Calladitas No More

How Wearing Lingerie Helped Me Fall In Love With My Body

One of my first memories of body shaming is my mami telling me that my thighs were fat and that I shouldn’t wear shorts. She said it very matter-of-fact in a way that, I think, wasn’t meant to hurt my feelings but still left an emotional scar on my pre-pubescent body. I was in the 5th grade and, after that day, never again wore shorts to school. However, now that I am an adult, I’ve slowly learned to embrace and love my body with all of its perfect imperfections — and I do that largely thanks to sexy lingerie.

My mother’s declaration that I was a “gordita” and my family’s ability to put on weight easily (and never exercise or eat well), I spent much of my teen years and early adulthood feeling ashamed of myself.

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Day 4 of the #gratitude30 challenge is “Color” and here it is: RED! For anyone that knows me, you’re probably not at all surprised. This was my favorite color when I was little and it remains my favorite color today. I have red dresses (like this one), shirts, shoes, and my absolute favorite, red lipstick. Oh, and have you noticed my red hair? I don’t know what it is about red but I’ve always loved it. It’s the color of passion, love, brightness, boldness, happiness, Christmas… It’s just a happy, bright, BOLD color and that’s why I love it — because I try to be those things too! #gratitude30daychallenge

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Looking back at my early childhood, I knew I was different early on. Although my family had originally moved to Miami when we first came to the United States when I was eight years old, we eventually made it to the southwest coast of Florida where I was the only Latina I knew growing up.

Because of this, I was quickly confronted with classmates who were, well, nothing like me. They had quiet, calm parents who never had screaming matches like mine. They had tiny, skinny bodies whereas I have had large thighs for as long as I could remember.

Long before Jennifer Lopez made curves and big booties cool, I was struggling with body image issues and only seeing way-too-skinny 90s models in the media.

At the time, I didn’t know what body positivity meant or how I could get some until I was well into my 20s. In high school, I was overweight and eventually obese. In college, I lost 90 pounds but regained 80 of them after I started my first stressful job at the beginning of the Great Recession. All the while, I kept hearing my mami’s voice constantly telling me that I was too fat. She continued to say that to me throughout my entire life — up until the point that I got “too skinny” for her, that is. But deep down, I knew something was up. Life couldn’t be solely about gaining and losing the same weight over and over again.

Unable to maintain a healthy body weight on my own and afraid of what lifelong morbid obesity would mean for my overall health, I received a gastric bypass shortly before my 23rd birthday. But during my preparation for the life-altering surgery, I met with my doctor who taught me a very valuable lesson: He told me that he was simply giving me a tool to help me manage my weight. I would need to do the work myself in order to learn to eat better and, most importantly, grow comfortable in my body.

It turns out that I had been in a perpetual cycle of stress eating, feeling bad about it, and then eating some more.

I needed to heal my mind as well as my body before I could truly learn to love myself.

The journey to love my body seemed impossible at first. I didn’t know where to start, so I started by reading magazine articles about accepting my body and embracing my curves. This was the days before runways began to feature curvy beauties like Denise Bidot (and other plus-size Latina models) or you could simply search the #bodypositive hashtag on Instagram. But I had to start somewhere, so I started there. Then an ex-boyfriend recommended I try lingerie and I was HOOKED.

I began to scour the internet for scantily clad women in sexy lingerie. The caveat is that they had to be women that looked like me: Women with curves, big thighs, loads of cellulite. They had to look comfortable and exude sexiness; and not just because they were models. I wanted to connect with the women I saw in those images as much as I wanted to feel good imagining myself in their clothes. I discovered pin-up style in my searches and, soon after, the plus-size friendly clothing site, Unique Vintage.

I bought my first bikini on that site. It was white and made me look and feel just like Marilyn Monroe in those famous images of her on the beach (though she actually wore a one-piece). Eventually, I started to sneak into Victoria’s Secret and try on their lingerie. I was still too scared to buy it for myself in front of others, fearing their judgment, so instead, I would go home after each trip and browse through the lingerie on the Frederick’s of Hollywood site.

I fell in love with everything lacy, especially anything that was red or black or a combination.

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Although  I owned several of these sexy things, I was still too scared to show it off to anyone.

I wanted to, but I was scared. Loving your body is a journey and, although I was at a weight I was finally happy with and generally comfortable in my body, I could still hear my mami in the back of my head telling me that my thighs were huge. It was an uncomfortable feeling and, to be honest, why none of the items in my growing lingerie collection included thigh-highs despite me finding them to be a very alluring look on other women. Just before my 25th birthday, I decided to do something daring and bought a Groupon for a boudoir photo shoot. The expiration date was six months away, so my promise to myself was that I would spend that time going to the gym and getting in shape, then schedule my photoshoot.

