, founded in 2012.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started my online community back in 2012 as a designer with my own line of fashion and accessories for the plus-size and LGBTQ+ communities. At that time, I was using models to promote my handmade items because I was convinced no one wanted to see me in the posts. It wasn’t until one of my friends encouraged me to become the face of my brand that I began putting myself out there and testing those waters.
It started with some selfies and progressed into more posts about my own body journey and telling my story through the pieces I was making. As it turns out, those images and posts really resonated with my online community, and it became apparent that my messages of happily existing in a larger body and self-love were ones that needed a bigger platform.
The response to my content was so positive and grew so rapidly that I eventually realized I could not continue to be both a designer and content creator. I devoted my full-time attention to my content in 2016, and I haven’t looked back since.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?
I’ve been very fortunate to use my platform to create a voice for the plus-size and LGBTQ+ communities. Along the way, I’ve been able to be part of so many cool campaigns and movements ranging from the Big Fig Collective — an advisory panel made up exclusively of plus-size advocates — to Absolut Vodka’s Pride Campaign where the famous fashion photographer, David LaChapelle, told me I was too pretty for this vision he had in mind. The visual direction for the campaign was gruff and tuff, and my amazing bouffant hairstyle and makeup didn’t match that, so he sent me back to hair and make-up to re-do my look.
More than the David LaChapelle telling me I was too pretty, the first thing I noticed when I started sharing my own body journey was that it encouraged more people who looked like me to take risks. For so long, there was a lack of representation for plus-size, LGBTQ+ individuals. Once they saw me share my journey online, I started getting messages from my followers saying things like “I showed my arms for the first time because I saw you do it” and “I came out to my family because of you.” There is no amount of money in the world worth a message like that. I feel so incredibly lucky to be an advocate for living life as your authentic self and, to me, there is not another job where you can have this type of an impact on people — most of whom I haven’t even met before.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I always say: I don’t have a PhD, but I do have a PhD in mistakes! When people look at their favorite content creators, they see the things that the influencers want them to see. That is often the fun and glamorous side of our work, but being in the public eye puts your life under a microscope that others feel they have the right to inject themselves into. In the beginning, I was very reactive to this public feedback. When you yourself are the product, it is almost a basic instinct to want to be reactive, especially when the comments are an attack on who you are or just deeply personal.
Over time, I’ve learned not to put anything online until I’ve had the chance to process it offline. If I am not ready to hear the feedback on something, I don’t put it online. Establishing this boundary, however, was truly a process. With the help of therapy, I was able to separate other people’s opinions from my own. If their biggest fear is ending up like me or being queer or being forced to face their own fatphobia, that is not my problem. That is about them and not about me.
You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
This career is definitely not as easy as most think. It is more than just investing in a ring light and a camera, and it certainly isn’t just about making money.
After over 10 years in this industry, I can confidently say it is a long game that starts with having a strong “why.” I’ve worked hard to establish an online community that allows me to share my story in hopes of helping someone else. This is made possible not just by sharing my everyday life in high-quality images and videos, but also by partnering with the right brands that I believe in. I’m not going to partner with a brand that is actively promoting weight loss, for example. I’m going to partner with brands that listen and actively invest in the community it serves.
For instance, I have a long-term partnership with Big Fig, which is the first and only mattress brand to exclusively cater to big, tall, and plus-sized people. They’ve proven to be a company that genuinely cares about me and my issues. Their leadership not only truly listens to us, but they ask for our thoughts on critical topics impacting larger figured people, we get to offer creative feedback to their brand campaigns, they sponsor local events and prioritize giving back to the community they serve.
If you want to build trust with your followers and be authentic, you have to partner with the brands that put people before profits. Queer people exist all year-long. Plus-size people exist all year-long. Find those partners that understand and complement your “why” — it will help amplify your message to reach more people and make a greater impact.
Ok super. Let’s now jump to the core focus of our interview. Can you describe to our readers how you are using your platform to make a significant social impact?
