In 2017, a veil was lifted, revealing a culture of abuse and harassment in our entertainment industry, political arena, and beyond. As more and more women shared their stories, it was clear that we had reached a tipping point, and it was time for a change. It's important that not only are the experiences of these women heard, but that our society acknowledges the countless number of women who still continue to be silenced.
Alysse Dalessandro is a size-inclusive designer, fashion and beauty writer, body positive advocate, plus size fashion blogger, and professional speaker. Her blog, Ready To Stare, is approaching its six year anniversary, and since its inception, Alysse has been breaking down beauty and industry standards through fashion and writing.
Alysse has also been a leading voice in the body positive movement, and speaks openly about her experiences and the harassment she's endured. During our interview, Alysse told me that, "we live in a culture where women’s bodies are constantly degraded by society, policed by each other, and fetishized by men”. She wants to remind everyone that all bodies are worthy of respect.
I recently sat down with Alysse to discuss the story behind Ready To Stare, the current state of the fashion industry, body positivity, online harassment, how men can be allies to women, and more.
The Truth Renaissance: What is the meaning and inspiration behind the name Ready To Stare?
Alysse Dalessandro: In short, the name Ready to Stare is about taking back control over your own visibility and taking up space. When you exist outside the beauty norm, society would prefer to render you invisible.
Ready to Stare is about carving out a space so that people can be visible which in the process creates a more inclusive picture of who is allowed to participate in fashion.
The name Ready to Stare was inspired by an experience where I was publicly fat shamed. I was crossing the street in Chicago wearing a short sweater dress and wedges and someone yelled out their car window at me, “Hey, Fat Girl - stop trying to look skinny!” I realized in that moment that confidence is seen as something reserved only for folks who fit the beauty norm - white, thin, cis, able-bodied, straight women. The guy who yelled that out his window at me in 2011 is saying what a lot of people have said since then in many other ways: a person who looks like me doesn’t deserve to feel confident about themselves. In the eyes of society, fat still equates with ugly. I am supposed to be unhappy and ashamed of my body. This experience has driven my work. I believe in fighting to remove the stigma against fat bodies. I choose to do that through fashion. Fashion is my personal form of empowerment, and helping others feel empowered to love their bodies and express that through fashion is what Ready to Stare is all about.
TR: Ready To Stare began as a style inclusive apparel and accessory brand. How long have you been designing clothes and accessories? Was it something that attracted you at a young age?
AD: I started drawing and designing clothes from a very young age. I started sewing around the age of 10. I made my own jewelry starting in high school. I always wanted to be a fashion designer but somewhere along the way, I got the idea that I wasn’t good enough to be a designer. There was no one in fashion that I saw who looked like me. I settled on writing about fashion because it seemed like a safer way to participate in fashion. But eventually the desire to create fashion took over and I started Ready to Stare as a jewelry brand in 2012.
TR: What about Ready To Stare would you say you are most proud of?
AD: I feel like it’s impossible for me to pick just one accomplishment that I am most proud of! I never thought I could do any of the things that I have done in the past five years since I started Ready to Stare. I’ve been on Good Morning America, had my designs worn by celebrities, been featured in print publications, interviewed some of my favorite designers, and can call some of the people I admire most in the fashion industry my friends. But I think most of all the comments that I receive from readers mean the most to me. When people tell me that they wore a bikini because of me, or that they took a selfie for the first time, that’s the most rewarding feeling in the world. I love reading these comments but getting to hug these folks in person is probably the reason why I love traveling and doing meet & greet type of events so much.
TR: Can you recall the most difficult time of your career and how you overcame that?
AD: Can I only pick one?! The past five years have been filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I’ve been tested in ways that I never anticipated when I first started my business. As a passion-driven person pursuing their dream, I have been faced with countless financial roadblocks. I’ve made virtually every sacrifice possible to pursue fashion instead of prioritizing my own financial well-being. This decision has not been easy for everyone in my life to understand and support. It has put a strain on past romantic relationships and angered my parents to no end.
