Plus-size model and influencer Jessica Cinelli talks to IMAGE about her journey to loving her body, and inspiring others to do the same
Baring your body on social media can be a minefield. When your appearance is up for debate, comments can range from adoring to hateful, and the pressures of Instagram are heightened. Putting yourself in the spotlight in the name of body-positivity is a tough but necessary job for plus-size influencers, like Jessica Cinelli.
Cinelli is a model and influencer who speaks regularly about the importance of self-love and embracing the skin you're in. Through her TikToks and Instagram posts, Cinelli encourages her followers to take a leaf out of her book of body-positivity, which took her on a long journey.
Looking through her Instagram, Cinelli is the epitome of confidence; she's clearly very happy in front of the camera, and looks stunning in her self-made shoots, with each and every caption addressing the need to love and accept your body. It's easy to assume that Cinelli has always been completely at home in her body, but it didn't always come naturally.
"It’s been a long hard process [to love my body] and still is a process. I have my good and bad days even now," she reveals. "I remember being as young as 8 or 9 and hating my body. When I was a teenager and even in college, I cried every single time I had a party to go to. I’d say my friends hated getting ready with me", she continues. "We knew as soon as I went to put on my outfit for the night that there was a 30 minute meltdown coming, where I’d lie on my bed and cry inconsolably about how ugly and fat I felt."
When Cinelli was 21, she fell pregnant, and her body went through massive changes. Cinelli's bump and stretch marks affected her confidence even more, but she hoped that when she had her son, her body would return to normal. But the struggle to accept how she looked became even harder than before. "I really let it affect me for the first two years of motherhood. I wouldn’t go to swimming classes with my baby. I wouldn’t let anyone take full length photos of me. I stopped living life, all because of how I looked."
Cinelli's journey to self-love began in the unlikeliest of places — social media. "I started following body positive accounts on Instagram, and read self-love tips and quotes. I surrounded myself with women who were so confident and positive in the plus size modelling community, it influenced me."
Cinelli's own Instagram profile began to grow, as she became more comfortable in sharing her journey with self-love. She cites the "amazing, supportive and empowering women" who follow her as a driving force in her confidence, but as her popularity grew, so did the negativity.
Cinelli is quick to point out that only around 2% of the messages she receives are negative — but she has noticed a common theme. "It’s so strange that most of the negativity I get is from men," she says. "It's bizarre that they even feel entitled to comment on women’s bodies so freely. I've never seen women commenting on men’s bodies on social media in the same way."
Those that cite health and fitness as a reason to criticise Cinelli are some of the most annoying. "They pretend they care about plus size people's health to seem like they're not shallow", she says. "They’ll comment things like 'you’re going to get diabetes' and I’m like 'what has diabetes got to do with me wearing a crop top?'.
The plus-size movement
If you search the #bodypositive hashtag on Instagram, thousands of images appear. Some are truly inspiring — women post-surgery, women with disabilities, plus-size women reclaiming their bodies in a world that has traditionally told them that they should be hidden. But there are also thousands of conventional bodies — thin, athletic, white women, praised for showing a body that is already celebrated.
Cinelli finds the issue hard to reckon with. "Of course body positivity is for everybody — everybody has insecurities. Smaller, slimmer influencers embracing their insecurities and normalising their bodies is going to help smaller, slimmer people embrace themselves.
"But I think the problem that arises is when these slimmer influencers showing their stretchmarks and their rolls and their cellulite is being praised and their images are being shared positively, whereas plus-size counterparts are being attacked and trolled, with their images being reported and taken off Instagram."
Cinelli says that the problem creates a vicious cycle for plus-size women trying to make their mark on the world. "This will lead to brands that are supposedly embracing body positivity using slimmer women with stretchmarks but stopping at a size 14 or 16. It’s all for show.
"The body positivity movement was started by fat black women, yet the women that are most successful from it are slim white women."
There's no magic answer
Cinelli's career means she has become a role model for women struggling with their self-image. Is it a lot of pressure? "I don't think it's hard, because I'm just being me — I don't have to put on any kind of persona. But sometimes the messages I get can be really heartbreaking and I want to help the person so much that I feel pressure in what I say."
The most common message Cinelli receives time and again is the million dollar question: how do I become confident? According to Cinelli, there’s no magic answer. "I had to spend years fighting against the views I had of myself and others because of the diet culture and beauty standards that are so deeply ingrained into us from a young age. I found focusing on living and making memories helped me to realise that there’s so much more to life and to ourselves than our bodies and how we look.
"I know how it feels to hate yourself and if I can help change one person's view on themselves and help them live a happier life then everything is worth it. "