How an Alter Ego Made Model Denise Bidot Absolutely Fearless

By Ashley Fetters
Photos by Kyle Dorosz

Denise Bidot owes her modeling career to a woman named Misty, who doesn’t exist. In her early days as a model, Bidot realized that the way she presented in herself in her day-to-day life was markedly different from the way she presented herself in photographs; in real life, Bidot didn’t always love her curvy body or feel desirable, but the woman she saw in photographs of herself looked like she’d never doubted her sex appeal for a minute. So if she was going to make a career out of posing for a camera, she needed to invent an alter ego—so she pretended to be the brave, sexy woman she saw in the photographs. She named that woman “Misty.”

“Misty was the girl who did the lingerie shoots. Denise was a single mom who was kind of nerdy,” she laughs, “but Misty was fierce. She went out there and she killed it. That was who would show up to set.”

Of course, one day—after Bidot had some shoots and campaigns under her belt that she was proud of —as all imaginary friends and alter egos do, “Misty just disappeared,” Bidot remembers. Today, Misty is a fond but distant memory, while Denise Bidot is an internationally known, jet-setting plus-size model and an activist for body positivity and acceptance.

 

STREET WISE:  “In the mornings I typically wake up around 6am to get  moment of self care and meditate. After that I make my daughter a smoothie or breakfast before walking her to school.  I am also a big fan of the café down the street and usually, on my way back from dropping Joselyn off at school, I will stop and grab a coffee or a quick bite. It really depends on if I’m working from home that day or heading to a shoot. “

Born in Miami, the now 31-year-old Bidot tried her hand at a few lines of work before finding success as a model. Originally, she wanted to act and,in her late teens, she began auditioning for TV and film roles. “I was very much trying to play the part of whatever anyone wanted me to be,” she says. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, how do I fit into your industry?’”

“And I didn’t,” she adds. “In any capacity. I was too short. I was too tall. I was too chubby. I was too ethnic. What I kept hearing was, ‘You have leading lady personality but the best friend’s body type,’” she says. “I was like, ‘Why can’t the curvy girl be the leading lady?’” As that dream began to fade, however, she found a passion for makeup artistry. “I was like, I love painting, I’ll do makeup if I’m not acting. I’m gonna get in here somehow,” she says. It wasn’t until she auditioned, on a whim, to be in an episode of the Tyra Banks Show in 2005—for a segment on women of all shapes who loved their bodies unapologetically—that she realized her curves could be an asset, not a liability.

 

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“This was before there was a body positivity movement,” Bidot says. Once she’d been cast for the show, the producers informed her she’d be wearing a bra and panties on national television. She hesitated, but only for a moment: She decided to be fearless, to channel her inner Misty — “and it was the beginning of what has been the most amazing journey ever.”

That day, not only did Bidot fearlessly show off her curves in front of a live studio audience, she also made her first contact with the modeling industry. In a moment of kismet, she befriended a plus-size model on set and began doing makeup for her shoots. Soon, photographers were asking whether Bidot herself had ever considered modeling. “I was like, yeah, right, get outta here,” she recalls. “I was wrapped up in the dated mentality of what a ‘model’ was. I was like, ‘I’m 5’8″, which doesn’t necessarily read model, and I’m chubby.’” But one photographer, “she was persistent,” Bidot says. “One day I just kind of obliged. I was like, ‘What do you have to lose?’” Worst-case scenario, she figured, she might still get some good pictures for her makeup artist portfolio.

 

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That first shoot was a lingerie shoot; Bidot walked on set and when the photographer asked what music she’d like to listen to, she shakily requested the Pussycat Dolls. “I felt like they gave me this weird sense of girl power,” she laughs. Within a month, brands were reaching out to the photographer, asking who Bidot was.

