The girl with the pretty face and the big ass — that's what they called model Rosie Mercado in high school. To become a model, she didn't lose the weight. She embraced it. Mercado is 5 feet 9 inches and weighs 293 pounds. She actually weighed 350 pounds when she was chosen to be the face of Full Figured Fashion Week 2010, barely a year after she started modeling.
As a kid growing up in Riverside, she always wanted to be the girl on the catwalk but never imagined it was possible. Instead, she was the one beautifying her skinny friends, doing their hair and makeup. She didn't date, or dance, or go to concerts or prom.
Things only changed for her when she stopped hiding and started living. She turned her makeup skills into a career. Her confidence grew. Now, at 31, her motto is: “If you close the door, I'll find a window.”
People assume she's big because she eats her sorrow. They see her size-26 bottom and size-18 top and decide she must be pretty damn depressed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mercado loves life. She's doing everything now she didn't do when she was younger, she says, her cellphone beeping constantly. She models, styles, works as a makeup artist, travels and hosts red-carpet events. Girls write her to say they've never seen someone her size doing what she's doing. Mercado tells them it isn't about being thin. Real beauty is about being healthy — spiritually, physically and emotionally.
Don't get her wrong. Being big isn't easy. People criticize. They straight up hate, or discriminate. There was the time agents at Southwest Airlines refused to let her fly unless she bought an extra ticket for a second seat. Assholes in line laughed. Mercado cried.
Or the time casting agents asked her to play the fat girl in a 50 Cent video. “We're looking for someone with cankles,” they said. “Please don't be offended, but we need someone really fat and disgusting. Is that you?”
There were the many, many times that fashion industry people flipped through her portfolio, fell in love with her beautiful face, then balked after seeing her in person. “Sorry,” they'd say. “You're too wide.”
Then there are the ones who give her advice. “You have so much talent,” these well-meaning souls say. “Drop the weight and you'd have so much work.”
What do you do with that? You learn how to “be a game player,” Mercado says. “Smile and keep going.”
In mainstream media, there is virtually no representation for larger women. Bias persists even in the plus-size industry. There are a few labels, though, including Igigi and Monif C, breaking the mold. But the bulk of the work still goes to girls who are size 14 and 16. Never mind that the first size to sell out in the women's department is a 24.
“Do I want to be thin?” Mercado considers. “Absolutely not. Plus size is what sets me apart from the rest.”