Carmen Rene (@eatthecaketoo) is proud to take up space in this world — and wants other women to feel the same sense of comfort, joy, and pride in their physical bodies, no matter their size. A champion in the body positivity and body acceptance movement, Rene was also born with primary lymphedema — a disease which is a rare and chronic condition that causes swelling from excess fluids in the legs and feet from a damaged lymphatic system. Then, at 32, she was also diagnosed with lipedema, which also causes extremely painful swelling. Both incurable diseases took a blow to her confidence and self-esteem, but she eventually learned how to turn her differences into her superpowers. “I try to remind myself of how lucky I am to be able to share my journey and have such a supportive community,” she says.
“I try to remind myself of how lucky I am to be able to share my journey and have such a supportive community.”
On social media, Carmen is an open book about sharing her journey to self-acceptance and challenging societal standards on what it means to be “beautiful.” A resident of sunny Southern California since 2006, Rene rocks a bikini with a huge smile and big confidence but also knows how the path to her strong sense of self wasn’t always a straight line.
Below, Carmen tells The Sunday Edit about her powerful experience along with her tips for looking and feeling powerful, which she will also share at the Strike Your Empowerment Pose body confidence virtual event by Shapermint (the leading body positive shapewear marketplace) on National Shapewear Day, Wednesday, August 10th, at 4-5:30 PM EST.
Sunday Edit: How did you get started on the body positivity and fat acceptance movement online?
CR: I have been on this journey publicly for almost five years. I have always used fashion to help express myself and find my confidence, but it wasn’t until my mid 20’s when I started to realize my body was worth loving and accepting just as it was. Like many of us, I spent most of my life at odds with my body. I had been dieting since my earliest memories, even in weight watchers by junior high with my mom. I remember seeing women like Gabi Fresh and Tess Holiday and finally having an “ah-ha moment.” If I could spend so much energy and time hating my body, what would happen if I started trying to love it instead? Eat The Cake Too was created with the hopes of building a space where we could make our own rules and continue to rewrite the narrative surrounding fat bodies.
What have you found most challenging about being an influencer in this space?
CR: We have come a long way with creating spaces and opportunities for many different body types and marginalized bodies, but we still have a long way to go! Being a plus-size creator with lymphedema and lipedema certainly comes with challenges regarding working with brands and companies. Not to mention the online trolls we all have to deal with at one point or another. The challenge, I think, for many of us is to stay consistent and true to our mission and message no matter what!
Authenticity will take you far here, even if it takes you a little longer to get where you want to go; never settle and never stray from your mission. I am so grateful for companies like Shapermint, who create fully inclusive spaces to celebrate all bodies.
What has been the most rewarding for you in doing this kind of advocacy, influencing, and content creation?
CR: Being able to connect with an amazing community of women has been the most rewarding aspect of all of this, hands down! I am so grateful for the opportunity to be even a tiny part of others’ self-love and body-love journeys. Whenever I see a comment or get a message about someone’s first time wearing a bikini, doing a photoshoot, wearing lingerie, taking a trip, etc., it is the greatest feeling.
When creating content, who or what are you thinking about?
CR: Often, when I create content, I think of what we might need to be reminded of. One thing about this body love journey is that it is constant; even if we are at different places, certain messages will resonate stronger at different times. I like to think that there is something for everyone in each concept I share. Whether I am having a challenging mental health day, struggling with my lymphedema, or celebrating a strong body love day, someone else is right there with me, and we can remind each other that we are never alone.
Talk a bit about the idea of “taking up space” – why this is something so important to your message and why it’s needed now.
CR: I grew up always wanting to be smaller and take up as little space as possible. As women, we are often taught that we need to be slender, that we need to be soft-spoken, and “play it small” in life. It took me a long time to understand that this is all BS! “Take up space” has been a personal daily affirmation on my journey towards understanding that I am worthy of all the opportunities I want and that my body deserves to go all the places I want to. We are not here to play it small; we are here to break generational cycles and create spaces for all of us to feel loved and appreciated.
For anyone who is just starting on their body positivity journey, how much “fake it until you make it” do you believe in?
CR: I firmly believe in walking into every room with your head held high, shoulders back, and a sense of confidence that will confuse even your greatest skeptic. But you don’t always feel like that, and “fake it until you make it” certainly applies from time to time! We exist in a world that is full of people who will doubt you and try to take advantage of your insecurities, especially in this industry. Stand firm in knowing your worth, even on days you may question it.
What are the biggest ways you take care of yourself on a daily basis? What does your self-care routine look like?
