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It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.
Growing up, Denise Bidot did not see herself as a model.
"I'm chubby. I'm short and I'm Latina. Like none of those things read fashion to me," Bidot, 37, tells Yahoo Life.
Her beliefs were further affirmed by the lack of plus-size representation in the media in the early 2000s, and she says the only positive representations she saw of her body type came from family members.
"I come from a really awesome family of strong women, who all had big booties, and no part of that ever diminished their worth," says Bidot. "When you think about the people that I surrounded myself with growing up, or that I saw being successful, they didn't look the way the people in the magazines looked, and they weren't any less beautiful or successful to me."
This upbringing, she explains, was the "root of my self-confidence." But that does not mean she was unaffected by fad diet crazes and unhealthy narratives surrounding food.
"I was like 7 years old and I would see my mom yo-yo diet," says Bidot, explaining that this was when she first became "aware of the way the world perceives people."
"I would see this woman that I thought was like the most gorgeous woman on the planet struggle with seeing herself as beautiful," says Bidot. "And as a child, I knew that I didn't want to be that unhappy."
Growing up, she tried some of her mom's diets, but these behaviors did not stick into adulthood. "I saw the very extreme sides of extreme dieting, and I just knew that wasn't healthy," says Bidot.
This experience was a formative moment in her body-acceptance journey.
"I was like, 'No way. I can't possibly waste all these years chasing diet pills or anything being sold to change who I was when that's time that could have just been spent being happy and living,'" says Bidot.
She was so opposed to the culture of weight fixation that she swore off scales.
"I have never in my entire life owned a scale. I've never cared," she says. "I know when things get tighter. I know when things get looser and I know when I'm stress eating or whatever. And I think making note of those things is enough to find the balance."
Feeling secure in yourself is one thing, but putting it all out there for the world to see? It's a totally different ball game, explains Bidot, who still remembers the shock she felt when she was first approached to model nearly 18 years ago.
"I moved to L.A. for acting and started doing makeup, and someone approached me about plus-size modeling. I was like, 'Wait, what are you talking about?'" she says. "I'm glad that person saw that in me because it was through fashion that I was able to continue that conversation."
Her commitment to expand the definition of what a model looks like hasn't wavered.
"When I first started talking about wanting to post things unretouched and walking on runways being short, people were like, 'No, no way. You're never going to do that,'" she recalls. But rather than internalize those doubts, Bidot leaned into the things that made her different and, in doing so, inspired a whole new wave of aspiring models.
"That's why I do what I do. And I continue to talk about it. Because we're in 2023, and we're still fighting this narrative that people have given us of this 'one thing' is what's beautiful," says Bidot.
Now, almost 18 years after she was first discovered, she is able to witness her own influence within the industry in real-time.
"I have a couple of girls who messaged me over 10 years ago, like, 'Oh my god, I would love to get into modeling. We love what you do.' And now here we are working together," says Bidot of fellow models. "So many women are just now starting to reach their dreams. And if I played any role in their inspiration or self-confidence, then I am utterly humbled."
Being proud of who she is comes naturally to Bidot, but she says there are still a few areas of her life in need of refining, like dating.
"Being a single woman and a single mother, I don't think it was until the pandemic hit that I realized that companionship is something that I should value as well," says Bidot, who has partnered with Chispa, a Latin dating app, to encourage others to put their most authentic selves out there, something she recently started doing as well. "I have worked so much on me that I finally felt like it was the right time to move into the relationship sector."
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