For Angela Leonor, food is much more than sustenance—it’s a passion. The 23-year-old chef graduated with a degree in culinary arts, worked and continued her studies in Italy, racked up kitchen experience in local restaurants, and has even started her own cookie brand, Pink Bakery by Ange.
When she’s not cooking up a storm, Angela does plus-size modeling. She has modeled swimwear for body-positive brand Alba Beach and Swim—a project that’s right up her alley, as someone who loves the beach and feels the most comfortable and empowered in a swimsuit.
“I love being at the beach in my swimsuit, taking photos, posting them on social media, and showing people—and most importantly myself!—that my body is what it is and I’m more than okay with it,” Angela says.
She may exude the kind of confidence that even skinnier girls struggle to muster up, but it hasn’t always been all smiles and positivity for Angela, who suffered through dieting woes and self-image issues growing up. “I thank my younger self every day for not making other people’s hurtful words about my body define who I was going to become, and instead deciding for myself that I was happy this way and that this was enough for me,” Angela continues.
“I love being at the beach in my swimsuit, taking photos, posting them on social media, and showing people—and most importantly myself!—that my body is what it is and I’m more than okay with it.”
Here, Angela tells us how she got past the unhealthy diets and mindsets of her teenage years, how she now lives and breathes body positivity, and what tips she has for Pinays struggling to see the beauty that’s always been there.
How she promotes body positivity:
“I think the best way to promote body positivity, aside from talking about it, is showing it. I feel like it makes more of an impact if I’m an example of body positivity in real life because people see that, ‘Oh, if that girl can do it, so can I.’ I always try to encourage other girls to love and accept their bodies. Every time I hear a girl talk badly about her body or start to feel insecure, I love giving a good pep talk and an excess amount of overly aggressive compliments.
“I talk about body positivity very openly to anyone—struggles and all. I think that the more people openly talk about their struggles, the more other people will talk about theirs, too, and then you can build relationships with people whom you can help and who can help you on the path to a better outlook on your body. I find that sharing my story empowers me and empowers other people. I like to think of it as becoming the role model of body positivity that I didn’t have growing up.”
How she handles body-shaming:
“Last year, a friend of mine told me that some really nasty things were said about me and my body while I wasn’t there. I remember being so mad about it that I could barely go through my day. I could feel the anger boiling inside me.
“I ended up getting over it after stopping to wonder why I was so mad about it when I knew it wasn’t true. I realized I was letting those words have power over me. The thing with body-shaming is, it’s just words. As long as you’re secure in yourself and you remind yourself that your body is not something to be ashamed of, those words will never have power over you.
“When body-shaming happens to other people, I always make sure to shower them with support. When it happens to me, I always try to remember to give myself the same support I give to others. But most importantly, ignore! People who have enough time to pay attention to your body and give enough effort to publicly shaming you probably have nothing better to do. You’re better than them.”
“As long as you’re secure in yourself and you remind yourself that your body is not something to be ashamed of, those words will never have power over you.”
On growing up overweight:
“I remember always being pushed to go on a diet, lose weight, or exercise when I was as young as Grade 4. As a very young child, I didn’t get it and it just made me feel really, really, really bad about my body. I ended up developing this really messed-up view of diets and working out. I saw them as pain and punishment. I resisted it really hard for a long time, then fell into it really hard in a really unhealthy way.
“In high school, my diet was watched so closely and my weight would be checked almost every week (I now cannot look at a weighing scale ever again). I developed this weird mindset that I was just really so much fatter than all my other friends, but looking back at old photos now, I was so not as fat as I thought I was. I lost the most weight in second year high school and I was at my lightest ever, but I remember still feeling fat even if I was 125 pounds—not fat at all.
“In third year high school, I remember having my fitting for my prom dress a week before the day of the prom and not being able to fit into it, so I didn’t eat anything except cauliflower for a week. It was a mermaid-cut dress, so I could literally see and feel everything. I ended up coming down with a fever four days into it and eventually fitting into my dress. But the feeling of having to lose weight JUST to fit into a dress felt disgusting and unsettling and to this day, I still remember that as one of the most horrible times in my life. I made sure NOT to do that again for senior prom, or ever again, for that matter. I was told to ‘lose weight so you don’t regret your pictures when you look back on it,’ but truthfully, I regret the horrible diet leading up to the day. I still see my photos from that prom and do not see myself at all.”