But I didn’t go to the gym. Instead, I let the coupon expire and tried not to think of it for years.

During that time, I continued my journey to loving my body. I learned how to nourish it by eating well. I learned to cook healthy meals because I enjoyed time in the kitchen. I learned to put post-it notes on my mirror that read “I love me for who I am RIGHT NOW” and repeat that mantra every time I got out of the shower, while I was still naked. I learned to not feel shy by walking around my apartment naked on Saturday mornings, making breakfast and reading my favorite magazines.

Little by little, I bought more and more lingerie — modeling it for myself in front of the mirror at least once a week — and learned to love my body more and more.

And then, just before my 30th birthday, I finally booked that boudoir photoshoot.

Nomi Ellenson, @nomifoto/Instagram

To be honest, I was terrified when I walked into the Boudoir by Nomi studio on a snowy Sunday afternoon just two days before my 30th birthday a couple of March’s ago. I still wasn’t completely in love with my thighs (though working on it) and I didn’t know what to expect. But photographer Nomi Ellenson was incredibly encouraging and shared with me her own lingerie and body positivity stories (her great-grandmother was a bra-fitter!). She specializes in photography that focuses on helping women feel more comfortable in their bodies and wasn’t just taking photos for someone’s boyfriend’s Valentine’s Day present. Instead, she made me feel comfortable instantly and even gave me helpful advice about which of the several lingerie outfits I brought to our session I should wear.

Ultimately, I chose my favorite sheer black curve-hugging dress and focused on red accents, like my lips and shoes. Did I mention how much I love that black-and-red combo?

Beyond that, the experience of actually doing something for myself was thrilling. It took over five years and, really, a lifetime of getting comfortable with my body but now I proudly have evidence of my lingerie photoshoot hanging in my bathroom. It’s a daily reminder of how far I’ve come on my body positivity journey. And even though there are still some morning when I wake up and just, ahem, don’t love myself very much, all I have to do is look at that picture and remember: Damn, I really do look good.


Read: A Body Found In Costa Rica Appears To Be Missing Miami Woman Carla Stefaniak

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5 Crucial Lessons We Learned About Fatphobia, As Taught By Chicana Body Liberation Author Virgie Tovar

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5 Crucial Lessons We Learned About Fatphobia, As Taught By Chicana Body Liberation Author Virgie Tovar

In a culture that’s finally embracing body positivity, how tf is fatphobia still so pervasive? Body image and fat discrimination activist and author Virgie Tovar says it’s because society isn’t as pro-big babes as the latest Dove ad, full-figured Barbie or curve model at New York Fashion Week imparts. Behind every “healthy is the new skinny” mantra and juicing fad remains the same ol’ oddments of fat bias, hate and fear. In her manifesto, “You Have the Right to Remain Fat,” the San Francisco-based mexicana uses almost a decade’s worth of research and a lifetime journey from self-hate to self-love to discuss fat bigotry and debunk the falsehoods of diet culture.

“With the years I’ve spent working with women of all sizes and ages, it’s really clear to me that there is a global crisis of female unhappiness, of female confusion. Our culture is committed to keeping women confused and blaming ourselves. I use diet culture to begin the conversation, but this book is really about freedom. I’m trying to show women what my journey to freedom looks like. I’m trying to be that good friend who takes you to church in the moment when you need it. I’m trying to hold somebody in their weak moment,” Tovar, 36, told FIERCE of the intentions of “You Have the Right to Remain Fat.”

The short-yet-powerful read, published by the Feminist Press in August, is like a slice of creamy flan, a small, high-calorie sweet treat you’ll devour in one sitting. Even better, it was baked just for you by the loving hands of your fave prima.

“I feel diet culture makes you feel alone, even if you’re with people. When you’re feeling lonely, you need that thing that symbolizes something, that symbolizes you’re not alone. … This book, this physical thing, can act as a grounding for you. It reminds you that you’re rooted and that there is a community with you,” she said.

A crucial manifesto for every girl, woman and femme, we’re sharing our biggest takeaways from “You Have the Right to Remain Fat,” which is available in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

1. Fatphobia is bigotry.

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Like gender and race, fatness, alone, is meaningless. We are not born believing thin bodies are good and fat bodies are bad. That is a lesson that culture teaches us. We are taught that people who are fat don’t have self-control, that they’re dirty, that they’re not beautiful and that they are not deserving of love. As a result, we are taught to look down, even hate, fat people and live in fear of becoming like them, largely because of the bigotry people of size experience.

