How Denise Bidot Is Redefining Beauty Standards in the Latinx Community (Exclusive)
By Liz Calvario
Denise Bidot is on a mission to redefine the beauty standards in the Latinx community.
The 32-year-old model has always stood up for curvier models since the beginning of her career. In 2014, she made history by becoming the first plus-size model to walk a New York Fashion Week runway and has participated in the bi-annual shows ever since. For Bidot, she knows how empowering it is for women to see themselves represented on the covers of magazines, television, movies and the catwalks. Now, she’s paying it forward and changing the idea of what a Latina looks like.
ET spoke with the brunette beauty about her role as a judge on Univision’s Nuestra Belleza Latina, as well as how her culture influenced her definition of beauty.
“I am half-Latina, half-Arab. I never met my father’s side of the family, so my entire life I felt fully connected to my Latin community,” she tells ET over the phone. “I grew up in Miami, so it’s a huge blend of Cuban, Brazilian, Puerto Rican, and you get a little bit of everything, and you feel really proud of who you are and your DNA in that sense. Once I moved to L.A., things were different and I hung out with Mexicans, and I went to New York and it was the Dominicans.”
“I have been so fortunate to have the experience of intertwining and learning from all of the different Latino cultures that are out there,” she continues. “Because as we know, we [are all different]. We all talk a certain way, we are so vast and broad, and it’s been really fun figuring out who I am and owning my personality."
Growing up embracing her Latina side, Bidot admires how Hispanic women do not shy away from beauty and fashion.
“I tell people this all the time, Latin women do not play around when it comes to glam,” she states. “I remember that my abuelita would do her hair to go to the beauty salon, and I would be like, ‘What are you doing?’ But it’s a culture that really puts effort into how they look and how they present themselves, and that is something to be admired. We know that the moment we walk out the door, it’s up to us to show people who we are and that can be through fashion, or beauty or just expression. We talk with our hands, we walk a certain way, we have a rhythm in our blood that you can’t underestimate. We use any excuse to dress up. We love feeling our best and doing that. It’s something that is underrated in some communities but it’s something that we learn from the Latina women, for sure.”
That love of fashion and beauty is what she shares with others while being a judge on Nuestra Belleza Latina, a beauty pageant that has been broadcast on Univision since 2007. While pageants have faced backlash over the years due to their ideas of how women should look like, Bidot decided to be a part of the program only after they reached out to her and explained their new vision.
“Nuestra Belleza Latina is such a huge deal [for Latinx audiences], but to be able to change that to what the modern Latin woman looks like [is incredible],” she relays. “We’ve evolved so much. We’ve grown. We’ve learned. Some of us are born in America, some of us are born in [Latin American] countries, but to be able to expand the age, expand the sizes, refresh what we have seen as far as what we looked like for so long, and be a part of this new chapter really feels special to me."
“I was very much aware of how important it was to give back to my community and how important it is to reprogram [the show],” she continues. “My whole life I felt like the Latino community was very, I guess small-minded in the way that they saw beauty, but it wasn’t their fault. It was more of what we saw in the media, even in TV roles. You always saw the Latina girl, she always looked a certain way. For beauty pageants, they are huge in the Latino community and [many girls] unfortunately had to meet these really rigid standards of what beauty was, and because of that, we programmed an entire community and generation of women to think that is what they need to be to be beautiful. So when I was approached by Nuestra Belleza Latina to do this season, we had a lot of conversations before contracts or an offer was put on the table.”
Explaining how the producers told her about how they were planning to “rebrand” the show, Bidot immediately decided to sign on when they shared their new tagline: “Sin tallas, sin límites y sin excusas,” which translates to “no sizes, no limits and without excuses.”
“When they told me the general topic ‘sin talla, sin límites, sin excusas,’ I was like, ‘Oh my god, that is me in a nutshell’ because I really believe that.” she excitedly says. “I don’t think women need to be limited. We should put much more value into intellect and kindness, and we don’t have many people in that position telling young girls that. So we have a responsibility to the next generation growing up.”
“[Seeing all different body types on TV] makes people feel beautiful, it makes people feel included and represented” she adds. “And I think when they started telling me what they wanted to do, it came from a genuine place of understanding that we need to evolve and grow and we can do it together in a beautiful way. It was a no-brainer for me. I was like, ‘Bring it on! Let’s do it. Let’s change the world together!’”
And her experience thus far has been incredible, with fans tweeting and messaging her asking her what she’s going to wear next, how she’s going to do her nails and makeup for the next episode. As for how she wants to redefine beauty standards for all women through her participation on the show and her career, she says it’s “all a learning process.”
"We are all learning from each other," Bidot explains. "I want women to put less importance on the outside and put a little bit more effort on the inside. That is what we’re seeing on the show this season, us valuing [people’s] character. Obviously, we want someone with charisma, someone who is spunky and comfortable and secure in who they are, but we also want someone who treats others with kindness, and I think that is the redefinition."
"Beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, colors and ages, and there is no exclusivity with beauty. I think beauty comes from within and I think that is what we want to show people. We want to encourage people to be that way and hopefully we can change and make the next generation better than we were," she stresses.
Bidot, however, is still finding her own style and look. While she's having “a lot of fun with fashion” on the show, she said that over the course of her career she never had the opportunity to “play with who she wanted to be" until now.
“I’m just testing the limits. Curvy girls can wear absolutely anything. I am there to show them how to spice it up and not allow anyone to steal their shine,” she preaches. “I think that is what they are seeing and that is what they are responding to. That authenticity, that transparency. I am who I am, and I’m not apologizing for it, and these girls are really excited to see someone in that position representing them.”
Crediting her newfound sense of style to the fashion industry, she does say her mom was the one who taught her about beauty. "She was never one to overdo her makeup or anything like that, but she definitely permed her hair back then in the '90s when everyone was doing it," she shared. "I would watch Aladdin because Aladdin was my favorite Disney movie, and I remember being like, ‘Mommy, give me Jasmine eye,’ and she would give me a little cat eye and I was so confident with my little colita [ponytail]. It’s just things that you don’t realize create who you are. That’s still one of my favorite looks on myself because I swear I’m Princess Jasmine. But I owe my mom that perfect blend of done, but not done."
As she continues to change the definitions of beauty, Bidot has seen the changes that have been made and is grateful to be a part of them.
"Things have changed and they will continue to change if we keep the visibility alive. I’m so proud to have been a part of that beginning wave," she says of her career highlights. "That is kind of amazing because honestly, I’m short, and I’m chubby, and I’m Latina. The deck of cards that were stacked in front of me, as far as my life, were pretty much against everything that we just said I did. It’s insane and I’m humbled that I have had the opportunity to be that person...But that just goes to show that anything is possible if you treat people with respect and you keep on believing, you can achieve the unthinkable. That is what made me be so passionate about turning around and giving back to my community."
"It's crazy, I still think about it," she reflects on her Fashion Week debut. "It was funny because when that happened originally, all the headlines were like, ‘First Latina Model Ever to Walk New York Fashion Week’ and I was like, ‘Get it together! 'First Plus-Size Model Ever to Walk’ and it just happened to be that I was Latina, which was even cooler."