One of the biggest challenges for me was deciding between opening up a physical location for the design side of my business or choosing to focus on blogging. Having a physical store was my original goal when I started my business but blogging was something I had only dreamed of doing at that time. I had to confront the fact that not opening a store didn’t make me a failure. Success doesn’t look one way and one way only. Success is personal, and goals can change. Mine had. Recognizing that my potential was even greater than I had originally realizing was difficult but life-changing. I let go of that past goal because it didn’t fit for me anymore and blogging opportunities just fell into place after that.
TR: Where is home for you?
AD: Home is an interesting concept to me. I grew up in the Cleveland area and moved to Chicago at 18. I moved there to go to college but also because I knew that I thrived more in big cities. I lived in Chicago for a total of seven years before moving to Atlanta in search of warmer weather and just generally needing a change. I ended up moving back to Cleveland a little over two years ago so that I could focus completely on growing Ready to Stare and not working a full-time corporate 9-5 job as I had for the first two and a half years of Ready to Stare. I lived at home with my parents so Ready to Stare could have a showroom and workspace. Cleveland is my home out of sacrifice. It’s served its purpose as being a place where I could focus on growing Ready to Stare, but Chicago will always feel like home because it’s where I started Ready to Stare. Chicago is the city that challenged me to think differently and helped me first become aware of my own potential. I started my blog while living in Atlanta and I am grateful for what I learned about myself while living there too. Sometimes I think home is a concept that doesn’t apply to me. I love to travel. I crave change and no place I’ve ever lived has ever felt like a place I would want to live forever. To me, home is where the people I love are and I’m really lucky to have a lot of homes all over the world.
TR: Has blogging opened up the doors for you to travel a lot? If so, which city have you loved visiting the most?
AD: So far, blogging has opened so many doors for me to travel all over the United States. I travel often to Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York and Las Vegas. There’s things I love about all those cities, especially the people I have met there. I still think my favorite place I’ve traveled to is the trip I took in 2015 to Sicily. I went with my family and I got to meet members of my family in Italy that I didn’t even know existed. I saw the apartment where my great grandmother lived in before she moved to America. I had lived in Rome for a semester in college but Sicily felt totally different to me. I was surrounded by people who live their lives with passion and I saw myself in them.
TR: Is there any city/country you haven’t been to yet, that you’d love to visit?
AD: I have a world map hanging in my living room with flags of all of the places my roommate and I have visited and where else we still want to go. And the list of places I want to visit still is so long. The internet is great in that it has allowed me to form strong connections with people all over the world who I respect and admire as individuals, and my dream is to take Ready to Stare international to build those connections in person. I’ve been to London before but I would love to go back now and connect with some of my favorite plus size bloggers and writers who live there. I want to visit Brazil because Ready to Stare has always received a lot of love there. In the US, I need to get to Portland where the indie plus size fashion scene is totally amazing. This list could go on and on!
TR: What city's fashion scene do you love the most?
AD: I really love the fashion in New York. I know that’s cliche but there’s a level of chic that you see in New York that I don’t see in my everyday life in the midwest. Personal style and individualism is celebrated in fashion in New York and I love that!
TR: Who or what influences your style?
AD: My style takes inspiration from a lot of places. I think if there’s any one era, it would probably be the 90s. Shows like Golden Girls still serve as sartorial inspiration. I love sequins, loud colors, print mixing and exaggerated cuts. Even when I wear all black, I make sure I mix textures.
My style is also influenced by my culture. I was raised around strong Italian American women who never shied away from a bold print. I love cheetah print and I always say that I am gaudy by nature. I don’t think it would easy for someone to describe my style in one word and I like that.
TR: Is there anyone who you would consider to be a fashion icon?
AD: Rihanna is definitely a fashion icon to me. She is one person who takes risks and has fun with fashion. She knows she has impeccable personal style and I love that about her.
TR: What are some of your current fashion obsessions?
