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It's Okay To Be Thankful... Even After Great Loss

"What if, today, we were grateful for everything?" ~ Charlie Brown

Every New Year's Eve for the last six years, I have spent my last evening of the year sobbing in bed, feeling like I was getting further and further away from my dad and then my brother as each new year ushered in. 

My anxiety during the first two years was at an old time high. I was so afraid that as each new year started, that meant more time since my dad passed away and that my memories of him and us would fade along with him.

Then when my brother Danny died three years after my dad, I had double grief and was all over the place because one moment, I would be crying over my dad and then another moment over my brother. And then I would feel guilty for grieving over one more than the other or not thinking of them at all at times.

See, I cling to those memories with every fiber of my being because they are all I have left of the best two men I have known and the first two loves of my life. My heroes, my blood, my family.

My brother Danny with his three daughters
Usually around the holidays in general, I will admit, I tend to check out emotionally so I just don't have to deal. I'm there but not there. By the time NYE rolls around, I am so mentally exhausted from checking out, that the emotions come flooding in.

But this year, I realized that I can't check out anymore. I'm not that person anymore. There's this thing called Growth that has taken control of my life and it's a good thing, even though I went into it kicking and screaming. It's harder to let yourself feel because that means facing things head on.

The new normal is good. And I have realized that it's okay to be thankful even after suffering a great loss. 

I'm thankful to still be alive and I can feel something wonderful is on its way in my career and in my life. I'm thankful for my mom and nieces. I'm thankful that I'm on the road to healing and becoming the best person I can be.

The holidays are always a time of reflection -- it's bittersweet for me. But I am learning to be thankful and happy, even after such a great loss in my life. 

Now Thanksgiving and Christmas was still hella hard. I fell into a place of depression and it was a daily fight to emerge from that black hole that had become so familiar and at times, actually felt safe. I can stand still and not let the world in. I clung to that sadness in a way because it made those memories of them present and dominant in my mind. 

But after Christmas, I was done. Something in me had changed. I could not live each holiday season like this. I was feeling different and I felt I was ready to let go.

So this New Year's Eve, for the first time in six years, I did not sob in bed. I decided to go into the New Year with a smile. I did not watch the ball drop as that is a trigger for me in terms of making me sad and mourn what I lost or don't have in my life. I ushered in the New Year listening to Stevie Wonder's Superstition and playing Uno online. And I was happy.

Grief is a process with no timetable. I am healing little by little one day at a time. I continue to go to therapy once a week and I am learning that I will never forget my dad and brother no matter how much time has passed. They will always be with me.

What my dad wrote in my autograph book when I graduated from elementary school - he knew back then of my greatness.
It's okay to miss them. It's okay to cry sometimes. It's okay to grieve. But I refuse to let my grief define me or take over my life. There will always a tough moment but why should I give my time away to grief? Why should my life stop? I know that's not what my dad and brother would want.

My dad and I in Atlantic City 
I also have learned to assert myself more and know that it's only up to me on how I grieve. And it's okay for me to let people know that. I will not "get over it" and I am not "dwelling" on it. No one knows the relationship I had with them nor do they know how I feel. We all have our own experiences and how we grieve. We all have different ways to deal with grief and I believe we should be considerate and understanding of that. So I basically tell others now who criticize me in this respect, "Let me live and I will let you live." Because see, there is no wrong way to grieve. You just do.

Next up, the month of April... my dad's 7th anniversary is April 10th and my brother's birthday is April 22nd. Usually, that month is so hard for me but this year, I am hopeful it will be a little easier. That's what self-healing is all about. I want to live again and not just exist. Not only for myself but for them.

Fearless Flying: Mexico City Showed Me That Amazing Things Are Coming

"Traveling. It leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller." ~ Ibn Battuta

Right after Thanksgiving, I got a text from someone offering me a wonderful opportunity that I knew was a sign that amazing things are coming. YEAH!

Photography: Jessica Milagros / Jacket: Torrid
That someone was Melina Alarcon, designer and owner of Generose, a new plus size women's clothing line, designed by her and manufactured in her home country of Mexico. 

I met Melina at Full Figured Fashion Week in June 2017 where she showed her collection at the event's finale runway showcase. I remember sitting front row with Maddy Jones, Editor-in-Chief of Plus Model Magazine, and constantly turning to her and ooooohing and ahhhhing as each look hit the runway.

Generose on the runway at FFF Week 2017
Me with Maddy Jones (center) and Sarah Chiwaya of the blog Curvily Fashion
See, Melina had a dream to be able to offer stylish and high-quality clothing to plus size women, particularly over a size 22. In Mexico, plus size fashion is not very accessible and most plus size women in Mexico shop online or travel into the US to shop. There are no plus size stores to shop in and there's not even a big plus size fashion presence there. Melina wants to change that.

Melina Alarcon
As a Latina and a woman over a size 22, I felt her passion and believed in it. I believe no woman should be deprived of fashion and accessible clothing in her size. Your weight or size should have nothing to do with you dressing well. Fashion can help you build your confidence and self love and then that, in turn, will inspire you to live your best life.

