Vanessa Romo has come a long way from hiding herself under baggy clothes and planning her next crash diet. She went from hating her body to becoming a model, which takes so much bravery in a society that constantly devalues large bodies and women of color. Putting yourself out there not only physically but emotionally is tough, I wanted to know how and why she did it. Romo was an unlikely champion for body positivity like most fat girls she grew up internalizing the idea that fat equals ugly and unloveable. It has taken her years to unlearn those attitudes and a lifetime to come to terms with the fact that what other people think about your body doesn’t matter. Romo explains that when it’s come to opinions about her, she’s heard it all. “I have people who say ‘she’s not even fat’ and other people will say ‘she’s a fat pig’ so it’s really what you believe about yourself.”
Romo is a Whitter, CA girl, a first gen-Chicana and UCSB graduate. Tired of the lack of body diversity and Latina representation in the media, she set out to try modeling despite her lifelong insecurities. “I wanted to prove to myself and to other people that this body type is beautiful,” she explains. “I can’t name a Mexican model – I really want to be the representation as a Chicana woman.”
At the beginning of 2016 she decided to go for it. “I was sending out full body pictures which was my first big challenge. I was never a selfie person, I always felt so awkward taking a picture of my body and I didn’t know how to pose. I challenged myself because I needed to change that mindset. And I practiced and I got better at it.” One of the things that struck me was Romo’s approach to getting more comfortable in her own skin. She would set small goals and then work at overcoming that fear. She started out with full body shots, then crop tops, and more recently the bikini shot that garnered thousands of likes on her personal IG and through reposts. Romo says the response was both encouraging and unexpected. “What really shocked me was that so many people saw my body and saw this body type being portrayed as beautiful. That image shows that fat people can be beautiful AND fat.”
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🌞🌊My first time in a bikini… ever 👙& I'm fucking happy ✨I'm done hiding in shorts and tank tops when I go to the pool or beach. If you don't like it then mind ya damn business. #effyourbeautystandards #celebratemysize #gorditaYbonita #naturalmodelsla Thank you @gabrieldanny @gabrieldannyphoto for taking this picture of me and making me feel like I could be on the cover of a magazine one day 💗 I love you so much 💕
Since she was very young Romo remembers wanting to be thinner and hating herself for not looking a certain way. “It was in first grade when I realized that skinny girls were seen as more beautiful and acceptable. I truly thought I was so so ugly and it took a huge toll on my mental health. I was depressed a majority of my life.” Like many of us who grew up watching telenovelas, Romo realized early on that being thin with blond hair and blue eyes was what she should aspire to be. “I’m not gonna lie,” confesses Romo, “a lot of colorism I got was from my family, they’d be like ‘oh look at that girl, she’s so blonde and she’s so pretty.’ I thought it was the only way.”
The shows we grew up loving sometimes featured alternative body types, but more often than not it was a light-skinned Latina character that was both tragic and unlovable because she was fat. Think Celina from Rebelde played by Estefanía Villarreal and Wendy from Amigas Y Rivales played by Angelica Vale. Two very beautiful white Latinas whose entire storyline revolved around their weight. Romo is not alone in this, most girls and women of color can’t see themselves in the media they consume because diverse characters simply aren’t there, “growing up and never seeing my body type represented made me feel like there was something wrong with me,” she reveals. “There was so much fatphobia on TV growing up and it’s amazing how much you pick up as a kid. It takes a toll on you without you realizing it.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and National Association of Eating Disorders, “by age six girls start to express concerns about their own weight or shape. Additionally, around half of elementary school girls are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat.” Images in the media have a compounded impact on young girls of color who not only see their bodies as undesirable because of their size but also because of their skin/eye color and hair texture.
Colorism is an insidious and persistent “preference” in Latino media and culture, whose roots can be traced back to the internalized hatred learned through slavery and colonization (but that’s a conversation for another article). Although this “preference” has evolved slightly to include caramel skin tones we still see a severe underrepresentation of Brown and Black girls. In the mainstream media, images of fat white women have begun to pop up more and more, especially with the popularity of plus size models like Ashley Graham and Tess Holiday. But still, fat brown women are eerily absent from commercials, magazines, and novelas. Romo wants to change that, “At the end of the day you have one body and you need to make the best of it. Don’t let your body hold you back, let it move you forward. We need to unlearn all this hatred for our bodies.”
I was surprised to learn that even within the body positivity movement there is still discrimination, but according to Romo there is still a pressure to conform within the movement. “You still have to be a certain way and that you still need to be quote on quote healthy, like what does that even mean? That’s just a complete lie and invalidates the movement.” She also recognizes her privilege, “I have it good in body positive community though, I have an acceptable fat body. I have it easier than a lot of girls with larger bodies.” But ultimately Romo wants to pave the way for other Latinas to accept themselves and live their lives to the fullest, “we shouldn’t have to wait until our bodies look a certain way in order to express ourselves. We need to do it now and enjoy life.” Amen sister.
Currently Romo is working on a YouTube channel that will showcase fashion and body positivity for fat Chinanx. To see more of her pics and body positive inspo you can follow her on Instagram here.