Curvicality: When did you start modeling?
Sheila Lopez: When I think about how I started this whole journey, the best way to describe it is by chance. I was in my mid-20s when I started modeling and had struggled with negative body image since I was a little girl. A friend of mine noticed I was posting a lot of selfies online and I started writing about fat body acceptance and self-love.
She said, “You should take some professional pictures with my friend. She’s a local photographer here in Austin.” I thought about it for days, and when I finally took that leap of faith, it really spiraled into what I do now. I started to dress differently and take chances with fashion that I would have never dared to do before (like wearing a two-piece swimsuit, crop top and even shorts). I was posting my curated looks on Instagram more frequently, and that caught the attention of a lot of people. Brands started to reach out to me to collaborate and I felt honored that I could represent a business that I believed in.
I started working with different local photographers to submit to any online magazine that would feature plus-size models. That was a challenge because there are so many online and print publications that often overlook and won’t feature models of different body shapes and sizes. It’s changing, but it was definitely a struggle when I first started to find those publications whose mission and values aligned with mine; that style has no size limit.
How I Started As A Plus-Size Model:
“ … I started by chance … I took that leap of faith … I was posting my curated looks on Instagram … Brands started to reach out to me to collaborate.”
— Sheila Lopez
Curvicality: What is your goal for your platform?
Sheila Lopez: The space that I have created on my social platforms and my blog (La Divina Latina) started off as a place for me to express my style. It was very personal and I really never thought it would become what it is today. I was wearing bold colors, prints and everything that broke the outdated and fat-phobic fashion rules for plus-size bodies. I really just felt like posting cute pictures of my new looks.
That quickly changed into a space where I talked often about positive body image, which resonated for a lot of people who struggled with body image issues … and they started engaging with me on my pages. I would read comments from those dealing with self-esteem and confidence issues. My heart would sink every time I’d get a direct message or comment from someone who just felt so defeated and couldn’t find a way to see the light. I read often, “I wish I could be confident like you. Maybe one day it’ll happen for me.” I wanted to be that little light for them to guide them through the darkness.
While my space has evolved to include support for people of color business owners, entrepreneurs, artists and topics of engagement for the Latinx community, body acceptance and self-love remain at the foundation of my platform. It’s something I am going to continue talking about as I expand into creating video content through an IGTV series for La Divina Latina.
I have many goals for La Divina Latina, especially since it is a space for engagement on these topics, and I do recognize that it is a brand. I am the face of La Divina Latina and I’d like to translate the empowering messages I’ve created into things like apparel and accessories. I love fashion so much, and that’s pretty obvious, so it seems like the natural next step for me and La Divina Latina.
Curvicality: What would you say to women who are struggling with body image?
Sheila Lopez: I tell women who message me and talk about their struggles with body image to be kind and forgiving to themselves. There isn’t a recipe you can follow to gain confidence, but there are some things that I have learned that can help.
The first is to recognize that you will go at your own pace. Everyone is different and processing your feelings about your body is personal. You don’t have to love every part of your body at every second of your life. You will have days where you might not feel great about your body or parts of it. That doesn’t mean you are not worthy. You are worthy and beautiful as you are in the body you have now. Your body can change, and will most likely change, as that happens for all of us. At whatever body shape or size you are, you are worthy. You are enough.
Something you can incorporate into your routine can be to look into a mirror daily, every morning sounds like the best time, and say something you like about your body. For example, I really love my smile because I think it’s cute with one dimple. I also really love my curves! I’m all about positive affirmations and this is a great way to start seeing your body in a positive way and being comfortable with speaking about yourself with confidence. Follow social accounts that you are inspired by and create a safe space for engagement on topics like positive body image.
I found that following bloggers who were tackling these topics helped me on my journey. Read books from authors who talk about these struggles with body image, do a photoshoot, or attend a local workshop or event from a speaker on the subject. Putting yourself in a space where you can learn about positive body image and how others have worked through this can help you, especially with BOPO advocates who are doing the hard work for all of us to be treated with respect in public spaces.
Curvicality: How does being a Latina play a part in your platform?