The same photographer, she adds, gave her the necessary nudge it took to get her back into modeling one month after giving birth to her daughter, Joselyn, who’s now nine. When she discovered she was pregnant, Bidot says, “I was super scared about telling anyone. I was like, ‘Oh my god, I just started this career. What am I gonna do?’” She modeled up until she was seven months pregnant, though, and immediately after giving birth to her daughter, she got the photographer’s call asking if she could do a shoot exactly one month postpartum. She agreed “but I was like, yeah right,” Bidot remembers. She considered canceling. But it was her mother who encouraged her to go through with it: “She was like, ‘Denise, what do you have to lose? It may be possibly be the worst photoshoot of your life, but you’ll never feel worse. It can only get better from there.’”

 

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HOME/WORK: “When I’m not shooting I am still working, mostly with my No Wrong Way Movement. Connecting with people around the world and finding ways to keep spreading the message of self love has been part of my brand DNA since the very beginning. I believe being an activist and challenging the prior ideals of beauty and societal structure has lead to some of the most memorable times of my life and definitely keeps me busy in my off time.” 

Her mom was right. “My physique had changed, I had these new beautiful red stretch marks covering a portion of my belly that up until then was super sexy and flat. I was very scared of my new body and who I was and my sexuality after having a child, you know? I almost thought I was gonna get there and the brand was gonna be like ‘You can go home now,’” she adds. But the shoot, she found, was a perfect way to get comfortable in her new body. “Finding that [confidence] was very much due to those shoots and being able to express myself.” And she’s worked steadily ever since.

 

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When she spoke to Express in April, Bidot had just spent one blessedly low-key spring break week on a stay-cation she describes as “magical”:  She and her daughter romped around New York seeing movies, playing in Central Park, and making sparkly “slime,” the latest arts-and-crafts trend du jour among elementary-schoolers. But the surrounding portion of her schedule is an entirely different (and entirely chaotic) story.

Bidot splits much of her time between Los Angeles and New York, with jaunts to places like Copenhagen, Iceland, and London sprinkled across her calendar. The jet-setting life of a model, however, isn’t always as glamorous as its accompanying travel itinerary might imply: Bidot remembers one sweltering 104-degree photo shoot day in Lisbon when, under the weight of a winter coat, a scarf, and a blonde wig, she tripped on a cobblestone street and sprained her ankle. Making matters worse, Bidot speaks no Portuguese. “And that was day one of two!” she remembers with a laugh. “I’ve never tested my professionalism more in my life.”

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SMOOTH OPERATOR: “Before going out I love to take a nice shower and do a body scrub. I feel that it’s super important to take care of your skin and I feel my most confident when I am fresh, clean and smooth. I love playing with hair and makeup so I definitely have fun with that and turn on some music while getting glam. Then I find whichever outfit can best “express”—no pun intended—my mood for the night. That’s the best part, fashion is just a form of self expression so feel free to let the world know who you are.”

Now a seasoned traveler, though, Bidot knows exactly how to travel light while also traveling stylish. She always packs four essentials: a pair of black leggings (a pair that isn’t see-through, she emphasizes, “can be really versatile,” in both workout and non-workout settings), a black tank top and white T-shirt (“I just think they’re classic and effortless”), and a bodysuit (“can be worn day to night, you can throw it on with a pair of jeans or throw it on with a skirt, or if you forget one it can also double as your swimsuit”).

 

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Today, Bidot is gearing up to give acting another try: “I think nowadays people are ready for, and appreciative of, diversity onscreen,” she says, “and it’s so funny now being asked for all the same qualities that used to be ‘wrong.’” But she’s primarily focused on helping others find the fearlessness and body-positivity she found through modeling. In 2015, Bidot launched the No Wrong Way movement, which grew out of a favorite saying of Bidot’s, that there’s “no wrong way” to be a woman. She launched a line of No Wrong Way shirts, plus a YouTube channel and a blog, and is dedicating part of this year to working with producers and creators on new No Wrong Way content.

“It’s my way to pay it forward,” she says. “It’s my way to shine light on others and be able to use the platform that I have and have worked for so long, to do that same thing for someone else.” The same way she was nudged toward unveiling her sexy side, “I’m trying to nudge others to step into there too, to be their unapologetic selves, to stop trying to fit these boundaries. Because it wasn’t until I didn’t care that it all made sense.”

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