For plus-size model and Instagram influencer Denise Mercedes, being body shamed is not unusual, and she’s been in the line of fire for a host of negative comments. From people who call Mercedes fat and overweight to those who insist on telling her that she’s promoting obesity, the New Jersey native admits to having heard it all. In response to the various comments, however, she shares one simple notion to remind people why it’s none of their business: because it’s my body.
The 26-year-old body-positive advocate turned her go-to statement into the tagline of a size-inclusive campaign that she launched in 2016 with the hashtag #becauseitsmybody. When she realized that all of the negative comments were signaling a need for larger representation of all body types, Mercedes reached out to women of different shapes and sizes to take part in what she now calls “Phase 1” of her growing movement.
“When I did the first photo shoot, I only had women. It was just me and four other girls,” Mercedes tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “We were all wearing lingerie and there’s no Photoshop. I had the photographer make sure that he captured cellulite, every stretch mark, and I went ahead and I had him zoom in on all of our flaws. Everyone just responded really well, and that was just Phase 1.”
For Phase 2, which launched Tuesday evening, Mercedes has taken the campaign to new heights as she recognizes the growing acceptance of body positivity — something that she stood for long before there was even a term for it.
“When I became a plus-size fashion blogger and a plus-size model, I realized that it was strictly plus-size modeling and plus-size fashion, versus for other models, it was just modeling,” Mercedes explains. “They didn’t call them skinny models, they just call them models. Why don’t we just call everyone a model?”
The distinction made between straight-size modeling and plus-size modeling is the same that Mercedes later began to see in what was deemed “body positive.” She points out that while people were seemingly promoting the acceptance of different bodies, there really was only representation of plus-size women in these campaigns, while anyone outside of that was excluded.
In the same way that Mercedes had taken a chance trying to become a model at 5-foot-4 and size 14 in a world where that didn’t exist more than four years ago, she challenged herself to flip body positivity on its head by shedding light on the men and size 2 women who experience body insecurities as well.
“Everyone gets criticized,” Mercedes says. “It’s not just a plus-size body positive campaign, it’s just a body-positive campaign — that’s it. And everyone’s included.”
In Mercedes’s latest efforts to get anyone and everyone involved in her body-positive movement, she’s included a section in the campaign’s relaunched website where readers can submit their own story. Although she feels that she’s already made some difference by providing a platform that preaches body positivity, Phase 2 focuses on what inclusivity is truly about and allows people to respond.
“I actually want to be able to make it a community because I don’t want anyone to feel left out,” she shares. “If you feel like you can relate, then you’re also a part of it.”
Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle: