A Convo With Curvy Girl Lingerie's Chrystal Bougon

I first heard the brand name "Curvy Girl Lingerie" back in 2013. A Google alert for plus-size related news informed me that Owner/Founder Chrystal Bougon has launched a "Regular Women Campaign," in which she was taking photo submission from her customers in order to showcase her beautiful lingerie on beautiful babes throughout the plus spectrum. About a month after that, I heard the name again. Only this time, in juxtaposition to Maria Kang's (a.k.a. "Fit Mom") — you might remember Kang from that photo she set loose on the Internet: The "What's Your Excuse" image that basically shamed anyone who, you know, didn't have abs of steel. Throughout the whole "Curvy Girl Vs. Fit Mom" debacle, I remember thinking to myself, "Who is Chrystal Bougon, and how do I become her best friend?" Kang was peeved by the "Regular Women Campaign" "because that's not how real women look like or should look like... There's a fine line we're walking right now, as a nation, with the obesity crisis that we're in," etc. etc. But after their heated debate, it became clear that Chrystal's views on body politics, size acceptance and body confidence vastly echoed mine. And it became even clearer that what she was doing was and is acutely worthwhile.

With a boutique in San Jose, California and an e-retail site (both catering to women sizes 12 to 28), Curvy Girl Lingerie offers one of the best size ranges (not to mention variety) in the realms of plus-size lingerie. After a couple of email exchanges and social media back-and-forths with Chrystal herself, I knew I needed to sit down with her and have a proper conversation. I mean, it's not often you find a woman who embraces her body — and all fat bodies, for that matter — to the degree this world really needs. It's not often you find someone who finds just as much beauty in a size 28 as they do in an 18 (or maybe an 8, for most people). But she does. And she even wants to start a reality show with the aim of spreading awareness of beauty in every size — set, of course, in the world of Curvy Girl Lingerie.

So: If you're interested in hearing us talk about sex, fat and rock n' roll (not really that last one, actually), you can read our full chat below.

Chrystal: So are you in NYC?

Marie: Yes! I just moved back in November, actually after living in the UK for a while. And you're in California, I know. Have you always been based on the West Coast?

Chrystal: Yes, my boutique is in San Jose — also known as Silicon Valley. So we are neighbors to Facebook, Oracle, Twitter, Apple, etc. I am originally from Las Vegas but have been in the Bay Area since 1987, and I opened my boutique in October of 2012. It's kind of cool we are surrounded by so much technology here. It really helped me to grow my business quickly.

Marie: Meep! I would love to actually visit the boutique someday. I'm hoping to get to California in the summer.

So, I know your "About" page on the lingerie's site points out that you've been curvy from quite a young age, which I imagine really contributes to your perspective on size acceptance and the need for beautiful lingerie in plus-sizes. What have your own experiences been when it comes to body image and body confidence? It took me over two decades to get to a point where I can truly say, "I love my fat," so I always find it fascinating to hear about other people's experiences when it comes to their bodies.

Chrystal: Well, it happened for me about the time I turned 30. I came to this realization that no matter if I am fat or thin, people are still going to judge me. I have been fat since the third grade as it says on my "About" page.

Marie: But getting to that point is SO difficult when the mainstream media is such a proponent of one linear type of beauty. So were there any factors that really helped? So for me, it was mostly down to moving abroad to a country I considered far more fat accepting and interacting with other ways of thinking about body politics, immersing myself into the plus-size blogging scene and honestly, having a partner who was exceedingly encouraging of the size acceptance movement

Chrystal: I have had a lot of time to become comfortable in my body. I was taught from a very young age that I can do anything I want to do in life. I was raised with a lot of love and then had an amazing partner who loved every inch of me. I have had a lot of unconditional love in my life. I think that gave me the strength to ignore the haters. Honestly, I mean, even the women and super models who meet the "beauty ideal" get bullied and receive a ton of hate. I realized that and just decided to CARRY ON and squeeze every ounce out of life that I could.

Marie: That's definitely true. No matter your figure, no one is "free" from hate or trolling. I think a lot of people forget that even the women who fit that mainstream ideal of beauty still have their own body image demons to tackle.

Chrystal: Plus, I like PISSING OFF the status quo and pushing people's comfort bubbles. To consider a FAT woman SEXY. I love pushing their boundaries.

Marie: Haha. I definitely feel you on that. I feel like the majority of my professional career has been geared at trumping over the boundaries that make people think fat just can't be beautiful or sexy or amazing.

Chrystal: We're all just so brainwashed by the "beauty ideal." But as I love to say: "Haters are my motivators." Some people just created a whole new "CURVY GIRL LINGERIE HATE PAGE" and honestly — if they had any idea how much it lights my fire to keep pushing forward — they would take it down! It gets me going. Can't wait to prove them all wrong, ya know?