AD: I think I am forever obsessed with anything sheer, fishnet or mesh. Cheetah print is timeless. I’ll never hate neon. I am not tired of crop tops by any stretch and I own so many shoes that my kitchen pantry is now my shoe closet.
TR: What is one accessory every woman should own?
AD: I don’t know that I believe there’s any one accessory every woman should own because I believe too much in personal style. I believe that every person should have the right to wear whatever accessories they want!
TR: Over the last five years there have been some strides with brands and publications attempting to show more diversity. What positive changes have you noticed since you first started blogging?
AD: The changes that we’ve seen in terms of brands showcasing more diverse body types have been both good and bad. We’ve seen more inclusion for plus size bodies than ever before, but we still haven’t truly seen many brands embrace diversity beyond a size 16. I would love to see more visibility for plus size women of color. I would love to see more visibility for folks sizes 18+. We still have a long way to go! I don’t want anyone to see the progress we’ve made as good enough, because there’s still a lot of people being left out of the conversation.
TR: What challenges or barriers do you still see in the fashion industry for plus size women?
AD: Flat out, the fashion industry still hates fat bodies because society hates fat bodies. Plus size fashion embraced an hourglass size 14 body, but that doesn’t make it any easier for an apple-shaped size 28 to find clothes in their size. We need to continue to challenge that idea that only certain bodies are acceptable and deserve to participate in fashion. We need to make fashion more accessible and inclusive to all people.
TR: The term "body positive" might be a new term to some readers, how would you define it to someone who might be unfamiliar with it?
AD: The idea behind body positivity for me is that all people regardless of size should be treated with love and respect. Body positivity was born out of the fat acceptance movement which works directly to challenge the stigma against fat bodies.
TR: What are some misconceptions about the body positive community?
AD: Body positivity isn’t about a thin person showing they have stretch marks or rolls and accepting it. You can’t post a photo loving your stretch marks and still fat shame other women. To me, body positivity is about making space to truly show that all bodies should be treated with love and respect. If you have thin privilege, use that to help raise up the voices of those that don’t.
TR: In some of your writing, you've talked about the negative connotation with the word “fat” and how society equates that to being a negative trait. Can you talk a little about your experience?
AD: The mainstream meaning of the word fat is ugly or bad. So when someone calls themselves fat, people are quick to say something like "You're not fat; you're beautiful." When in reality, I am both because declaring that I am fat doesn't mean I am saying I am not beautiful. Fat is a descriptive word for my body and its size. When I use the word fat as a descriptor for the physical size of my body, I do so with the intention of challenging that stigma and misconception.
I will say that words have the power we give them. Fat is a word that has been weaponized and used by others to hurt me my whole life. I remember being called a "fat bitch" for the first time in the 3rd grade. Being called fat was a huge part of my bullying. Until I realized that being fat wasn't a bad thing and the problem wasn't my body; it was society's hatred and fear of a body like mine. So now when I call myself fat, I am taking back that power and saying this word is just a word. It's a descriptor. I am a fat and that's not a bad thing.
TR: That reminds me a little of when people say "I don't see color". I want others to recognize my blackness, not look past or ignore it.
AD: YES! Absolutely. I want you to see my experiences as valid, but not treat me differently because of them. I think for me and my work, one of the most important things is that my pain is seen. Vulnerability has been a huge part of my self love journey. I'm not going to be the one that acts like everything is okay when it's not. I want to be the one having a conversation when things aren't okay.
TR: You've been very open about the sexual harassment and trauma you've experienced. I think it's very brave of you to be vulnerable with your readers about that topic. How has writing about those experiences helped you in any way?
AD: Writing is healing for me. I believe in that being vulnerable about the things that I have survived, can help others heal, and sharing my story has helped me feel less alone too. I know for a long time I felt a lot of shame around the trauma and sexual assault that I endured. I blamed myself for it happening. I felt like I should have known better and when I was able to share my story, I started to show empathy for myself in a way that I really needed. I will carry the emotional scars of that experience with me forever, but talking about it is one way I can help to heal myself and other survivors.
