Rethinking bias | 

Irish plus-size model Jessica Cinelli says 'I’m not brave for posing in lingerie'

Jessica Cinelli tells Denise Smith how being called ‘fat’ holds no power over her anymore

Jessica says she’s getting together with friends this Valentine’s Day

Denise Smith

Ask Jessica Cinelli what’s the worst Valentine’s gift she has ever received, and she’ll tell you with no hesitation: “When I was a teenager, I was sent a big teddy and a card which was signed off, ‘From your secret admirer.’

"I thought it was from my crush and nearly lost my mind but it turned out my dad had sent it to me. I was absolutely devastated when I found out a few days later,” laughs the Dubliner as she reclines into a high stool awaiting hair and makeup.

In the years since, the body positivity advocate has moved on from that ill-fated token of love and fast become one of Ireland’s most influential models.

Before Cupid’s arrow strikes, the recently single Irish-Italian is preaching to women everywhere that self-love is the only mantra to live by tomorrow and every other day of the year.

Jessica wears a Tutti Rouge Maya bralette, €24.95, and knickers, €12.95

“You don’t need to have someone for Valentine’s Day. Bring yourself out for dinner and buy yourself lingerie and chocolates. I buy myself flowers every week – make yourself a priority.

“I am such a cheesy romantic kind of person, and this will be one of the first Valentine’s Day I will be single in years but so many of my friends have just come out of relationships, so we are going to have a Galentine’s Day and get together and have fun. My advice is to celebrate yourself.”

All silk spun hair and doe-eyes, the 29-year-old commands the set of our Magazine Plus shoot as she changes from one lingerie set to the next with the ease and confidence of a veteran model.

At the heart of the conversation surrounding body positivity and size inclusivity in Ireland, the mum-of-one first began to turn heads when she began posting empowering selfies and photos during lockdown.

“I wanted other women like me to be seen and my page honestly just blew up. There are so many women out there who just want to see a body that looks like theirs in the mainstream. My private messages are full of women who are on the journey to accepting their bodies exactly as they are.”

Jessica wears a Penneys robe, €18

Love may be in the air but Jessica who recently appeared on RTÉ’s The Talk, discussing body image wants people to understand that dating can be a hotbed of anxiety when you’re living in a bigger body.

“As a plus-size person you are very conscious with online dating that when they meet you they are going to think you are fatter in person and not be as attracted to you.

“When I was on Tinder years ago I would write that in my bio, ‘fatter in person,’ so that if I met someone they wouldn’t be shocked. When I think back, I was so worried about what they thought about my size whereas I should have been more focused on whether or not I liked them.

“Then you have men who are so attracted to plus-size women that it’s a fetish.

“You are battling between the person not being attracted to you because you are fat and then this person just wanting your body just because you are fat.

“There are a lot of men who don’t want to date you but just want to have sex with you just because of your body type, which is bizarre.

“I get all types of weird messages and weird requests offering me money but I am not an escort.

“One man offered to pay me €500 if I met up with him and kicked him in the balls. They don’t see you as a person, they see you as this challenge they want to conquer.”

To further appreciate how difficult it is to date when society repeatedly tells you that there is something fundamentally wrong with your body, Jessica adds:

“The people that are normal might be embarrassed to date you in public or tell their family or friends about you because people still have fatphobic opinions about appearance.

“Years ago I let a lot of things slide because I would have just been happy to have someone date me but this time round I am so much more confident. I have my self-worth now. I haven’t been on a date because there is such a hook-up culture.”

After years of disordered eating and realising that she no longer needs to spend her entire life making her body smaller, tomorrow you’ll most likely find the social media star dancing around in her underwear.

“Lingerie lifts my mood completely. My self-love tip is to get into sexy underwear and dance around my room.”

A self-love practice which is a world away from when the Biabelle brand ambassador used to openly despise her body.

Jessica wears a PrettyLittleThing striped robe, €30, and lace body, €32

“I used to stand in front of my mirror and cry because of the way I looked. I avoided pictures and the mirror all the time. I asked to join a slimming club when I was eight years old. I have a nearly 8-year-old now and if he turned around to me and said, ‘mam I am fat I want to go on a diet.’ it would break my heart.

“I dieted from the age of 10 to 24. It was constant and it was mentally exhausting.

“I used to think stretch marks were the most disgusting things and that I was the only person who had them. Through social media you realise that both men and women have them. Now I look at them like a work of art and I am so proud of my body every single day for what it has done for me.”

Reclaiming the word fat, Jessica says:

“You could call me fat now and I would just be like okay, because that word no longer holds any power over me.

“But it does annoy me when I say, ‘I am fat’ and someone says, ‘but you are beautiful.’ I may have said I was fat but I never said I was ugly.

“I also hate when people tell me I am brave for posting pictures of myself wearing lingerie on Instagram. We need to stop thinking fat people are brave for simply existing. If you think it is brave for someone who looks like me and has a body like me to post photos in underwear and bikinis, stop and think to yourself for moment, why do you think this?

“Do you think it is brave when you see smaller bodies do the same? Or is it society’s beauty standards that have you brainwashed to think this body isn’t beautiful?”

Jessica wears a Penneys mocha bralette set, €6, and robe, €18

Looking towards a potential future in media, the curvy model reveals:

“I love doing TV and podcasts but I would love to set up self-love workshops because I think it is such an important message to get out there. When it comes to television in Ireland I also think we need more diversity in different sizes, ages and colour, it needs to catch up with the rest of the world.”

Just a word of warning, if you are hoping to woo the top model, sliding into her DM’s won’t impress her much.

“I want someone that is loyal, and I won’t lie, my type is tall, dark and handsome. He has to make me laugh and obviously be a good person too. But honestly, I am happy out on my own and that’s the most important thing.”

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