Marie: I really don't understand why people take the time to do things like that. But it's amazing that you use it as fire to keep going. It's easy to get sucked into self-doubt when you have people trolling your every opinion.

Chrystal: Imagine if they did something useful with all of that time and effort it took to create that hate page, though. Blows my mind. I have shit to do! I do not have time for their bull shit. And, it really does motivate me. Keeps me going on those really bad days. It reminds me why I jump out of bed each morning to blog or whatever.

Marie: I was just reminded about the fact that I love how your crowd funding video mentions that gorgeous lingerie allows women to explore their sexuality. I feel like saying, “FAT WOMEN HAVE SEX,” still freaks people out — which is such an absurd and telling thing.

I mean, I frequently get asked how sex with my partner "works" — because I'm about 100 pounds heavier than him. The basic impulse is just to say, "WHAT? It works just as it would for anyone else." But so many people are really incapable of realizing that fat men and women are sexy, can feel sexy, and have sex!

Chrystal: Well, I have been educating women and couples about sex toys for 12 years. And I can tell you that where there is a will there is a way.

I wrote a blog called something like "How to have HOT Fat Sex: Or as I like to call it, SEX." Something along those lines. My lover is 100 pounds less then me. We have a crazy hot sex life. Like off the charts. We can do anything anyone else can do.

Marie: Yay! Haha. I know just what you mean. It blows my mind that people honestly think that only one type of woman could ever possibly be perceived as attractive. Like you, my partner is 100 pounds less and honestly our sex life is 100 percent on point!

Chrystal: I say this a log on my page and blog. You can be 100 pounds or 500 pounds, but your body is capable of SO MUCH PLEASURE. Do not deny yourself. And if fat women and men get more in touch with how much pleasure their fat body is capable of, they may start to fall in love with their own body. And, in some cases, fat women and men who can fall in love with their own bodies can also maybe start to forgive their body if that is something they need to do.

Marie: So incredibly true! As soon as you get over the "fat is bad" bull shit, you can start to realize that your fat body can bring you pleasure and see it in a totally new, soft and glorious light.

I don't know if you saw an article that came out a while back entitled: “Why are Plus Size Models Always Naked?" It basically argued that curvy models are always either fully nude or in lingerie, far more than straight-size models. Besides the fact that I don’t think that’s true (cough cough Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show and Kate Moss’s entire modeling career), I always think this analysis comes into question because people just aren’t used to seeing different bodies represented in the media, so when it happens — and the body is nude! — it stays with people more perhaps. Obviously your models will always be half-naked, given this is a lingerie company. But what do you think about this general opinion that it's somehow wrong for larger models to be nude as frequently as they are?

Chrystal: We need more diversity — women of all ages, abilities, sizes, race/color. I think there is still so much shock value in a naked fat body. Maybe that is why there are more nude plus-size bodies in the media. It's like "click bait" for blogs possibly?

Marie: It definitely shocks people, and I think that's why the images stay with them more, even if there aren't necessarily more images. But there's so much power to seeing a nude body that differs from the "norm." Like Yossi Loloi's Full Beauty project, for instance. It featured women considered SSBBWs (super-size, big beautiful women), because they're far larger than your run of the mill plus model. People were so scandalized by it, but I personally adored the project.

Chrystal: Probably true. I just hope one day we're not still talking about this, you know? But I adore my SSBBW models. I am committed to having women size 12 to size 28/30 or larger on my website.

Marie: I just hope one day it's not "news" to see a plus-size woman unafraid of being photographed in the nude.

Speaking of hoping not to be talking about this someday....

Something I feel strongly about is pointing out that I’m quite fat-positive, rather than just body-positive. And sadly, that statement will always get met with, “SO ARE YOU SAYING WE SHOULD ALL BE OBESE AND UNHEALTHY?!” It always disgusts me that we can’t have a conversation about size acceptance without bringing in health. Tying acceptance into health is completely wrong in my opinion. Acceptance is about treating people like people. About elevating a fat person’s self esteem when the world is trying to convince them they’re garbage. It’s not about saying “we should encourage all our kids to be fat,” but rather, it’s about encouraging all people to reach a point of self-love. Do you ever face these kinds of accusations?

Chrystal: Oh yeah. Just google "Fit Mom vs. Curvy Girl" some time. You will see me on CNN, The Today Show, Good Morning America, The Bethenny Show and Inside Edition trying to explain to "Fit Mom" that you cannot tell how "healthy" someone is by looking at a photo of them or by looking at their bodies. My whole mission is to celebrate the body you have this very moment in time!