Sheila Lopez: I talk often about my Mexican heritage and culture on my social platforms. I love supporting Latinx brands, entrepreneurs and artists. There so many amazing designers who I feel are going unnoticed and I love their creations. So, it’s important for me to collaborate with Latinx creatives and showcase their work. And, I’m always inspired by icons like Selena, Maria Felix, and Frida (Kahlo) from their outlook on life, entrepreneurial spirit, creativity and fashion. My space is Spanglish (Spanish and English) because being bilingual is something I am proud of. I interweave between speaking Spanish and English and many of those who follow me can relate to that. I create motivational quotes in Spanglish because it comes natural to me and is part of my identity. And, the space I have created will always honor my culture and my roots. I hope to continue to work with Latinx brands and creatives and expand La Divina Latina into a directory for the Latinx businesses.
Curvicality: Have you always been plus-size?
Sheila Lopez: I was bigger than my peers as a kid and have been for the most part plus-size all my life. I struggled with low self-esteem and negative body image issues from a young age. This stemmed from being bullied as a kid and comments my mother or family would make about my size. I carried that negative self-image into my adulthood and it impacted my confidence along with my personal relationships. In dating and relationships, I stayed in relationships that weren’t the best for me and were unhealthy due to my low self-worth. I would tell myself that I didn’t deserve better and this was as good as it was going to get for me. And, there were periods as a teenager where I dealt with eating disorders by depriving myself of food. I remember being a size 10 at the age of 13/14 and thinking to myself that I was the most ugly girl in the world. For me, being that size meant being too fat, which meant being ugly. I don’t see things that way anymore and I’m so happy about that. I am an 18/20 and feel the sexiest ever and most beautiful ever. Am I conscious of my health? Of course! A lot of people are conscious about their health. But, I am conscious of how my body feels and not the shape or size of my body. There is still a huge misconception that plus-size bodies equal unhealthy bodies. That’s far from the truth. Like people with more slender or smaller body frames, I try to exercise and eat my greens. I am focused on feeling good in my body and an overall wellness. That also includes my mental health as much as being physically active.
Curvicality: What are your hobbies?
Sheila Lopez: I love to cook for others, not so much for myself. And, some of my favorite dishes to cook are Mexican cuisine like pozole, caldos (soups) and mole. Not many people know this about me, but I am a huge movie buff. I love watching films from other countries like Korea, Spain and Mexico. I was a film student, another little-known fact, so I have a passion for cinema. One of my favorite directors is Pedro Almodovar from Spain. I love that a lot of his films center around female protagonists and heroines.
Curvicality: Did you grow up in Austin?
Sheila Lopez: I grew up in South Texas and was born and raised in a bordertown, Brownsville, Texas. It’s the very tip of Texas and rich with Mexican culture. When I visit home, I love taking a short trip to South Padre Island to lay out on the beach and of course have some of the best Mexican food. I always tell people, you haven’t had a real taco unless you’ve been to Mexico or my hometown. I moved to Austin after graduating high school to attend film school at The University of Texas at Austin. When I finished my studies, I stayed in Austin because I fell in love with the city so much. There’s always something to do — live music, art shows — and I’ve found my community here.
Curvicality: What do you want to add?
Sheila Lopez: I’d like to add that supporting my fellow Latina entrepreneurs and creatives is important. I’ve found a community here in Austin, Texas that embraced me with open arms through the organization Frida Friday ATX. Frida Friday ATX is a movement for gender and economic justice. They create markets and cultural spaces that bridge the wage gap that women of color disproportionately experience by centering and amplifying women of color artisans, local artists and those most economically marginalized. Their aim is to grow women of color-led economies and education. The founder of Frida Friday ATX is my dear friend TK Tunchez, who is also my mentor. I am on the committee as the Communication Coordinator for Frida Friday ATX and it’s been a privilege and honor to work with such an amazing team of women of color. We’re growing and we have a fun year filled with events, workshops and collaborations with creatives in the community like La Divina Latina.
We loved our conversation with Curvicality Cover Model Sheila Lopez. What would you have liked to ask her?
You can find Sheila on Instagram @ladivinalatina and online at ladivinalatina.com