Meet Denise Mercedes, The Dominican Model Wearing Body Positivity On Her Sleeve

credit: Bruna Lacerda Photography

Denise Mercedes posts an image of herself leaning back, coral lips perched and gold hoops dangling from her ears on Instagram. She’s modeling a shirt that says “Play With My Booty, Not With My Emotions.” In minutes, the photo has thousands of likes and comments from followers calling her “fine” and her curvy figure “beautiful.”

If you would have told the dominicana 15 years ago, when the then-chubby tween was hating every chicho on her body, that one day thousands of people would be goggling at photos of her full figure, she would have laughed in your face.

Wearing @femininefunk ! Make sure you check out their new collection ?photo by my baby @brunalacerda

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But as a plus-size model and fashion blogger, that’s exactly what’s happening today.

The New Jersey-based beauty fills the feeds of her almost-300 thousand followers on Instagram with glorious photos of her breaking all the so-called style rules for plus-size women.

This dominicana, represented by MSA Models, rocks form-fitting dresses, crop tops, off-shoulder blouses, sleeveless shirts, bikinis and heels. And she looks fly as hell in all of it.

“I dress in all the ways we are told we’re not supposed to, and people, those who’ve also been told these ‘rules,’ say that I look amazing. I want it to show them that they can dress like me and also look great,” Mercedes, 25, tells mitú.

When she’s not giving the camera sexy vibes in her two-piece or off-the-shoulder skin-tight dress, she’s wearing her body love on her sleeves.

I'm my own body goals ? T-shirt by @curvygirlfever #celebratemysize #plusmodelmag #effyourbeautystandards

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Mercedes is known for modeling the coolest BoPo gear. She has sported empowering tank tops that say “I’m my own body goals” and sleeveless dresses that read “don’t let society make you insecure.”

“I love to work with these brands. I agree with what they represent, and I just feel good wearing them,” she says of small body positive online shops like Feminine Funk and Curvy Girl Fever.

But Mercedes doesn’t just book gigs with the fun, smaller curvy brands. Since 2012, when the then-21-year-old started taking modeling seriously, she has been gracing the catalogs of Forever 21, JCPenny, Rue21 and Fashion To Figure. Standing at 5’4”, she didn’t think she’d be able to land these assignments in an industry that rarely works with women shorter than 5’9”.

Her success, despite the odds, is what has kept her in this tough industry.

Hey ladies! I wanted to share something with yall ! I don't know if you see the difference or not but I got a breast reduction. Yes, a breast reduction!!! As a 5'4 girl who had double DDs, I was starting to develop back issues and ever since I could remember, I've always had big boobs. My boobs started growing in the 4th grade and ever since then just kept getting bigger. I am now a C cup and I must say I feel so much better and much more relieved. I am so happy with my results and literally made the best decision of my life! Anyways, these are my results and I am happy to answer any questions for anyone ! Btw beautiful dress from @fashionnovacurve of course ? #becauseitsmybody #breastreduction #celebratemysize

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But, like just about every curvy model in the beauty and fashion world, the job isn’t always pleasant and encouraging.

Beside social media comments that call Mercedes “stunning” and “inspiring” are slights from so-called concern trolls and fatphobic ‘grammers.

“I get criticized all the time,” she tells me. “They say, ‘stop promoting obesity,’ ‘you’re not a model’ or they call me a ‘fat whale.’”

Aside from being painful, these comments also surprise Mercedes. She can’t make sense of why some people feel insulted or grossed out by what others look like or the ways that they adorn their bodies.

That shock and confusion inspired her to start #becauseitsmybody.

Far from perfect but it’s okay, I’m fine with that ❤️ #becauseitsmybody

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This hashtag and social media campaign reminds people of all body types, sizes and aesthetics — including plus-size, short, tattooed, pierced or hairy — that they, not society, make the body rules for themselves.

“How can someone else tell another person what to do with their body? That’s insane to me. What’s disgusting to one person is art to another. Leave me alone and let me do whatever the hell I want to do,” Mercedes said of the campaign, which she started in January of 2017.

Spreading these body positive messages are extremely important to Mercedes because they weren’t things she heard growing up. In her home, being fat or plus-size was frowned upon.

Photo by wearing skirt from @showpo and top from @hm ❤️

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She was often warned not to serve herself too much rice or have too many slices of pizza. While body talk wasn’t very present in her household, she knew that her chunky figure was not satisfactory.

“In my culture, you have to be thin, but it’s a certain kind of thin. You can’t be really skinny. We like the bigger hips, but the curves have to also come with a flat belly. You can have a big butt as long as it comes with a small waist,” she said.

Mercedes wants to break these standards — for her community and society at large — and with every skin-baring, body-hugging and BoPo message-conveying image she posts on Instagram, she helps chip away at these limiting beauty ideals.

Lmao I was dying of laughter but the dress is now available ladies !! Link on my bio @poshtiqe

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Thank you Mercedes because you’re inspiring us to be our fiercest one post at a time.

READ: These 13 Latina Body Positive Influencers On The ‘Gram Are Reminding Us To Love Every (Im)Perfection

Let us know who your favorite curve models are in the comments.