Marie: I saw some of those articles. I honestly just think it's absurd that we're now measuring how accepted someone should be as a human being by how healthy they are. Especially because, as you said, there is no way to judge a person's internal health based on aesthetics alone.

Chrystal: I get so tired of that debate.

Marie: At this point, it's honestly boring. I don't *want* to engage in it anymore, but at the same time, it's still a problem. So I feel like ignoring it doesn't help matters, you know?

Chrystal: For some reason, there is a contingent of people that really dislike seeing happy and successful, fully realized fat humans. So I don't see that debate going anywhere. I just keep hammering home to those people to mind their own business. My body. My Fat.

Marie: If you're Jillian Michaels then you believe that any fat person who claims to be happy must also me a liar, though. I feel like sadly a lot of people just buy into that mentality.

Chrystal: That makes me sad for her. Imagine how sad she must be inside. So much self loathing.

Marie: It gets tied into "Faux-concern" trolling, which really pisses me off: "It's not that I have a problem with your body. I just worry for your health down the line."

Chrystal: I know so many "straight-sized" women who absolutely hate their bodies and are miserable. If we just went by the way they looked, using this same argument, then we would have to assume they are the happiest people on the planet. And, sadly, they are not. These are women whose bodies looks like Jillian Michaels' body.

But the faux concern is just one more way to bully us. It's a, "I am so much better than you," fake concern. For some reason, these people need to put others down to feel good about themselves. I am telling you, there are some people that HATE to see fat and happy people. These are the people that assume I am just waiting for just the right diet to come along.

Marie: I can't even imagine how unfulfilled and unhappy a person is on an intrinsic level if they have to actively seek out other human beings to troll.

So, something else I'm obviously interested in is your decision to pursue reality television. From my experiences watching reality shows, something I notice is that they’re often presented in a really scandalous way — so we don’t end up taking anything within them seriously. Think about Jersey Shore or The Bachelor. Now, The Bachelor is definitely my guilty pleasure — how shameful! — but I definitely don’t find any profound merits within it. Are you at all worried people will feel like that if you guys make a reality show? That they’ll belittle what you’re doing because: “HAHA there are fat women on TV!”

Chrystal: Well, I do go all Mama Bear when my customers/friends receive hate and bashing on the various social media sites we are on. It pisses me off when these beautiful women I work with get trashed by the online trolls. But this is why we want to create out own pilot. We want to create our own show that is edited by us.

Marie: Oh OK, so you want to be in full editing control of it as well? That would make a huge difference!

Chrystal: We know that if one of those networks came to us and they decided to come and make a television show about Curvy Girl Lingerie, then we would have to take what we get. But my friend and mentor, Adryenn Ashley, created this new platform called Crowded Reality, which allows us to raise money to make our own pilot. We want to make it for us, about us, by us and most importantly, EDITED by us.

Marie: That's amazing! I do feel like a lot of the problem with reality TV comes from the editing. Sometimes I think it's deliberately edited not to be taken seriously.

Chrystal: Yes, it is in the editing that it goes wrong. The woman who created this new platform is in TV and has the pedigree to make this happen. I cannot be involved in something that is dehumanizing or disempowering. This new platform relies on SOCIAL CURRENCY.

Marie: That's incredibly encouraging. I truly hope it happens for you honestly. It's important and necessary to start seeing size diversity right on our television screens, especially in such an empowering setting.

Speaking of which, I was really intrigued by “the transformation” women go through when they’re at your boutique (as mentioned in your video). What exactly does that mean?

Chrystal: Marie, it is so amazing to be at the store when women come in for the first time. And we have had women and couples come to my boutique all the way from Singapore, the UK, Australia, Newfoundland, just to come and shop at my store.

Let's say you are a woman size 24. At my boutique, you can probably try on about 50 items in your size. That just doesn't happen very often: That you can be a size 24, try on 50 sexy pieces of clothing and feel sexy and beautiful. When they bring their partner, it's super exciting. Their partners are often like a kid in a candy store. "Babe, try this one. Ty this one, too." It's so sweet.

Marie: That's adorable. Even at a size 16/18 where I am presently, it's still incredibly difficult to find anything that fits a 50-inch ass. So to try on 50 styles sounds heavenly!

Chrystal: Some women leave in tears. There is a lot of hugging going on. I tried really hard to create a safe place where fat people can feel safe and can open up about their romantic lives and sex lives.

Marie: When can I sign up for a visit? Seriously!

Chrystal: It is so much fun. My heart is so full. It's very touching. And also very exciting to think of all of the people we are helping to have lots of hot sex!

Marie: Hahaha I love it.