TR: How can men be an ally to women in this movement?
AD: Men can be allies to women in a lot of ways. They can stop sexualizing women for how they dress. They can stop assuming harassment is a compliment (especially to fat women). They can stop telling women how to feel about their bodies. They can use their privilege in certain situations to help women feel safer. They can speak up when they hear their boys degrading a woman. They can read what women write. They can listen. They can have a dialogue. But I think one thing I rarely see is someone even asking how to help. That’s a good place to start.
TR: I think the responsibility falls on men, not on women, to first recognize the sense of entitlement that they have. It’s equally important to not only ask questions, but to listen.
AD: Yes I agree, the responsibility falls on men to recognize their entitlement and how that plays out in their interactions with women. Men hold on so tightly to this entitlement because it gives them access to women's bodies that respecting them wouldn't.
When men feel entitled to someone's time, attention, or body, it's like they are saying, "This is what I want. I deserve to get it because I want it and what you want doesn't matter." Respecting someone is a lot harder. Respecting someone requires empathy, and toxic masculinity doesn't encourage men to think about their own feelings let alone someone else’s.
TR: I think that social media has provided men with a comfort level where they feel they can say or do whatever they want, and don't recognize that what they are doing can be a form of harassment too.
AD: This is extra amplified for fat women because there's a belief that because fat in our society means bad, that we as fat women must be desperate. Social media just shines a light publicly on the behavior that is already happening on an individual and personal basis. Men make me feel unsafe online because I know what they are capable of in person. If a man had never groped me, followed me, or assaulted me, then maybe I wouldn't take those comments so seriously.
TR: So in a way, online harassment can be triggering.
AD: Oh, it absolutely is. I carry the wounds of those experiences with me and I know what men are capable of when they believe they are entitled to something, so those comments aren't harmless. What they say to me online, they are likely to say to someone in person, so we have to challenge the belief in order to eradicate the action.
TR: Outside of fashion/blogging, what are a few of your other interests?
AD: I am terrible in that my life is literally dedicated to working. I’ve dreamt about putting looks together - ever since I was a kid I’ve done that. But outside of fashion, my passion is definitely travel. Traveling as a fashion blogger would be the ultimate dream.
TR: What's your favorite quote?
AD: "Your deepest wounds reveal your greatest gifts.” - Myleik Teele
TR: If you could only listen to one music artist for a year, who would it be?
AD: Easily, Beyonce.
TR: What's your favorite 90’s movie?
AD: This is impossible. Clueless to me is a classic, and probably the style I’ve tried to replicate most consistently since it came out.
TR: What is your favorite 90's fashion trend?
AD: I think I will always love the mini skirts and thigh high socks with platform look because of the 90s.
TR: Who are your heroes in real life?
AD: My Grandfather, Major Dalessandro, was definitely one of my heroes in real life. He is the reason I started Ready to Stare. He believed that I could be a jewelry designer before I ever knew I could be. He pushed me for years to start my jewelry design business. The last collection I ever showed him was called “The Major Collection”, that I named after him, and his very last words to me were “make a name for yourself.” I am reminded of those words every time I accomplish something huge in my career, and I credit him for teaching me to dream big. He taught me that it’s better to try and fail than never to try at all. He taught me to be major!
TR: What’s next for you and Ready to Stare?
AD: For the time being, I won’t be working on any new designs. My focus now is to really continue to grow Ready to Stare as a blog and focus on topics beyond just fashion particularly on travel and other lifestyle topics. I would really like to travel more, and I am open to whatever is next for Ready to Stare.
TR: I like to include this question in all of my interviews, so we’ll end with this. What would you say is your purpose?
AD: My purpose is to help others learn to feel worthy and to love not only their bodies, but their whole being. I know what it’s like to feel invisible and to feel like you don’t matter to anyone. I want to share my own journey and continue to heal. I want to make a difference in the lives of others. I hope I can do that.