Denise Bidot broke down barriers earlier this year by appearing in an ad in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue completely unretouched. Now, the model and face of Lane Bryant’s The New Skinny, opens up about the unrealistic pursuit of perfection in the fashion industry.
Growing up, I wasn’t familiar with the plus-size modeling world. Instead, I’d look to women like Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayek, and Kate Winslet as my curvy-girl beacons of hope. I remember watching Kate in Titanic and thinking, 'Wow, her body is amazing. She’s curvy, beautiful, and loved by so many people.' Then, shortly before I started modeling at age 18, I found out about the Crystal Renns and Emmes of the world—the curvy girls whose modeling and reach went far beyond their size. For me, that was the dream.
Beauty is finally being embraced in so many different forms now. We’re finding new ways to challenge all of the standards that have been unrealistic for so long. Last year, when my unretouched Lane Bryant ad came out in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, it went viral so quickly. When I shot the campaign, I actually had no idea that it would run unretouched. But when I saw the images, I was freaking out to think that my bare tummy was going to be in those pages. That was never a realistic expectation for me, so to end up in that ad with Lane Bryant behind me, that was monumental, not just for me but for women everywhere. Lane Bryant wasn’t trying to make a statement by leaving my stretch marks alone. They just thought: Why would we edit this out? Stretch marks are beautiful too. That’s impactful. It shows how far we’ve come.
Still, I realize this industry is a business. Photography is a work of art, and there are a lot of little pieces that go into creating an amazing final image. As a model, I’ve learned to appreciate all the steps. Sometimes retouching helps to make sure there are no wrinkles on the clothes in a picture. I have no problem with that. But people also want to see reality. [We shouldn't] generalize beauty. We’re coming into an age where consumers are more alert to these sort of things. They want to see something authentic and relatable, and taking away that fourth wall of retouching can help with that.
And social media is another story. On Instagram, it feels like everyone is a retoucher, editing and filtering anything they post. Sometimes I wonder, 'What happened to just simply taking a picture?' I think it’s time to get back to authenticity and to show people we are allowed to be imperfect and still be beautiful. As a model, I’m thankful that we have social media so that my followers know what is or isn’t me. I constantly put unretouched images on my page because I think it helps to know that models aren’t perfect. We all have "imperfections" that are absolutely where they should be.
It’s easy to look at other people’s feeds and wish for this, and wish for that. But trying to fit yourself into any one person’s opinion of beauty is just going to be a let down. I think that’s a daily struggle for a lot of us. It’s a journey. I definitely don’t wake up every single day feeling like a rock star, you know? I actually get more of a kick out of my daughter Joselyn’s laugh than any number on a scale. That’s part of the reason I started the No Wrong Way Movement, which encourages women, men, really everyone, to embrace their most authentic self.
Joselyn is 9, and it’s been really fascinating to watch her grow up during this body positivity revolution. She’s seeing people in the media and on TV that resemble her, and I’ve been able to see the shift in her confidence because of it. We have to continue to push for diverse beauty because I can already see the difference it makes in a kid who is raised with that mindset. We’re starting to see the impact, but we’re nowhere near the finish line just yet.
As told to Jennifer Ferrise.