Chrystal: Come visit any time, Marie

Marie: And of course it's incredible that you’re aiming to use more “real” women as your models for the site, rather than the industry standard. How did you come to that decision? I mean — the reality is that the majority of the plus models we see are on the smaller end of the plus spectrum, so were you at all worried people wouldn’t respond positively to seeing an actual fat body on the site?

Chrystal: Using our customers as our models has been received really well. I mean, let's say you are in Wyoming and you run across my website or Facebook page and you're my size. A size 24. And, you want to find something sexy to wear for your anniversary and all you see are professional models wearing my lingerie.

I mean, they are beautiful. But most professional models are 5'10" tall with a spray tan and often have augmented breasts.

My customer in Wyoming probably looks more like me. She wants to know what our lingerie is going to look like on someone who is 5'4" tall and with natural breasts.

Marie: I love the work that plus-size models are doing, don't get me wrong. But I'm in love with the range of sizes you guys are trying to use for your models. With the exception of Domino Dollhouse and Chubby Cartwheels, you just don't get that anywhere. Certainly not for lingerie!

Chrystal: Oh me too. The plus-size models out there are ROCKING IT and I am so grateful to each one of them. But my customers are all over the world. They're just regular women, who are not professional models, sitting at their computer trying to find something that works for them. No one likes to order something online and then have it arrive and not fit or not look like it does on the professional model. Such a let down, and no hot sex: Return shipping is not sexy.

Marie: No it's definitely not. But I imagine it happens frequently.

So how did CGL actually come to be? I mean obviously it's been around for a couple of years now. But what was the founding process like?

Chrystal: So, I worked in high tech here in Silicon Valley for 15 years. I got laid off during the "dot com bomb" in September 2002 when the tech companies took a huge hit. I used my severance package to create my very own Pleasure Party company called Bliss. And I did home parties for 10 years educating women and couples about how to incorporate sex toys and other romance items into their sex lives.

Marie: I'm feeling a sense of sex-positiveness here!

Chrystal: When I would be doing these parties, women would open up to me. I think because I am a fat woman who is very comfortable talking about sex, pleasure and toys. And they would ask me constantly about lingerie. Where can they buy some? I had this conversation a million times. I mean, the average American woman is a size 12 or larger.

So that was in the back of my mind. The world is ready for a place where plus-size women can come and try on lingerie. I hope one day we can franchise Curvy Girl so that women all over the world can have a safe place to try on lingerie in their town. Plus-size customers are extremely loyal, by the way. Since there are so few places for us to shop, we have to keep going to the same places over and over since there are so few options.

Marie: I'm so glad your career went down this path. It's a market that needs so much filling. And it sounds like you provide a beautiful in-person experience rather than the basic e-retail side of things, which is even better.

And obviously people are LOVING it. It’s pretty crazy that you’ve surpassed over 100k followers on Facebook! And amazing and well deserved, obviously. What do you think caused such an incredible increase in your followers, since you only had 17k last year, right? (Which is still LOTS.)

Chrystal: Yes, all of the press from the "Fit Mom" situation really helped my business. And it helped us to connect with our curvy girl tribe. We have some amazing supporters. Also being a part of the Body Love Conference that was created by Jes Baker of The Militant Baker this past April also really connected us with some amazing supporters.

Marie: So exciting. It's not easy for an indie brand to get to this level of visibility, so to see an indie brand geared at the plus market getting this level of visibility is heartwarming.

Chrystal: Women my size are just so under served. I have money to buy fashion. I have money to buy clothes. WE all want to look and feel relevant and sexy and beautiful. It seems like a no brainer to me. Why there are so few options is like business people just leaving money on the table. Designers and brands need to get with the program

Marie: It's crazy to me that brands that ARE catering to a wider range of sizes (Mod Cloth always comes to find) have proven that producing more sizes = more customers = more money for the brands. Why so many still cease to get with that program baffles me.

So in an ideal world, where do you want to take CGL? The reality show, I know. But what's THE DREAM haha?

Chrystal: I would like to franchise CGL eventually. Possibly license my brand to one or two stores in the Bay Area/Sacramento/San Francisco at the end of 2015 and keep proving the concept. Once we can prove the concept, hopefully we can franchise CGL to people who want to open a CGL in their cities. I'm trying not to grow too quickly, but rather manage the growth so we have longevity. I have to remind myself this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Marie: It sounds doable, though. Especially considering the amount of fans you have now, who are truly invested in your message.

Chrystal: Ultimately, I think a Curvy Girl pilot that turns into a Curvy Girl TV show or a Curvy Girl documentary could be hugely valuable to show women all over the world that YES: You can wear lingerie. YES: You can be fat and sexy.

Images: Mariana Maya/Chrystal Bougon; Curvy Girl Inc.