Since becoming Miss Plus America in 2003, you’ve been busy. Tell me about your journey before winning the title?
I had an interest in modeling and acting prior to enterng the Miss Plus America Pageant, and the reason I entered was because I was looking for more exposure. I lived in a town where there weren’t that many opportunities in the entertainment field so I reached on-line and as a matter of fact I found out about the pageant through Venus Divas.
Once you became Miss Plus America, what other doors opened for you?
Since I was the first person to win the title, not many people knew about the organization, so I had to start from scratch. With the title and crown I created opportunites for myself and exposure to the pageant as a whole that has helped the queens that have came after me.
What did you learn about the business of entertainment while creating your own opportunities?
I learned early on how properly marketing myself and presenting myself in a professional way went a long way. I also learned that everything that glittered is not gold. I was scammed a few times and learned the hard way to take my career into my own hands.
I recall seeing you on BET’s Hell Date. As a plus size woman, how was that experience?
That experience was great for several reasons. First was because it was improvisation, which is fun. I didn’t have to learn lines, so although we had an outline of what we should do, we didnt know how the episode would turn out ourselves because it depended on the persons reaction! This also brought a new fan base to me that was not associated with the plus industry. BET’s Hell Date was a very popular show that re-aired regularly.
Working in entertainment, do you feel like the industry is portrayed unfair as it relates to body image especially when it comes to women?
Absolutely. Where to I start? There are a lack of positive roles for plus size women,women of color, mature women. Hollywood isn’t good with celebrating diversity. It’s getting a little better but there is a really long way to go.
As a plus size woman, what do you think women can do to change the lack of diversity specifically with size acceptance in Hollywood?
The solution would be to create and produce our own projects, but that’s easier said than done. I know a lot of people out here (including myself) with a lot of concepts to pitch to networks but at the end of the day you have to pitch it or sell it to someone who may not have the same vison and goals as you do. If you’re lucky to get a project green lighted, they (producers) will change everything up to make it more “marketable” which probably changes it completely. The internet has given people an avenue to create and produce their own content and distribute directly to the people.
In 2008 Plus Model Radio launched with you as the host. Why did you feel there was a need for such a radio show?
Podcasting was becoming a popular forum on the internet. I listened to other shows, but there wasn’t one geared to the professional plus industry. I was already writing for PLUS Model Magazine as the Empowerment Editor and was in the process of pursuing hosting in addition to acting. I was looking for a way to practice my skills, furthur my brand, and contribute something to the plus community. With the first show it was an instant success and one of the highest rated shows on Blog Talk Radio. I feel like the show is needed because it allows those in the industry and outside of the industry to hear our voice.
You’re also very actively involved with a number of worthy causes. Tell me about your involvement with BEDA (Binge Eating Disorder Association)?
I was recently announced as the official spokesperson for BEDA and I am super excited. Before being exposed to this organization it had never crossed my mind that a plus size woman could have an eating disorder. To some that might sound silly, but I had never put 2 and 2 together. Everytime I got invited to an eating disorder event it was always focused on Anaorexia and Bullemia and I always associated eating disorders with very thin women.
Binge eating disorder is the MOST common eating disorder and there all 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.
You were not alone in not knowing plus size women could be affected by eating disorders. I too had the same mindset. That’s why your involvement is so important. You’re also heavily involved with Hollywood National Organization for Women. Tell me about this organization and how are you involved.
I got involved with Hollywood NOW about 5 or 6 years ago and joined the local chapter to get involved with their Love Your Body campaign. The National Organization for Women has been nationally celebrating Love Your Body Day for years. I did not come up with original concept. Local chapters across the country do various things to celebrate in various way. When I joined my local chapter they weren’t doing anything to celebrate. Since it was something I was very passionate about, I was appointed the Love Your Body Committee Chairperson. This will be my 5th year producing this event and every year it gets bigger and better. This year I will be serving double duty because not only am I the Love Your Body Chairperson but I am also the Hollywood NOW’s chapter president, so I have been very active this year doing a lot of things in my community.
As the Committee Chairperson for Hollywood NOW’s Love Your Body campaign, what message do you want women to receive when attending the annual Love Your Body Day event?
Love Your Body Day is a day of celebration for ALL women. It is a day to promote and instill positve body image and self esteem regardless of your size. Although there are many plus size women that come and support, it is not a plus size event. It celebrates women of all shapes and sizes, everyone should love their bodies whether they are a size 2 or 22. As long as you are healthy and happy that’s all that matters.
My goal with everything I do is to be mainstream and diverse and every event or project that I have produced has reflected that. From Love Your Body Day to PLUS Model Radio, even going back to previous projects from the past. You can’t bring change by dealing with only people that look like you and think like you, you have to reach the people that are opposite to really make an impact and bring change. If everything I did was only within the plus community, that would be the only people who would hear my message, expanding my reach makes my message far more powerful!
What events do you have planned for the rest of the year?
I am hosting the Project Curve Appeal Convention in Las Vegas, NV Oct. 2nd which I am very excited about and of course I have Hollywood NOW Love Your Body Day that is coming up Oct. 22-24 in West Hollywood. It is a FREE community event and a lot of fun. It’s very positive and uplifiting and I’m excited ths year to have America’s Next Top Model cycle 10 winner Whitney Thompson as the celebrity host. We also have some great industry people on the panel discussion that will be announced soon. My entire schedule of events from now until Spring 2011 are on my website, Cheneselewis.com.
Thank you for the opportunity, and I am a huge fan of Daily Venus Diva!
Photographer: Victoria Sprung
Make-Up: Marlene G.
Hair: Jo Williams
Wardrobe Stylist: Bette Tilch