Brianna McDonnell
Brianna McDonnell's short film artfully combines vintage aesthetics and a refreshing, fashion-forward body positivity. (Illustration by Peyton Shark, Minneapolis College of Art and Design)

Brianna McDonnell and Why Her Trailblazing Plus-Size Fashion Short Film Is Truly Groundbreaking

A combination of vintage aesthetics and a loving tribute to a plus-sized star, the influencer’s new short film is clearly revolutionary.

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Brianna McDonnell

A combination of vintage aesthetics and a loving tribute to a plus-sized star, the influencer’s new short film is clearly revolutionary.

Fashion hauls have exploded recently, especially with the popularization of video-sharing platforms such as TikTok over photo-based platforms like Instagram. But it’s still hard to find content for plus-sized people. Many plus-sized creators are doing important work involving normalizing conventionally shamed bodies, but sometimes it’s hard to find creators that explicitly support fat bodies while also doing more mundane activities in artistic ways.

Creators like Rosey Beeme and Devon Elizabeth occasionally discuss fashion in relation to body positivity but are much more focused on body positivity and fat activism, while some fat activist accounts like Aubrey Gordon (also known as YrFatFriend) explicitly ban the discussion of fashion on their pages. Few have decided to center fashion combined with aesthetics as a tool toward liberation. This means Brianna McDonnell’s short film stands out.

The film itself does not have half as many views as the airy and whimsical preview McDonnell dropped on TikTok prior to its release. It’s a short piece, only two minutes long in full, but notable for McDonnell’s attention to detail. The film meticulously recreates some of the most common and alluring moments that frequently appear in high fashion or perfume ads and vintage mood boards. McDonnell herself stars, twisting effortlessly through each short frame. There is no dialogue except for a short voiceover as McDonnell wanders into the obviously vintage-inspired home where the majority of the shots take place.

This means there is no discussion of the clothes either. The only advertisement or review of the items is McDonnell’s own appearance in them, but it is clear that each look has been carefully crafted. As mentioned above, this kind of montage is rare, even as an increasing number of American women fit into plus-sizes rather than standard ones. Even with the growing market, only 8% of brands currently sell them, though the average woman fits a size 16-18 or a 20 plus-size. This statistic is even worse with luxury brands, the type that might put together ads similar to McDonnell’s film. There, 1 out of 1000 companies call themselves plus-size.

This gap sets a clear, if unspoken, opinion of plus-sized people, which makes McDonnell’s film so important, even if it’s short.

These kinds of ideas about plus-sized people have huge repercussions. The current and overwhelming pressure to conform to thinness in America means that many choose to diet. Around 35% of dieters progress to pathological dieting and 20-25% of those individuals end up with eating disorders. And diets don’t work. One study found that most dieters actually ended up gaining weight after their diets. And regardless of diet and health outcomes, anything to do with a person’s appearance should not be a morality issue. Plus-sized people are people and deserve the same options and respect as anyone else.

McDonnell’s film is a great first step. It presents her and her body type as alluring and delicate, a move that even non-fashion media shies from. Actresses like Rebel Wilson and Melissa McCarthy have built huge careers, in part because of their willingness to play the “fat slob” character.

However, McDonnell has said that the film is a tribute to another famous fat star. She cites Cass Elliot, more commonly known as Mama Cass, as the true inspiration behind the project. One wonders if the short is as much retribution as it is a tribute; Cass Elliot was a member of The Mamas & the Papas and was famously tormented for her weight.

Her death was equally tragic. She collapsed from heart failure, which fans have attributed to the stress of her life as well as her lifelong struggle with dieting. When she was found, reports instead focused on the untouched sandwich left on her bedside table and it remains a cruel urban myth that she choked on the snack and passed from gluttony.

Regardless, the film’s loving treatment of Cass’ aesthetic and persona is healing to watch for anyone familiar with her tragic story. There’s something special and heartbreaking about watching someone who passed too soon receive their dues far too late but with such care.

It doesn’t hurt that the film is beautifully shot either. The scenes aren’t just aesthetically pleasing because of the clothes or McDonnell’s graceful form; they’re also well put together and form a cohesive and charming tone. If this piece is any indication, we should all keep an eye on McDonnell as she may be one of the first to take a real hammer to the current cruel course of American fashion. To do so, one can find her on various platforms like TikTok, YouTube, Instagram as well as her website.

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L.R. Staples

Sarah Lawrence College
Creative Writing

LR Staples is a rising junior at Sarah Lawrence College. She loves dogs, fresh laundry and feminist horror books. Her writing process involves looking pensive and scrolling through autocorrect options.

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