Growing up in Miami, Florida, Denise Bidot always dreamed of being an actress, but too pretty to play the best friend and too big to play the leading lady, Denise found herself rejected at every turn. The idea of modelling hadn't even crossed her mind, until, that is, she met a fellow plus size model and photographer who gave her the chance to shine without having to change a single thing about herself. Today, Denise is one of the most successful plus size models in the industry. She's walked in fashion weeks all around the world, opened the CHROMAT show in a bustier and a pair of seven inch high heels, and also closed Serena Williams' spring/summer 15 show right in front of Anna Wintour. Proud of every curve, dimple and stretch mark that makes up her exquisite body, Denise isn't one of those models who wants to #droptheplus. Instead, she fights her corner elsewhere, taking part in body positive campaigns like Swimsuits For All's Beach Body, Not Sorry, which aims to celebrate un-retouched beauty in every shape and size. An inspiration to women everywhere, Denise is living proof that there's no wrong way to be a woman.
What made you want to become a model?
I actually grew up thinking modelling was never even an option for me. I moved to Hollywood when I was 18, to try and pursue a career as an actress and was told many times that I'd need to lose weight in order to be considered for "leading lady" roles. It was such a disappointment to be told I needed to change to live my dream. And then I met a plus size model and photographer and was asked if I'd ever consider modelling. Truth be told I never had, especially since I'm only 5'8 and a size 12/14. I saw an opportunity to do something I thought was impossible and prove that I didn't need to change to who I was.
Did you find it hard to find it hard to find your place in the industry at first?
When I started, there was no space for me at all. The market for plus models was very black and white. You were either the blonde classic model or the ethnic sexy one. Here I was, this half Puerto Rican, half Kuwaiti girl refusing to accept no for an answer and little by little I carved out my own lane. It's very refreshing to see the landscape of fashion evolving. I love seeing all shapes and colours on the pages of magazines these days.
How do you feel about the term "plus size"?
There is such controversy with the term plus size. I personally don't mind it one bit. I was accepted into an industry I never knew existed, and it was through being a "plus size model" that I found myself and my voice. Call me whatever you want, I'm a model and I'm proud of being a curvy woman.
Would you ever change your body to meet the industry standards?
I have never and will never be as small as industry standards would require me to be, so that's out of the question.
What's the story behind Beach Body, Not Sorry?
It's really about empowering women to be free and not apologise for their bodies. So many commercials come around summertime advertising how to get the perfect "beach body" or "bikini body", but guess what, that doesn't exist. The best way to get a bikini body is to get a bikini and put it on your body.
What did it mean to be a part of it?
For me being a part of it was monumental. When Swimsuits For All approached me about the campaign being un-retouched I couldn't help but want to be a part of it. I have seen countless retouched images of mine go up as #WCW or #BODYINSPO on social media and I wanted to show these women that I'm not perfect either.
Why is it important to see more images of real women with curves and cellulite?
It's extremely important to keep pushing for change in the media, because it directly affects the way people feel about themselves. Fashion has for so long been the epitome of exclusiveness, that when women can relate and see themselves in the pages of magazines and billboards it changes them. To show you can be beautiful regardless of your size or a little cellulite is a powerful message to share with the world.
You've spoken about there being no wrong way of being a woman. Could you elaborate on this?
Yes that's something I firmly believe in. I never want it to be a plus size vs. straight size situation. I'm very much about trying to help all women feel beautiful. You have no idea how many times I meet women who are much smaller and they tell me how they wish they had my butt or how they can't gain weight and feel unhappy about their bodies. That's when I realised that this is a problem all women have and that it's just about finding happiness with yourself and your body regardless of what size you are. That's how "there is no wrong way to be a woman" started. It was a realisation that we are all different and special and there is no wrong way to be you.
How do you think the internet has changed the way we talk about body image?
I came into the industry right when social media was blossoming. I have seen its power and I'm so happy to see women speaking up and demanding change. Designers and companies now look to the customers' comments when deciding what things to put out. It was like a revolution and the women won. We now are in a generation where people discuss topics that used to be taboo and through that we have learned to accept and understand diversity in a way that's truly remarkable.
What does beauty mean to you?
To be happy is to be beautiful. A lot of times we wait either "to lose weight" or "get that promotion" before we are actually content and I think it's silly. Be happy and love yourself unapologetically, now.
What advice would you give to young girls who want to follow in your footsteps?
The best advice I can give would be to stay true to yourself and never change to try and fit in. What's meant for you will always be yours. It's easy to compete with others and get lost in the shuffle but as long as you stay in your lane, work hard, and do things from your heart things will always work out in the end.
Text Tish Weinstock
Photography Heather Hazzan