2. Fatphobia harms everyone.

While fatphobia targets fat people, Tovar reminds us that it impacts individuals of all sizes. “Everyone ends up in one of two camps: they are either living the pointed reality of fatphobic bigotry or they are living in fear of becoming subject to it,” she writes. In other words, fat bigotry harms fat people by humiliating them, by making them feel inferior and by refusing to take health issues seriously, but it also injures non-fat individuals by using fatphobia to control the size of all people, by forcing them to, often dangerously, diet and over-exercise, by not allowing them to revel in the joys of life out of fear of becoming fat or appearing fat.

3. Controlling women’s body size is about controlling women’s lives.

While fatphobia impacts everyone, it’s also a tool of sexism. According to Tovar, “internalized inferiority is part of sexism and diet culture feeds on that sense of inferiority.” To feel inferior, or less than, is to feel like you, as you are, are not good enough or worthy of what you want and need, that you must change who you are, or what you look like, to become deserving of those things. Diet culture, more commonly veiled as healthy culture these days, hinges on women’s internalized inferiority. We adopt ineffective, or downright damaging, regimens so that we might finally find ourselves worthy of romance, of healthy relationships, of the job we are otherwise qualified for, of playing sports, of dressing how we like, of being adventurous, of taking photos — of taking up space.

4. For Latinas (and other immigrants), dieting is a part of the American dream.

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If you’re a non-white person in the U.S., you’ve received a lesson (or a trillion) on bootstrapping, the idea of pulling yourself out of your current circumstances by taking advantage of everything the “land of opportunity” has to offer you. If you’re unable to make something out of nothing — the idea goes — that’s on you for choosing not to bootstrap, not on the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy that functions on the existence of the haves and the haves-not. For Tovar, and so many other chubby girls of color, thinness was a form of assimilation into dominant U.S. culture as a second-generation Mexican girl, and dieting was how she would bootstrap her way to the American dream.

5. You have the right to remain fat.

While we live in a fatphobic country, one that tells all of us that fatness is a problem that must be solved by diet and exercise, Tovar debunks this fallacy, pointing her finger at the real culprit: a sexist, classist, racist and fatphobic culture that is banking on female insecurity, internalized inferiority and mental health illnesses. Once we begin to understand this, we can stop mistreating our bodies by speaking down to them and depriving them of what they need. When this happens, we realize that we have the right to remain fat and live joyous, loving, productive, successful lives with our big bellies and double chins.

For more body liberation goodies, purchase “You Have the Right to Remain Fat” and follow Tovar on Instagram.

Read: Model-Activist Denise Bidot On Raising An Empowered Daughter

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Model-Activist Denise Bidot Proves You Don’t Have To Be Your Daughter’s Best Friend To Be A ‘Cool Mom’

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Model-Activist Denise Bidot Proves You Don’t Have To Be Your Daughter’s Best Friend To Be A ‘Cool Mom’

Since first stepping on the catwalk more than a decade ago, Denise Bidot has been serving fly curvaceous looks that captured the entire world’s attention. But as an international model, shooting for brands like Forever 21, Target, Levi’s Jeans, Nordstrom, Macy’s, Old Navy and Lane Bryant, and becoming the first plus-size woman to walk for straight-size brands during New York Fashion Week, the Puerto Rican-Kuwaiti beauty delivered something greater to the fashion industry: a body revolution.

The Miami-born modelo, who currently splits her time between the “Magic City” and New York, has been a central figure in inserting ideas of the grassroots body positive and fat liberation movements into the mainstream world of glamour and vogue. By breaking barriers and refusing to stay quiet on body politics, Bidot, alongside a growing collective of model-activists, brought visible change to the industry, with big brands and media alike increasingly, albeit slowly, showcasing more diverse and inclusive representations of fashion and allure. With the trade shifting, the Latina veered her attention toward changing societal perspectives, creating the No Wrong Way Movement in 2016. For the last two years, the online space has been encouraging individuals everywhere to embrace their most authentic selves through a blog, speaking engagements and a YouTube channel.

But after years of working tirelessly to reshape dominant culture and industries into one that is accepting of, and empowering for, full-figured, vivacious Latina women like herself, Bidot this year decided to bring the body revolution to her own community as a host and mentor on Univision’s Nuestra Belleza Latina. In its 10th season, the revamped beauty contest ditched limiting size and age restrictions as well as took on a new tagline, one that resonated with Bidot: “Sin tallas, sin límites y sin excusas.”

