Denise Bidot: A Summer in Puerto Rico Has Reminded Me of My Purpose
Denise Bidot is an international model of Puerto Rican and Kuwaiti descent who has modeled for numerous brands, including Kohl’s, Macy’s, Target, Levi’s, Forever 21, and Good American. She is a fierce advocate for body positivity, and in 2017, she launched the There’s No Wrong Way to Be a Woman campaign, with the mission to celebrate individuals owning their unique beauty.
For Latine Heritage Month, we asked women we admire how they are prioritizing descansar and restoration amid today’s prevailing grind culture. Read Bidot reflect, in her own words, below.
I come from a family full of warrior women who work really hard.
I come from a family full of warrior women who work really hard. Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s with a hardworking, Puerto Rican, single mom meant there was no road map of what life would look like. I quickly understood that you just had to do as much as you humanly could to make it in this life.
My mom would work two or three jobs, and I would go from one after-school program to another – from ballet to karate. While I’m thankful for how she was able to provide for all the amazing experiences I had growing up – I definitely wouldn’t have explored all my talents without her support – I also realize that there was a lot of missed time together because of that need she had to overwork. It also greatly influenced my own relationship and approach to work.
I knew really early on that I wanted to be in entertainment, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do within it. I would watch movies and be like, “Oh my god, I want to do that.” When I turned 18, I knew that I was going to move to Los Angeles to embark on that journey, but I had no idea how I would get there.
My mom was always big on education and encouraged me to go to school, so I went to makeup school, because in my head, the hustle continued. If I could get my foot in the door this way, then somebody was going to see me and somebody was going to want to work with me. Very shortly into doing makeup for someone, I got discovered and started modeling. And very shortly after that, I got pregnant. History has a very funny way of repeating itself, because now I was a single mom, just like my mom.
I got pregnant at 21 and had my daughter before my 22nd birthday. At this point, I had been modeling for maybe one or two years – freelance here and there while holding a regular day job. I was working at a car dealership as a receptionist, and I was like, “Oh, if I can make more money modeling than I do working here, I’ll quit.” Finally in February of 2009 – it was Valentine’s Day – I landed a modeling gig with this lingerie company. I quit my day job and went full-time into modeling, all while still taking up freelance jobs as a makeup artist.
I was so nervous when I landed the job with the lingerie brand. I had fresh stretch marks from my pregnancy. It was literally a month after I had my daughter. I remember turning to my mom and her looking at me and telling me, “Denise, you have to do it.” I went for it, and I’m really grateful that it all began with lingerie because it allowed me to unapologetically bare it all.
Time went by, and I started booking more campaigns, modeling gigs, and fashion shows. But I didn’t realize how hard I worked until COVID first hit the States. Before that, I hadn’t stopped grinding since my daughter was born. I was in constant overdrive.
Grind culture is something that’s hard to put into words because we’ve all just been programmed this way. The world was already set up for me to fail. I believed that in order for me to even hit a certain level of success that felt normal, I had to hit it three times harder than the average person and not just because I’m Latina, but also because I’m a woman.
But the pandemic completely changed the way I looked at all of this. When we had to go into quarantine, the world stopped, and it forced me to stop. There was so much going on for me before COVID happened. I had these major career breakout moments in modeling from 2015 to 2017. Then I started working on television stuff with Univision, and it was also a lot of traveling back and forth. My daughter was growing up and about to become a teenager, and I was also experiencing agency changes. I had a big deal with Olay. Big opportunities were coming, and I was traveling the world, but there was never a moment where I could afford to slow down. Finally, it hit me that I needed a break.
I was in my house with my teenager and my hairstylist – together for a year. It was just us three against the world. We would garden, cook, work out, or hang out in the pool. I learned new skills and new things about myself. These were skills that I never had time to learn during my 20s because I was always working.
Later that year, I got into a relationship with the rapper everyone knows as Lil Wayne, and we had a very public breakup.
Later that year, I got into a relationship with the rapper everyone knows as Lil Wayne, and we had a very public breakup. When we split, I got very depressed. It was all very shocking to me. I was unprepared for it. I had been single my entire adult life. It was always just me and my kid. So it took a lot to push myself through the pain of that breakup. It was hard, because while I was grieving the ending of that relationship, I wound up losing a lot of weight and everyone would comment on my Instagram and tell me I looked great and asked me what I was doing to lose the weight. Meanwhile, all I wanted to say was that I was depressed, so I decided to deactivate my page to protect my mental health.
For most of my career, I’ve felt so supported by my fans, my social media followers, and the industry. But that was the first time that I felt super alienated and alone. Fast forward to this year, and I found myself back to working and traveling nonstop. Even though opportunities were coming, I was beginning to feel burnt out by my industry again. When I launched my No Wrong Way movement years ago, I was serious about spreading the word about body positivity and making people of all shapes and sizes feel seen and represented. But I’ve been seeing a lot less of that narrative in recent years, and I needed a reset. I needed to feel inspired again.
This summer, I decided to prioritize rest by visiting my family’s country of Puerto Rico with my 15-year-old daughter. It’s been the first real vacation we’ve taken where we actually did nothing. Being on this island, surrounded by nature and family, helped me to find my motivation and my voice again.
During my time there, I started posting new photos of me just resting in Puerto Rico – rocking bikinis and proudly showing off my stretch marks and my cellulite. The positive feedback from my followers reminded me why I went into modeling in the first place. It reminded me why cultivating representation and encouraging women to feel confident in their bodies is so important. All of a sudden, people are back on my page since I reactivated it, commenting things like, “Oh my god, you make me feel so beautiful.” I didn’t realize that there’s been a gap of years where we just haven’t been seeing as much of this kind of messaging happening anymore.
I’m really proud to still be that girl who was talking about these things earlier in my career, because I still feel the exact same way when it comes to body positivity and representation. I still believe in women feeling their best regardless of what size they are, and my stretch marks and cellulite are still here, years later. Being in Puerto Rico and taking time to rest, pour into myself, and be present has made me feel empowered again, like the version of me years ago who was walking down the runway flaunting my curves and my imperfections.
Rest is almost synonymous with peace of mind. I can’t have one without the other. So many times, we’re told you have to reach certain milestones or check off certain goals – whether it’s career goals, looking a certain way, marriage, or being a parent – in order to be happy, and it’s like, no, you can be happy right now. I promise you.
– As told to Johanna Ferreira