Reality TV show ‘Plus Life’ celebrates big & beautiful

By Adryenn Ashley

Chrystal Bougon poses in the center surrounded by models, friends and clients, clockwise from lower left, Valerie Sagun, Krista Snyder, Spring Loftus, Courtney Walters, Jessica Westfall, Saucye West, Danica Ciak and Glenna Woolard at the 3rd Anniversary party of Curvy Girl Lingerie Oct. 24, 2015 in San Jose, Calif. Photo: Leah Millis, The Chronicle


It happened as soon as Chrystal Bougon opened the doors to her Curvy Girl lingerie store in San Jose three years ago. Reality TV show producers, intrigued by the nation’s only stand-alone boutique selling plus-size lingerie, began circling.

Bougon, who is a size 20/22 on top and a 22/24 on the bottom and urges customers to love — not just accept — their bodies, always had the same answer: No.

“They always wanted to take an approach that was cheesy or shamey,” Bougon said. “They’d ask me, ‘I’m sure there’s a skinny girl inside of you dying to get out?’ and I’d say, ‘No, I’ve been this way since the third grade. I’m 47 years old. I’m not putting my life on hold, waiting for the skinny girl to come out.’”

That in mind, Bougon came up with her own reality show, “Plus Life,” which began filming in August and is in negotiations with a major cable network. Ten half-hour episodes will depict Bougon and customers shopping for lingerie at the boutique, learning about sex toys, taking pole dance classes, strutting in a fashion show and posing for boudoir photos, among other things.

“People are waiting to get to some magical weight to live their lives,” Bougon noted, “and I say, ‘No — swim, walk, laugh, live, have hot sex. You get to be as you are today, so enjoy it and celebrate it. We might not wake up tomorrow; tomorrow is not guaranteed.”

The series is produced by San Francisco filmmaker Adryenn Ashley, founder of Crowded Reality Inc., a crowdfunding website that has raised $70,000 for the show. The campaign also contains a social media component in which donors who back the program with Facebook or Twitter give permission for their data to be used by sponsors and advertisers, who post on those social timelines when the show premieres, Ashley says.

All of this allowed Bougon more control over the show’s tone, content and advertising. Commercials for diet systems and gym memberships are not high on the list.

“We have 2,700 sponsors of entertainment, and we pick the ones we want,” Ashley said. “We want cars that fit curvy people, cell phones, resort vacations and makeup. Makeup doesn’t care what size you are.”

On Oct. 24, a film crew captured a Halloween costume party and belly-dancing performance at the boutique, tucked into a strip mall at 1535 Meridian Ave. in San Jose’s Willow Glen neighborhood.

Among the five dozen guests attending were Saucye West, a plus-size model from Vallejo; Valerie Sagun, whose and Instagram account with 131,000 followers inspire all shapes and sizes to move; and TC Currie, 54, a software systems analyst from Alameda. Currie was filmed in an episode on the plus-size lingerie show.

At the costume party, Currie wore a pink terrycloth robe with a note pinned to the lapel. The note bore a frowning face and the words “Before Curvy Girl.” She spent the night flashing guests with her daring get-up beneath the robe: a pale pink, sheer baby doll chemise with sequined cups on top, and a thong below.

“It’s thrilling to be able to really feel sexy — this is something I’ve been an outsider to, my whole adult life,” Currie said. “Until three years ago when this store opened, I’d never been able to participate in having lingerie that fits and makes me look hot and makes me feel like a princess.”

Bougon and her guests are fans of blogs including the Militant Baker, Dances with Fat, and the Curvy Fashionista. They shop at Rainbeau, Ready to Stare and Modcloth. They spurn NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” weight-loss series in favor of clips like the “Today“ show’s recent segment on Jess Baker and her new book, “Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls,” filmed at the Booksmith on Haight Street in San Francisco on Oct. 27. And they’re fans of comedian Rebel Wilson’s new clothing collection for Torrid, which debuted Nov. 1 and of Ashley Nell Tipton, who recently became the first designer of plus-size collections to win TV’s “Project Runway.”

Bougon knows there are those who will criticize her for celebrating obesity. Canadian actor Nicole Arbour’s scathing YouTube rant “Dear Fat People” has garnered nearly 8 million views and prompted video rebuttals disputing the notion that all plus-size people have diabetes or high blood pressure and that a person’s inner health can be determined by a quick look at their exterior.

Bougon is just aiming for acceptance.

“If you are a fat person in a major motion picture, you’re going to be the sidekick, the butt of the joke, not the empowered, beautiful, sexy lead character,” Bougon said. “I want to show the world there are great, amazing, sexual humans who are not a size 0.”

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