There is a big misconception that influencers are shallow or self-centered. Some may be chasing that viral moment, but it is different for me. I’ve built my platform around the goal of creating consistent, quality content over time that encourages people to see themselves as plus-size and queer in a narrative of living life to the absolute fullest. My content is centered on sharing the idea that those in the plus-size and LGBTQ+ communities don’t need to be on the sidelines. We can love as our most authentic selves, and I am dedicated to showing up for my followers who need this level of consistency to challenge societal norms.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by this cause?
First and foremost, I love all my followers. I’ve built such a strong and supportive community over the 10+ years since I launched my brand. However, there is one follower in particular who I am really proud to say I’ve had a small role in their self-discovery journey. She has faithfully engaged in my content. Similarly, I regularly check in with her to make sure she is doing OK. And, over the years, I’ve witnessed her just becoming more confident in her body and seen her really put herself out there more. I’ve seen her share that first selfie wearing a bikini, I’ve seen her come out as bi, and, more broadly, I’ve just seen her become more unapologetic about who she is.
It has been really cool to be there for her journey. In turn, she has taught me that it is all about having consistent interactions and to always be someone who is there and present. She has given just as much to me as I feel like I’ve given to her. It’s further proof that our communities should fill you up in the same way you do for them.
Was there a tipping point that made you decide to focus on this particular area? Can you share a story about that?
In 2011, I was wearing an outfit that I felt really good in. It was a short skirt with bright blue wedges. I always knew I could dress and had style, and this outfit really showed that.
As I was walking down the street, I heard someone yell: “Hey, fat girl, stop trying to look skinny!” After a few seconds of trying to process what he said, it clicked: he was saying that I was trying to “look skinny” because I felt good and confident in what I was wearing. This idea that confidence is reserved for only certain people really ignited my “why.”
It was the day my platform, Ready to Stare, began to take form. If people will stare at you and think, “hey, if she can look like that and wear that, then maybe I can too!” then you are giving them an opportunity to think differently and change how they think and perceive others.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
As I’ve said before, we need to eliminate this standard of beauty in our society. I’m proud of the work I’ve done that has increased awareness around the notion that everybody and every body deserves to be seen. It is about time that society and other brands put in the work to change this perception that some people are less than based on how they look or who they love. We should want everyone living their life to the fullest, being authentic and taking pride in loving themselves.
A good start to changing the way society thinks is more representation of queers and fat people. Brands have a built-in platform to make this change, but it goes beyond just adding a black, transgender person in your marketing campaigns to check a box. Brands need to invest in the movement. If you are going to market to a marginalized company, you need to stand with us all year long. If you post our picture with your new product, do strong community moderation on your platforms. The last thing we want to see is an ad with our picture and a ton of negative comments under it.
My main message to brands is: don’t be afraid to alienate a loud part of your audience — being loud doesn’t make them your core audience. Budweiser and Big Fig understand this. Budweiser recently partnered with Dylan Mulvaney and it has been controversial to some. Big Fig has literally built its brand around serving the plus-size community. We need more brands like this that are willing to be in the trenches with us to enact change.
As for politicians, they need to remember that they are the voice of the people — of all people. Weight discrimination is allowed in 48 of the 50 states. Plus-size people make 30 percent less than their counterparts. There is a common weight stigma in healthcare as well, often leading to misdiagnosis because it is assumed our symptoms are related to our weight. And, believe me, I know we can’t legislate everything, but we need politicians to help us take the right steps in the right direction. One ad won’t fix what is wrong with our society, but if we have brands, community members, influencers, and governmental leaders all working together to help spread the word across a variety of channels and platforms, we can make positive changes.
Why do you think social media in particular has the power to create social change and create a positive impact on humanity?
With social media, we can put users and creators in the driver’s seat like never before. For so long, many of the elite controlled the narrative that we saw in mainstream media. From the ads we saw to the TV shows and commercials and movies we watched, we had to wait for brands to give us representation. Advocacy for marginalized communities forced brands to diversify their representation, and social media forced that issue even further.
As creators, we have the opportunity to serve as an amplifying voice for our community. We curate what we want to see and are in control of the message we want to see. Creators are designing a feed that feels good to us that allows for so many more diverse bodies and voices to be included.
Of course, with this larger presence comes more criticism. That is why, as I said earlier, as creators and influencers, we have to find the right balance for us and only publish content we are OK with hearing the feedback on.
