People in fashion talk a lot about changing the industry’s impossible beauty standards for women, but plus-size model Denise Bidot is actually doing something about it. This summer, Bidot’s #NotSorry ad campaign for swimwear e-commerce site Swimsuits for All went viral as soon as it was released. In it, an unretouched Bidot advocates for women to feel unapologetically sexy in their own skin — cellulite and all.
Bidot started modeling at a young age, but as a size-14 model of Puerto Rican and Kuwaiti descent, she had trouble getting work. Because of all the rejection, she pursued a career in makeup and the arts but ended up back in modeling after answering a Craigslist post calling for women who love their bodies. Since then, she’s modeled for major brands like Forever 21, Levi’s, and Nordstrom, and she was the first plus-size model to walk two runways for straight-size brands during New York Fashion Week. Click through the slideshow to see her replies to our questions about modeling and self-image alongside some of her best shots.
“Ten years ago, I moved to California. I used to audition for all those Disney Channel shows, and I was always told that I had the leading-lady personality but was too developed and too curvy. But I’m not going to starve myself. Especially because at 18, I was a size 10. That was healthy for me. I’m Spanish: big butt, little waist. I can’t be a size 2.”
“My mom struggled with her weight so much growing up. I watched her go from a size 2 to a size 22. I just kept seeing her try all these unhealthy ways to lose weight and struggle to be something she wasn’t meant to be. I knew early on that I wasn’t willing to compromise that way.”
“I saw a post on Craigslist that said, ‘If you love your body, come try out.’ So I said, You know what? I do love myself. Submit! It ended up being in a segment on The Tyra Banks Show that was encouraging body empowerment and featured a girl who had body dysmorphia. They made me go out on national television and walk the catwalk in just a bra and panties. It was just the refresher that I needed.”
“I realized a few years in how much bigger this was than me — bigger than my daughter, bigger than my mom. It’s so amazing to be able to speak to women across the world and be an example to the next generation. I get to learn, teach my mom, teach my daughter, and teach women.”
“I get so many messages from women of all sizes saying that I make them feel better about their bodies. It started to make me think about my daughter, and how I don’t want her to grow up in a world where women constantly feel bad about themselves.”
“I bring my daughter to set sometimes just so she can see the industry from the inside. She would see girls from my agency, and then she would see them in a store or on a billboard and say, ‘So-and-so doesn’t look like that!’ It’s a good reminder that there’s lashes, extensions, Photoshop, and huge production going on behind every image.”
“I’d never worked with Swimsuits for All before, and after the shoot my agent said they wanted to know how I felt about the images being released unretouched. I’m a woman. I have stretch marks, I have cellulite. There are a lot of times when I’m talking about body positivity, but at the end of the day, the images that people see are still retouched. It was my moment to kind of live what I speak.”
“I really want to branch out and follow my original passion for TV and films. For so long I felt like it wasn’t a possibility. It’s funny how the same thing people criticize you for becomes what you’re known for, because now my curves are part of my brand, and you can’t tell me to lose them.”