CeCe Olisa, body positive influencer and one of the founders of theCURVYcon moved to New York to perform. She made the cross-country trip from her home in California to attend The New School to study musical theater. She was a triple threat; she could sing, she could act, she could dance — and she succeeded. She was a working actor for a time, but when she tried to level up to Broadway there was a roadblock. When it came to casting her, those with the power saw her weight as a barrier to entry. “My weight was an issue for casting directors,” she tells Yahoo Style. “I was a young, bright, dancer girl — I was really good at dancing and I had all this energy — but they wouldn’t give a plus-size girl those parts.”
“It took a toll on me, my body image, my confidence,” she says. To keep her sanity intact she decided to take a break from acting. She took a corporate job, and to keep her creative juices flowing, she started blogging — personal diary style — on the side. Very quickly her blog came to focus on what was troubling her the most — her body image. “I was basically using my blog to have the conversations that I couldn’t really have with my skinny friends — I was the only plus-size person in my group,” she says. “I would try to tell my skinny friends what I was going through and they’d basically be like, ‘No! You’re beautiful! Don’t worry about it!’ Nobody really wanted to discuss it any further. So I was like, ‘gosh, this isn’t resonating with them, maybe I just need to get these thoughts out.'”
Olisa remembers that a lot of her early blogs were about hating different parts of her body, her arms for example. “I have PCOS which is an endocrine issue and it affects your weight among other things. I felt like I was at war with my body,” she says.
“When I first started blogging I was still of the mindset that I needed to be skinny to get what I wanted in life. That I needed to lose weight to be happy,” she says. “And not only to lose weight, I thought I needed to be thin. I felt like being thin was going to bring the success that I was looking for whether it was in career or in relationships.”
But then the comments started pouring in. And not the negative comments so pervasive on the internet; positive comments. People wrote in saying, “I feel like that too,” “I’m going through the same things.”
Through the community fostered via her blog, Olisa found body positivity within herself. “Finding a community of people who hear you when you’re vulnerable and say, ‘I understand and I feel the same way,’ it can really change your life,” she says.
“I kind of realized the thing that was holding me back was me,” she says. “That’s when my personal motto became ‘don’t wait on your weight to live the life you want.'”
She started working out again not to lose weight but because she liked the feeling of moving her body. She started wearing tank tops on dates, a previous fear, because why not? “I did everything I could to put [the motto] into practice even if that meant going on vacation and parasailing even when I was scared that the weight limit wasn’t really what they said it was,” she says.
“I’ve been plus-size since I was a little kid,” she says. “Being plus-size might just be part of my story and if that’s the case, am I going to live this limited or edited life because of that? Or am I going to take that for what it is and not put my entire life on hold while I wait to get skinny when I’ve never been skinny. I’m tall, I can’t wait to get short. I could wake up and be 40 and not have done anything I wanted to do.”
In 2015 Olisa quit her corporate job and began to focus full-time on her work as a blogger, and plus-size style influencer. That year also marked the kick-off of theCURVYcon, a two-day body positive conference she runs with her business partner Chastity Garner. She’s also gotten back into something she truly loves: fitness, and looking forward she’ll be bringing fitness tips via Instagram and videos to other plus-size people. “Now I work out because I love my body, not because I hate it,” she says. “Working out with positive energy is totally different than working out to try and get rid of pieces of yourself.”
Olisa now works out four days per week attending fitness classes, dance classes, bootcamps, and, knowing the restrictions that being plus-size can sometimes put on things like joint mobility, she’s tailored a lot of those movements for her body type. Now she’s bringing those modifications to others who might also want to be as active, but aren’t sure how to begin. Her free video series “How to Get Fit with Bad Knees” already has a big following, and she’s currently working with a trainer to create full-length work out videos for plus-size people. She also often posts about fitness on her Instagram, sharing tips and tricks of the plus-size fitness trade. “I try to find the things that I know that plus-size bodies are struggling with when it comes to fitness and create videos that will address those issues specifically,” she says.
“There are things in my life that I don’t feel as fearless about,” she says. “Like wearing a bikini. But people have made those things accessible for me. So fitness is something that I try to make accessible for all different body types.”
Olisa is doing all she can to bring her positive ethos to the rest of the plus-size community, but she recognizes that her outlook hasn’t always been so sunny. “There’s that quote that says, ‘be who you needed when you were younger,’ and I feel like I get to be that for people,” she says. “I grew up plus-size and I didn’t ever think that there was any good in that. I hated it. There are a lot of people who say that plus-size influencers promote obesity, but I don’t promote anything except for loving yourself where you are right now. If you have goals go for them, reach them. But it doesn’t mean who you wake up as every morning is a terrible person. It wasn’t until my early 20s when I started my blog that I could even wrap my head around something like that.
“I’m just doing me the best way I know how.”
Read more from Yahoo Style + Beauty:
- The important reason Chrissy Metz is headlining theCURVYcon 2017: ‘Her body type is a little bit different’
- This plus-size model’s career began on a dare
- Princess Diana’s fashion evolution in pictures, from her childhood to her death