What specific strategies have you been using to promote and advance this cause? Can you recommend any good tips for people who want to follow your lead and use their social platform for a social good?
I cannot stress the importance of partnering with brands that are immersed in the content you are creating. As a content creator, you sort of become used to being tokenized by some brands that know your followers hold a strong consumer base for their products. They aren’t always willing to put in the money to invest beyond the initial campaign run with you, though. I would advise finding brands that really believe in your content, consistently support you all year long, and want to invest in your cause through a multitude of ways.
For example, I’ve been working with Big Fig since their founding in 2015 and have the privilege of serving on their year-round Collective, which is an advisory board made up of plus-size advocates. This model has really made sure Big Fig is ingrained in my life, following me through every important milestone and message that happens in the year. This has also given me a platform to collaborate with others in my community as the Collective is made up of eight different people of diverse backgrounds. We have real and raw conversations about the issues we face as plus-size people in this too often one-size-fits all world.
More than listening to us, they also show up for us. If I know of an important event, I can send the information along to Big Fig and know that they will genuinely consider supporting it because they are truly invested. Other brands should take note of this model and implement it. Some are doing it on a smaller scale, but the impact they can have by consistently tapping into these influencers by way of assembling an advocacy panel, listening to our diverse thoughts and opinions, and diving into the causes that matter to us as individuals is endless.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Find your balance. As creators, especially in the beginning, we share every aspect of our lives. It took me a bit to realize that not everything is for everyone. You have to protect your own peace and be OK with the fact that not everyone needs to be a part of your platform. You only need to make peace with yourself — no one else matters.
- Trust yourself. I was so afraid of doing videos when I became a content creator, but video is king. I wish I had just trusted myself more and started my video platform sooner. I was late to the game on YouTube, and if I would have just trusted myself, I could have been part of the OG YouTubers!
- Have a website presence to support your social community. Blogs are still extremely valuable! And blogs are something that you fully own. We don’t own Twitter or Instagram. If any of these third-party social platforms go away, all the work you’ve invested in your pages could be gone. So, be sure to reserve some of that time and energy for your own website domain. I make sure I contribute weekly blogs for my website, ReadyToStare.com, and produce valuable SEO content for people searching Google.
- Understand the business side of how influencing works. As I’ve said, this career is not all fun and glamorous. Whether you are an established creator or an up-and-coming influencer, it is critical to understand how to make your business work. Be sure to understand affiliate links and how to make money on ads, focus on driving conversions, and be everywhere! If you invest all this time into creating high-quality content, you want to make sure this content is working for you and your brand partners.
- Show brands you can promote their products/company. This goes hand-in-hand with the business side of things. Once you understand how to make this a business, you will better understand how to effectively work with established companies. A lot of brands want direct sales. Can you show them how your affiliate links converted to sales in previous partnerships? You have to show value beyond just engagements. And don’t forget to give yourself the credit you deserve. If you have the confidence and can show your value, brands will want to work with you.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
In many aspects, I feel as though I have been a part of a really important movement. I’ve dedicated my online platform and my work to raising awareness that plus-size, LGBTQ+ individuals can be their true authentic selves, that they deserve to be seen, and that they are valued and respected. My work, however, is never done. I’d like to grow my advocacy to change the beauty standards so there is no standard. There is only a small percentage of people who meet the “beauty standard,” and the reality is that every person deserves to free themselves of the idea that you have to be what society wants you to be.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a power lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
It is impossible for me to pick just one person! Instead, I would organize a dinner party with Lizzo, Dylan Mulvaney and Aria Said because they are all incredibly powerful women. I’d love the opportunity to unite us all in one space to talk about being advocates for change and candidly discuss our experiences with what it is like to have our bodies under attack because, make no mistake about it, our bodies are most certainly under attack. Everybody has the right to feel comfortable in every body — and who better to do that than us four women!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
For all the latest news and updates, as well as links to all my social platforms, readers can visit my website at www.readytostare.com. They can also follow me and my other Big Fig Collective members at Big Fig’s website and its See All of Me campaign page.
This was very meaningful. Thank you so much!
Social Media Stars Making a Social Impact: Why & How Alysse Dalessandro of Ready to Stare Is… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.