One of Melina's sketches for Generose
Melina and I spent some time in Atlanta last summer at the TCF Style Expo, which she invited me to attend with her as her guest. It really gave us the opportunity to get to know each other and also for me to try on some of her dresses! 

I loved her idea of including an inner corset so you have all the support you need to the point where you don't even have to wear a bra! The way she designs her dresses are smart and meant to celebrate your curves. Yup, not wearing a bra in the above images and I'm an F cup.

Fast forward to last month and that text... 

Melina asked if I would come to Mexico City and be her size 28 fit model, as well as offer any fit input and ideas. WOW! This was a major opportunity I could not turn down so of course, I said yes! You rarely see fit models my size used so this was something I could not pass up.

So off to Mexico City I went! I was only there two days and I was exhausted the entire time from the high altitude that caused me to have a headache and aggravated my sinuses. But I did not let that stop me from enjoying this experience to the fullest and being present for it. When you are working as a model in any capacity, there is no space for complaining, slacking or a bad attitude. You'd be surprised at how fast word travels when a model is unprofessional while on a job. Plus, I was so humbled at the opportunity that I could have been on crutches and I still would have done it.

Molletes con Tecino AKA Spanish bread with frijoles, toasted with cheese and bacon - YUM!
Melina and I ate some amazing food, talked for hours and she let me get a look into her design life. I was so blown away from being in an actual design house where I saw her designs being created and tailored to our measurements. The folks at the design house were so amazing! They listened to our feedback and did not treat us any differently because we were plus size. 

Size 16 fit model

I went in with the mindset that I was not only offering feedback from my point of view but also other women who may not have the same body shape as mine. I'm a cross between an hourglass and pear, not quite either one. And I have large upper arms and large calves. However, I do know women my size who have smaller arms than I or larger hips or who carry their weight in the belly or on top. I feel ALL these women have to be represented and while it's tough to design ready-to-wear clothing to fit all shapes and sizes, it can be done.

I have a long torso and short legs despite being 5'7" so I need a shorter inseam even though I am not considered petite. But there are those of us with the opposite situation too! And let's not forget the tall girls either. So this was a great opportunity to not only educate others on plus size bodies but also showing them that when it fits well, it looks amazing!

I left Mexico City feeling so excited as to what's to come. Melina said I would be back for more fittings and who knows after that? This is why I always tell others that it pays to be nice to people, network and be authentic. Always remain humble and know that no one owes you a thing. I don't care if you have 1 million followers on social media or the most perfect images in the world, you are not entitled to anything. You have to chase your own dreams, be willing to work hard and be true to yourself.

Never compare your journey to someone else's. If someone else received any opportunity that you wanted, that just means it was not meant for you. And that's okay because there are other amazing things out there meant just for you. 

For me, I'm realizing I'm more passionate about making my voice in this industry from a fit perspective. We all have our part in advancing plus size fashion and I feel like this is what I am meant to be doing. This has been something that I have been involved in for years but I was so focused on doing other things and watching what others were doing that I couldn't see it. Now I do.

When you realize your purpose, the sky's the limit. You just gotta keep it real with yourself. And be open to the possibilities.

Mexico City was magical. It was filled with street art, vintage cars, the hustle and bustle of a city on the move as well as friendly folks. Not to mention it's so cheap for us because the US dollar is strong there. Great food, so many great sights to see and just overall, an unforgettable city.

Stay tuned to the blog next week for more on my trip, including my experience flying with Interjet and my review of a piece from Melina's Spring 2018 RTW line for Generose.

You can check out more of Generose on Instagram here.

What do you want to see in plus size fashion (in terms of styles and pieces), especially for women over a size 22? I would love to know so hit me up in the comments below!

Goodbye 2017: What An Incredible Year of Lots of Hair Colors & More!

"Oh, when I look back now / That summer seemed to last forever / And if I had the choice / Yeah, I'd always wanna be there / Those were the best days of my life." ~ Summer of 69, Bryan Adams

I started 2017 with blue hair and a mission to keep the momentum from 2016 up. And 2017 did not disappoint!

I kicked off the year with a Lane Bryant collaboration with the IG Wives to introduce their new Allie pant in a body diverse social media campaign. I was also featured by Avenue in their Blogger's Closet section for February. AND... BodyPositivity.com named me one of the 11 Bloggers Inspiring The Body Positive Movement.

Meanwhile, I started my second year with Gwynnie Bee where my work as a First Fit Model and Reviewer continued. Customers continue to love my reviews and I am humbled at how I have inspired women to try new styles and wear better fitting clothing.

I was also featured in Society Plus's 7 Days of Midi Love campaign in February and I was so happy to be able to have the opportunity to style their midi skirt my way and stay true to myself and my style. It's so important to show diversity, not only in bodies, but in style, too.

In February, I also launched my second lookbook sponsored by Igigi, featuring bloggers and influencers spanning sizes 14 to 32, including two big and tall males as well as petite and tall women. The Lookbook Project will continue in 2018 because I think it's a great visual way to show diversity in not only bodies but race, gender and style.