CR: Living with two chronic conditions and mental health struggles has helped me create self-care routines that are extremely important to my health and well-being. For me, movement and water keep me sane. It may sound a little simple, but there is so much importance and depth to how beneficial both are. Movement for me could be as simple as a short walk outside or a training session at the gym. It isn’t really about what you do, but the mental health break and circulation boost for my legs. And if you know me, I will always remind you to drink your water! It is helpful for my circulation and will forever be my greatest skincare “secret.”
How does taking care of your skin factor into your overall body positivity?
CR: Taking care of my skin is one of my greatest sources of pride. It is something that is just for you. As mentioned earlier, water is my best skincare routine (believe it or not). I drink a gallon of water daily; otherwise, I have a pretty simple skincare routine. Despite our ridiculous beauty standards, you do not need clear, perfect skin! Skin has texture and wrinkles, and beautiful lines from enjoying life. Taking care of your skin is a luxury, and healthy skin looks different for everyone.
What makes you feel the most beautiful – when do you feel empowered and confident?
CR: Confidence for me has been the key to unlocking my true self. Understanding that my body is worthy just as it is, despite being told otherwise by societal beauty standards, creates a solid confidence base we all deserve. I feel most confident when I am doing something to celebrate my body. That could be a fun photoshoot, a favorite workout, or soaking up the sun unapologetically in a cute bikini. Finding my voice and being able to share my journey have made me feel extremely empowered. Finally, understanding what makes me different, like my lymphedema, has been my superpower and has made the greatest impact on helping others find the same freedom.
Who are your role models in the space of body positivity?
CR: Tess Holliday, Ashley Graham, and Gabi Fresh have been my role models from day one! They bring something unique and different but are all creating change for all of us.
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In terms of your upbringing, was confidence something instilled in you and reinforced by your parents and your family, or is it something you’ve developed all on your own?
CR: My friend once told me I have an alien kind of confidence. Meaning we don’t know where it came from, and it might not always make sense to people, but that is ok! I did not grow up surrounded by overly confident women, and while my Dad didn’t always know how to navigate parenting a plus-size child, he certainly taught us to do everything 100%. That played a big part in finding my voice, style, and motivation to share my journey. My mom always encouraged me to dive into fashion, which also helped me find my confidence. The options were not what they are not in plus-size fashion, but my mother is a great seamstress, so I was fortunate in that area.
How does your having both a bigger body and your lymphatic condition help you work to fight that pressure to still conform to a stereotype?
CR: We have all felt the desire to conform to the current ideal of beauty at one point or another. And to be honest, of course, there are still days when I struggle. That is normal and nearly impossible – given the amount of unsolicited advice we see and are given on our bodies. One thing about lymphedema and lipedema and that there is no cure. My legs will never look like what we deem “normal.” My body will never look what we consider “perfect,” and I have embraced that. We are all different for a reason, and I am blessed to be able to share my differences with the world positively. Once you understand that you are not meant to look like anyone but you, embracing how beautiful that is becomes easier.
How does something like shapewear work with your message and journey? How do you view it as empowering and not something trying to make you smaller somehow?
CR: Shapewear for bigger bodies meant hiding or changing your body. I love that Shapermint has changed that narrative with essentials meant for comfort and simply enhancing your beautiful shape while helping you feel supported. Beyond the products, Shapermint has created an entire community that encourages acceptance and inclusivity. Feeling comfortable and confident in what you wear on your body has always helped me feel empowered!
You know how to kill it in a bikini. What do you say to people who don’t yet feel they can step out in something like that? What do you say to “haters”?
CR: I am a true SoCal girl at this point! It is rare to go a month without being in a bikini, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. For me, it symbolized how far I have come on my journey. I encourage everyone to push their comfort zone and find what makes them feel most comfortable. Whatever that means to you, wear the swimsuit! I get very passionate in this area because so many of us miss out on making memories when swimsuits are involved. How many people have skipped a pool day, beach day, or even vacation because we do not think our bodies are “summer ready”? So, it is less about me in a bikini and more about reminding you to enjoy life and your body instead of worrying about anyone’s opinion.
Tell us five things you never leave home without.
- Compression stockings are a MUST.
- Carmex (it may or may not be an obsession).
- Water! Staying hydrated is the real key to happiness.
- Airpods and a playlist lined up for airplane mode. Lizzo’s new album is currently on repeat.
- A pep talk! Traveling in a marginalized body means stepping out of the beautiful bubble of support I am lucky enough to exist in. Never miss an opportunity to remind yourself that you are worthy of taking up all the space, making memories, traveling, and feeling comfortable in your skin.
What new projects do you have in the works?
Rene: I truly feel like I am just getting started with my modeling work and look and will continue to create body-positive content for everyone on this beautiful journey with me. And I am excited to be working on some new fall merchandise and bringing back my “All Bodies Are Good Bodies” hoodies.
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