Friday, October 28, 2011

All Eyez On...:Chenese Lewis

The month of October is a great month that talks to not just Halloween but breast cancer awareness and self-love/body acceptance. In honor of that, we end the month with our feature interview with Chenese Lewis. Her career resume spans from plus size pageantry and modeling to public speaking and acting. However, most importantly, she is a advocate for body acceptance and an icon in the plus size community. She continues to inspire, not just plus size women, but women everywhere. I had the pleasure of talking to her about some important events she had during October and more...

Hi Chenese! “Love Your Body Day” happened on October 22, for which you are the creator and producer for your local chapter in Los Angeles, CA (in the Hollywood area). Please tell us more about this wonderful event.
Love Your Body Day was launched by the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1998. I joined Hollywood NOW and created an event for my local chapter. This year marks my 6th year producing Hollywood NOW’s Love Your Body Day, which over the years has gotten bigger and bigger from a one day event to a whole weekend of events.

Are there any other chapters/cities that hold their own “Love Your Body Day”?
Yes, there are Love Your Body Day events across the country that are organized by other NOW chapters or on college campuses; they just aren’t as big and highly publicized as mine, so some might not be aware of something already going on in their town.

You are also the spokesperson for BEDA, which stands for: Binge Eating Disorder Association. How did that come about and what does that mean to you?
I am really excited to be the spokesperson for such a wonderful organization! Before getting involved with this organization, it had never crossed my mind that a plus size woman could have an eating disorder, and there wasn’t any awareness in the plus size community about it. Every time I got invited to an eating disorder event, it was always focused on Anorexia and Bulimia and I always associated eating disorders with very thin women. Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder and there are a lot of plus size women that have it. As the BEDA Spokesperson, I will help increase awareness around unrealistic “body-perfect” ideals, binge eating disorder and several associated conditions, including compulsive and emotional eating, and food addiction.

Chenese, you were the first crowned Miss Plus America in 2003 without any prior pageant experience or formal training. To me, that just really shows that anything is possible if you want it bad enough and are willing to pursue those dreams. So what inspired you to enter that pageant?
I was searching online for opportunities in plus size modeling, at the time I was still living in Louisiana and I was looking for exposure. I stumbled upon the Miss Plus America pageant on-line and was excited to find there was something going on that wasn’t too far from my hometown. I was inspired reading about the women who had already entered the pageant and just inspired about having a platform that celebrated plus size women.

Do you feel that pageant was the springboard for your successful career in modeling, public speaking, hosting and acting? You are such a wonderful advocate and icon for positive body image. What advice would you give curvy girls who are trying to break into the plus model business and/or plus pageantry world?
The pageant title was not necessarily a springboard for my career, since I was the first to hold the title, no one knew much about it beforehand. So in addition to promoting myself, I had to create awareness about the pageant. However it definitely gave me something different and unique to use to market myself to get attention, and I worked it to my advantage. The plus model business and plus pageantry are two different worlds, in my opinion. A pageant title won’t help you book modeling jobs if you don’t have what it takes. I think the pageant title is good for those looking to be advocates about their platforms.

Plus Model Magazine coined you “A Leader in the Curvy Revolution” and Project Curve Appeal calls you the “Plus Size It Girl”. What do these titles mean to you?
I’m very honored to be thought of that highly by my peers, it really means a lot. So often we tear each other down instead of lifting each other up, like we should. It means a lot for someone to take the time to recognize you in a positive way, rather it’s an award or just a few kind words, I’m grateful for it all and don’t take it for granted. Sometimes even the motivator needs motivating!

What are your thoughts on the reality show “Big Sexy”? Did you feel it was an accurate portrayal of the life of a plus size woman trying to break into the fashion world? Do you think the show helps the mainstream public to see plus size women in a more positive light?
I loved the show! I don’t think every plus size woman’s story is the same, and I think they had a diverse set of women with different personalities and life experiences. I think the show helped show plus size women in a positive light, which is what we are all fighting for, and I think it was a win for not only the women on the show but the entire plus size community. I hope it helps to open doors for more diversity on television.

Who inspires you in the plus size/curvy community?
All of the women in the community inspire me that are confident and living their lives to the fullest! However my ultimate inspiration comes from women in mainstream media like Oprah and Queen Latifah.

You also launched Plus Model Radio in early 2008 and it is currently the #1 podcast for plus size women. What does Plus Model Radio cover?
PLUS Model Radio covers everything for curvy women, including up close and personal conversations with a wide range of industry experts. On the show I interview the who’s who of the plus size community, and give the audience an inside look into the industry. Guests include top plus size models, actresses, designers, reality stars, etc.
You were honored by Project Curve Appeal with a Curvy Icon award during the 2011 Pink City Sisterhood Conference, held in Atlanta, GA this year, Sept 30-Oct 2. Congratulations on that! Very well deserved. Please tell us more about the Curvy Icon award and what it means to you.
I was honored with the Curvy Icon Award for my dedication and work within the plus size community for over 10 years. I’m honored to be recognized in such a way, and like I said before I’m grateful for those in the community that support my work in any way.

You also hosted this year’s Rock The Runway (an event for women of all sizes) earlier this month and will host the Miss Plus Top Model Awards on October 30th. You’ve accomplished so much and continue to inspire and empower curvy women everywhere. What’s next for you?
I am blessed to have so many events on my schedule, but there is always room for more! I have hosting events already being scheduled for 2012 around the country, as well as acting and spokesperson projects in the works.

What advice and wisdom would you offer to plus size women everywhere who may need some words of encouragement or help with accepting and loving themselves at the size they currently are?
I would tell anyone who is feeling down about their size to quit critiquing your body, sometimes we can be our own worst critics, no one is perfect. They should start focusing on the things they like about their self instead and what other qualities and skills they have to offer the world besides their physical appearance. Work on being healthy rather than obsessing over being a certain size. At the end of the day, it’s the size of your heart that matters, not the size of your body.

(Photos courtesy of and
Visit Chenese on-line at or tune into Plus Model Radio at
For more information on some of the events or organizations mentioned above, please check out:

Love Your Body Day:
Miss Plus Top Models Awards:
Rock The Runway:
Project Curve Appeal:
Miss Plus America:

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