Carleen Cruz dreamt of being a Victoria’s Secret model, watching the thin and beautiful angels strutting the runway on her TV in the seventh grade.
But she did not fit the mold, being curvier and more voluptuous.
She recalls being reminded of that reality when she shared what she wanted to be with her Spanish teacher in class, and every one of her classmates laughed.
“They kind of discouraged me, but more so, it made me feel like, ‘I’m going to do this,'” Cruz said, wiping a tear away from her glittery eyelids. “I’m not going to let people’s opinions just because I’m overweight discourage me.”
Cruz, a Compton resident, has been a victim of body shaming but has learned to overcome it.
Dreaming of one day being thin and beautiful so she could be a VS model, it took her time to accept her body for the way it was.
The fashion industry defines plus-sized and curvy women as anyone proportioned larger than a size 4 or 6. In contrast, the retail industry determines plus-sized starting at size 14. Today, the plus-sized American woman averages between sizes 16 to 18.
Because of her petite stature, Kim Holmes, a Pasadena resident and model, also battles with her own self-image, being different.
“In certain clothing industries, [models] have to be tall, skinny, blonde, blue eyes,'” Holmes said. “And I’m not any of those things. I’m a small little Mexican girl. Being the opposite, I’m going after those industries to be like, ‘Hey, I’m different.'”
Holmes got her start after a bad breakup in 2020, and she used modeling to increase her self worth and to learn to love herself again.
“I just did it as a distraction, and it turned out to be something more,” Holmes said. “I didn’t think it’d be something that I’d be kind of good at.”
Holmes hopes to keep improving and strives to one day be a model full-time.
Devogue Johnson, a Long Beach resident, animal behaviorist and model, embraces her body as a way to overcome sexual assault.
Bullied for being a tomboy, she had trouble accepting that she can be feminine and beautiful.
“It took a while for me to understand it’s okay to be feminine because for so long, a girl was used as [meaning] you’re weak and you’re less,” Johnson said. “Now it’s girl power.”
Starting her career in the special effects body art industry five years ago and moving into high-fashion and implied nude, Johnson has grown as a model who often tries to spice up her photoshoots, trying wild outfits and poses.
While thriving on Instagram, she hopes to be a positive image for other models and advocate for sexual assault victims.
Cruz had an abusive boyfriend who told her that she was not good enough and criticized her size and held her back from experiencing life.
“I was embarrassed and ashamed that he was abusing me physically and emotionally and mentally,” Cruz said. “But one day, I knew I was already ready to leave him.”
Following her breakup, she said she started growing as a person, developing stable relationships and finding her own hobbies.
She found an appreciation for her curvy shape and her modeling career came soon after.
While getting to live out her childhood dream as a model, Cruz continues to do the work because of all of the positive feedback she has received. This led her to dedicate her Instagram page to body positivity.
“A few women reached out to me, and they would tell me ‘You’re an inspiration,'” Cruz said. “‘Because of you, I’m able to wear that bathing suit on vacation that I never thought I wouldn’t be able to wear,’ and that’s what keeps me going. I want to be a positive influence for the girls who love to eat and enjoy eating.”