(Courtesy of Univision)

“I think I live by those statements. Sin tallas: Who knew I would ever be a model? Who cares about my size, look at all I’ve done. Sin límites: These girls felt limited. As minorities as a whole, we don’t think we can make it because of where we come from, our color, our accent. But we are telling women none of that matters. If you dream big and work hard, those limitations no longer exist. We can climb through together. Sin excusas: With no more limits, there’s now no more excuses. All your dreams are waiting for you” Bidot, who was invited to join the show after participating as a consultant to improve the inclusivity of the program, told FIERCE.

The 32-year-old has called the experience of judging and mentoring for Nuestra Belleza Latina the “most rewarding project she’s ever worked on,” both because it is the first time in her career where she felt she was able to be her full, true spirited self and because she can identify with the girl contestants and audience battling insecurities, believing in themselves for the first time and seeking a change in the dominant representation of feminine Latinidad.

“I think it’s a dated mentality. For so many years, we needed to fit certain standards to be the perfect Latina. I don’t think it’s the case currently. Shows like NBL are changing that. It’s the beginning of a change we will see 40 or so years from now. Someone has to be the first. It was damaging for me growing up,” Bidot said. “… But the modern Latina woman doesn’t feel represented by that anymore, so while that may still predominantly be the case in most markets, we are working toward a different future, and I hope it’ll allow women to see themselves and feel empowered.”

(Courtesy of Denise Bidot)

But as Bidot, a mom to a 10-year-old daughter, knows well, media isn’t the only influencer in how girls and women view themselves. Parents play a critical role in raising youth to be strong, smart and confident, and each of these qualities, she says, helps make them formidable in a culture, society and industry that still largely hinge on women’s and girls’ insecurities.

Here, the curve model and self-love advocate shares lessons on raising an empowered, body-positive girl.

1. Resist The Urge To Baby Your Daughter.

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5th Grade Groupie . ????✏️

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Don’t baby them. Instead, talk to them. “I talk to my daughter like a loving equal. Now she is 10 years old and carries herself with maturity and a wonderful confidence, and I’m like, ‘oh girl, yes!’”

2. Stay On Top Of The Few Things You Can Actually Control.

While Bidot prides herself on being a cool mom, she’s the first to admit that she’s also a stringent mami. “I’m very strict on sugar, on hours sitting in front of the TV, on what games she’s playing and on which social media apps she has. We are navigating a different world, so learning as we go and listening is important, but don’t give them the kind of freedom where you no longer know what’s happening. Control what you have control over, what’s inside your house, because once they leave, you don’t have control over those outside influences.”

3. Have Her Repeat Affirmations To Herself.

Affirmations, Bidot says, are key. “Sometimes we are uncomfortable looking at ourselves in the mirror or hearing our voices. We just always put ourselves down. For me, it’s been important to have her in the mirror talking to herself, saying: ‘You are beautiful. You are strong. You are worthy.’ At first, she laughed and was like, ‘Mom, for real?’ And I get it. I laughed, too. But it matters because you’re putting these words out in the world, and you start understanding and believing them. Words are powerful. Listening to herself and looking at herself is self-development.”

4. Make Your Hija Your Plus-One.

Instead of looking for a babysitter so that you can go to Paris for the weekend to feel alive, Bidot says it’s more worthwhile, for you and her, to feel alive with your kid. “I’m single, so she is always my date, but when we travel, we learn about the world together. That has taught me as an adult, so I can’t imagine how she sees it. It’s crucial for her to know that the world is bigger than our town or our country. People have different cultural values. They have necessities. It’s an eye-opening experience that shapes their character. Don’t be afraid to take trips you are dreaming about with your kids. These moments and experiences will strengthen your bond. We talk about our trips with family. You don’t have to take them often, but when you can. I’m fortunate to travel for work and add her ticket on. I’m a single mom, so I have to bring her. But she adds more value, more love.”

5. Teach Them But Also Let Them Form Their Own Opinions.

Personally, as a mom, I see it as my duty that the one child I raise is equipped to take on the challenges life brings. I do this by teaching her, telling her to do affirmations and be kind to everyone, to make sure she is strong and confident. We know insecurities happen. It’s impossible to be strong and confident 100 percent of the time, but we have to allow them to build a core sense of self and empowerment. We need them to see things with their own perspective. With my daughter, people tell her things and it bounces off of her. She doesn’t let a comment someone makes ruin her life.”

Read: 7 Body Positive Latina Models That Are Killing The Fashion World and Beyond

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