How her views about her body changed:
“College was when I finally settled into my body and realized that being ‘skinny’ and constantly trying to lose weight was not the way I wanted to live my life forever. I was in culinary school, so I was eating, enjoying myself, and learning. It was during college that I realized how much happier, more productive, and more myself I was when I was not being forced to diet out of vanity. I realized that dieting made me really sad. That’s when I ultimately decided that sacrificing my happiness and possibly my career for looks and to fit into a certain standard of what was acceptable in society was not fair to me. I decided to stop listening to what other people dictated I should look like and focus on the person I wanted to be. When I accepted myself and my body fully, that’s when people stopped telling me what to do with my body and when I feel like I grew the most as a person.
“It’s honestly a struggle sometimes for me to be in the food industry and try to keep up with new restaurants and trends while trying to keep a healthy diet. But my career and my passion are what make me happy. I’ve learned to appreciate my body for all that it has given me. I see my body now and think of it as a result of all the good food I ate traveling around the world and expanding my palate. It does look like extra pounds, but it also reminds me that I’ve eaten some pretty darn good meals from around the world.”
How she takes care of her body now:
“I’ve recently started working out and dieting to feel good—not for vanity this time! Now, I focus more on how I feel and my strength, rather than the numbers on a scale or how I look.
“Food is literally my life and career, so depriving myself of the thing that makes me happiest was not an option for me anymore.”
“Dieting is something I struggle coming to terms with, so I just make sure to eat mindfully. I’ve struggled for years to find the in-between of eating healthy and being able to eat what I want. Through the years of weird and extreme dieting, I was able to see how each kind of food affected how my body felt, my energy levels, and even my mood. When I started eating more vegetables and cutting out the stuff that didn’t make me feel good, I noticed how much lighter I felt and how much more real energy I had. Now, I make it a point to eat vegetables with every meal, and to only have one cheat treat a day (examples of cheat treats are rice with lunch, dessert after dinner, sugary treats for breakfast, or chips for a snack). I don’t believe in cheat days because that means depriving myself of eating things I love throughout the week, and then binging it in one day.
“I hate depriving myself of these things so I just had to find a balance and a way I could still feel good, be healthy, and eat what I wanted. Food is literally my life and career, so depriving myself of the thing that makes me happiest was not an option for me anymore.
“As for working out, I’m super lucky to have finally found a workout buddy, my best friend Sab, and gym trainer, Trey, who push me to be my best and feel my best, but don’t put pressure on me to lose weight or do it for vanity. Instead, we focus on how strong our bodies have been getting and how we feel. It sounds so cliché, but changing my perspective on working out has really made it so much more enjoyable. I used to work out to achieve certain numbers on a scale, but now I measure my strength and body fat percentage instead.”
Her fashion tips for plus-size girls:
“Always find clothes that fit. Don’t force yourself to fit into a size that doesn’t fit well because you’re ashamed to have to size up. No matter how cute the top or dress is, if you’re constantly tugging on something while wearing it, that won’t make you feel good, and it will show.
“But don’t be afraid to try new styles! Don’t be shy to wear a tube top because you don’t want your arms to show. Don’t be afraid to wear a swimsuit because it shows too much. There are ways to make any style you wanna wear work for you. Find the brands that work for you—there are a lot more options now! Try everything on at the store; you never know, that item might look great on you. If it doesn’t, that’s okay; don’t be discouraged—clothes weren’t made to look good on everyone.
“Also, don’t let other people dictate what you SHOULD wear. Who says you can’t wear that crop top? No one! Be aware of your body, be brave, and be proud. If you like the way you look, wear it!”
Her tips for girls struggling with self-confidence:
“Surround yourself with a group of people who support you. Eliminate relationships with people who make you feel insecure. No need to waste time on people who only make you feel worse.
“Take your time. The journey towards strong confidence can be quite long and hard. I’ve been there! You’ll experience a lot of setbacks, but you’ll come back stronger every time.
“Take yourself out of situations that make you feel worse about your body—whether it’s a diet, a workout, a store, a website, anything.
“Unfollow Instagram accounts that make you feel bad about your body; instead, follow people who inspire you. My personal favorites are Ashley Graham and Iskra Lawrence!
“Don’t allow your body to limit you. Don’t allow other people’s perception of you to limit you. Don’t put limits on yourself. You are equally capable and deserving of every opportunity everyone else gets.
“Respect and listen to your body. Give it the proper care and nourishment it needs.
“The hardest of all: Accept your body for what it is. There is no point in wishing for a body that isn’t yours. Your body is uniquely yours. That’s the body that carried you through every struggle and every success. Appreciate it because you only get one. And it’s a good one!
“The truest: You’re beautiful! Believe it.
“The most important: Share your body positivity journey with those around you. You won’t realize how much it will help others, and more importantly, how much it will help you.”
What she wants other people to know about plus-size girls:
“Plus-size girls are normal girls. We just take up more space. And that’s okay!”