My hair became mermaid green in time for my travels to Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose in late April/early May, where I did some amazing things like a closet sale at The Plus Bus, a tour of Making It Big's headquarters, attending a book signing for Jessamyn Stanley, attending the Torrid Pool Party, getting fitted for bras at Curvy Couture, speaking for the first time at Curvy Girl Lingerie about fashion above a size 24 and shooting a body diverse fashion campaign for SWAK Designs where I got to channel my inner Super Heroine. 

I also visited designers Melissa Masse and Jill Alexander, who have become dear friends of mine over the years. I finally got to meet celebrity stylist Malia Anderson! And let's not forget, I wore a two-piece bathing suit on the beach for the first time in decades.

The LA portion of my trip was so special because I got to experience it with my friend and little sis Alysse of the blog Ready to Stare. We created a bond that will last a lifetime. It's amazing to me how you make friends with people along your journey who add so much color and happiness to your life. She inspires me on so many levels including not being afraid to truly be me with no apologies.

We ate black ice cream, went to see the Elote Man for some deliciousness, stayed in a hella cool Air BnB, dealt with LA traffic and ate authentic Mexican food at 11pm at night. And... took some amazing pictures along the way.

At this point, the mermaid hair and I were gearing up for summer, which was all about events and my first Facebook Live with Dia & Co! I was nervous but their followers really loved me and it has motivated me to do more Live sessions in 2018. Full Figured Fashion Week was amazing as usual and in July, I headed to Atlanta to attend the TCF Style Expo for the first time. 

At FFF Week, I met a woman who will forever change my life. Melina Alarcon, the Mexican designer behind Generose, is one of the best people I have ever met. She showed her collection at FFF Week and we connected shortly thereafter where she invited me to go to the TCF Style Expo with her. Since then, that relationship has not only blossomed into a partnership where she is using me as her size 28 fit model but also a friendship. I would not have gone to Altanta if it weren't for her. Everything happens for a reason. Stay tuned to the blog for more on this new partnership of mine and how it is going to evolve in 2018.

After TCF, I celebrated my 47th birthday with an all girls staycation that involved my first trip to a spa and an awesome feminist-geared tour at the MET. At this point, my hair was pink and it mirrored my mood... happy, fun and girly. 

The pink hair and I then had a blast during New York Fashion Week and Curvy Con the following month. My dream of attending the Project Runway finale runway show came true and I loved how I got to see so many of my blogger sisters at Curvy Con.

I went to Torrid's after party, Additionelle's store event where I met Jordyn Woods and I also co-hosted an event with All67 at the Gregory Hotel. NYFW and Curvy Con was a whirlwind that left me so empowered and happy.

During this time, I also shot my first non-fashion campaign with Big Fig Mattress. This was major for me! I also loved that I got to shoot with my blogger brother Kavah King of Gentlemen's Curb, which helped me feel more at ease on set.

The latter part of the year had me visiting Chicago where I spoke in my first breakout session at the Dream Big Curvy Girl Beauty and Fashion Conference. It was the first time I spoke about my mental health and how I built my confidence which enables me to live my best life. Mental health is such a taboo topic to speak about and I feel like it should be talked about more. That's one of my goals moving forward into 2018.

I met so many incredible women in Chicago and I just love that city where I now consider it my second home. I cried A LOT during my time there but it was tears of joy and empathy. Women came up to me, telling me how I inspire them to live their best lives and the crowd's reaction after my session was something I will never forget. As I looked at the line of women waiting to meet me after and seeing all of them in tears and just embracing me in tight hugs, my spirit was so full. I've been asked to speak in 2018 so hope to see you in Chicago!

After Chicago, things started to wind down a little. I did a great collab with 4 other bloggers and influencers over a size 24 where we all wore the same size 28 jeans from Avenue and shared our experiences as the same size but different body shapes and measurements.

I also celebrated along with my blogger sister and dear friend Darlene of Suits, Heels and Curves at her baby shower in early November.  Work at Gwynnie Bee was gearing up for holiday and was keeping me busy. I attended the The Business of Curves event at FIT where I got the courage to ask the panel about fashion over a size 24. 

I also got to hang out with singer/songwriter Mary Lambert where we shopped at the #PlusPop pop-up shop at the Gregory Hotel in early December. Connecting with Alexis of plus BKLYN this year and visiting her store is one of the major highlights of my year. I ended the year with a trip to Mexico City to do some fitting for Generose's Spring 2018 line and finding out that I am a 2018 Lifestyled Honors recipient. So I will see you Atlanta in April!

I'm ending the year with blue/pink ombre hair and a full heart. My spirit is overflowing with humility, gratefulness and love. 2017 was simply amazing and I can't wait to see what 2018 has in store for me, including what hair colors I will do next. Stay tuned and thanks for rocking with me this year!!! Love y'all!

What were the highlights of 2017 for you? What are your goals in 2018? What are you looking forward to? Comment below and let's chat!