“I think acceptance comes with the understanding that in the end, we are all basically the same” with Renee Cafaro and Chaya Weiner

I think acceptance comes with the understanding that in the end, we are all basically the same. No one is perfect and most everyone has experienced the same troubles you have. I’m sure Beyonce has gotten her heart broken and Bill Gates has gone through terrible times in the office. So, you are doing just fine. […]

Thrive invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here.

I think acceptance comes with the understanding that in the end, we are all basically the same. No one is perfect and most everyone has experienced the same troubles you have. I’m sure Beyonce has gotten her heart broken and Bill Gates has gone through terrible times in the office. So, you are doing just fine.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Renee Cafaro. Renee is the U.S. editor of SLiNK Magazine, a well-known plus-size fashion and lifestyle magazine. Renee has spoken on many expert panels and has been featured in various outlets including, InStyle, Glamour, and Elite Daily as an expert. Her goal is to inspire all women to truly love themselves no matter if they’re a size 0 or a size 40. Renee believes every woman should have the opportunity to reach their full potential no matter what goal they’re trying to reach. As an editor, Renee has worked with closely with celebrity designers and models including Christian Siriano, who are empowering the plus-size community. Renee originally started her career in politics, but decided to change course when she was given the opportunity to be a contributor to a podcast targeted at empowering young women. This led Renee to realize that she wanted to work in the fashion industry, not only because she had a passion for it, but also because she knew it lacked diversity and size inclusivity. Renee aims to show women that they don’t need to fit a mold to be in a certain industry and often shares her stories of her body dysmorphia at a young age, in hope to help young women who might be struggling with it now.

Thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.

My whole life I worked very hard towards a career in social justice and politics, studying poli sci at Stanford and spending 14 years in campaigns and NYC government. So how did I end up being a plus size fashion editor? My whole life I’ve also struggled with my body image as a plus size woman, who loved fashion but bought into the myth that there would never be a place for me there. Also, being a fat woman in society, who refuses to shrink her personality or her body, becomes very political. We must fight bigotry and abuse every day along with struggling to change society to allow us to exist. I’ve been told before that fatphobic bigotry isn’t a problem, because anyone can change their size, but that’s a myth. I nearly killed myself trying to get skinny enough and still never could, but this made me angry and brought up a larger, highly political issue: Why should I have to fit into a certain dress size or change my appearance to get basic human respect? I posted a picture in a bikini on vacation like millions of slimmer women do without incident, yet I am told that I am ugly, obscene, corrupting society by “promoting obesity” and because I’m fat I deserve abuse, rape, public ridicule and even death. That sounds like bigotry to me.

Plus size women get paid less than skinny women on average. We must fight for equitable access to fashion, representation in media and the freedom to live without constant triggers into eating disorders. This is why I have dedicated to using my voice and any platform afforded to me to dispel myths, educate the populous and carve out a safer, brighter future for all women who have felt harmed because of appearance. Speaking out on body image and helping women have a platform for this dialogue I feel has done more for women than all the ”women’s rallies” I organized in politics.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?

In addition to my personal platforms, I am the U.S. editor to SLiNK magazine. It is one of the only print magazines for women over a size 12, which is a bit insane when you realize that the vast majority of women fall into that category. So in addition to always fighting to get our mags and our message out there, we’ve been doing partner content with other media outlets, panel discussions and TV spots to show that everyone of every shape, color and size is beautiful. Representation matters! The more exposure curvy bodies get in mainstream media the easier it will become to let go of the arcane idea that there is only one “Hollywood standard” for beauty. I am working on a college tour to discuss body image and my journey with eating disorders, in hopes to provide a safe space for young men and women to talk and heal.

Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self acceptance?

I always say that body confidence is a journey and not a destination. Sadly, this new world order of overly-curated social media, it’s easy to feel like you have to flaunt your naked body around and proclaim how you #slayallday in order to be reach true body confidence. That is wrong and it doesn’t leave any room to feel human. I have ups and downs every day, but overall I have found peace in my body. I was forced into severely restrictive dieting and diet pills (prescription and OTC) from before puberty. Looking back at pictures of my youth, I seemed to have been a pretty average chubby Italian kid, but I was brainwashed daily that I was “morbidly obese,” ugly and must get skinny by any means necessary as fast as possible. Even doctors bolstered this idea by caring more about the BMI Index than my telling them that I was constantly dizzy from eating under 500 (sometimes under 100!) calories a day. So I continued on this path as a textbook anorexic who couldn’t get off the heavy side of the BMI scale even with the help of Phen Fen (before it was banned). One day, I just couldn’t take the heart palpitations, headaches, mood swings and self-hatred. At 17, I tossed all my diet pills but assumed my diet and exercise would keep me at a size 8. Despite my best efforts, my metabolism was shot and I got up to a size 18 in a matter of a couple months. After crying hysterically, feeling like a failure and fearing what family would say when they saw me, I picked myself up and vowed to learn how to look at myself in the mirror. It would take me a long time to lose this weight, so I couldn’t hate myself and avoid my reflection that long, so I started small and found whatever I could cling to that didn’t disgust me — like lips or even ankles. Over time, in an effort to just be civil with myself as I lost weight, I managed to gain some self love, confidence and a happy college life full of friends, dating and fun — all of the things promised to me if I were only “skinny and pretty”. So, in the end, I never lost the weight. I lost the body dysmorphia.

According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?

I find this interesting as these are also roughly the same percentages of men and women who fall into a slim or “straight size” category. About 70% of America is plus size and yet 99.9% of media and entertainment perpetuates this idea that they are outliers and their bodies are “wrong.” Media and the weight loss industry needs us to feel poorly about our bodies in order to make a profit off the masses chasing after one form of beauty. This obviously leads to low self-esteem, disordered eating, toxic relationships with yourself and with food; not to mention a lot of wasted money on harmful “get skinny quick” and detox scams.

As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?

Mental health is just as important as physical health and they are usually tightly linked. Loving yourself lightens the emotional load so you can regain some optimism and frees up time and energy to be the person you are meant to be. Also, I have found that the more you love and respect yourself and your body, the better choices you will make. If you hate yourself, you are willing to take the scraps in life and lower your standards because you don’t think you should be worthy of more. If you love yourself, you feel deserving of a better partner or trying for a promotion. If being active is no longer a punishment and linked to self-hatred, it will no longer be something to fear. In my thinner, self-loathing diet days, I would have never considered running half marathons because I would have been to self-conscious about how I looked at the gym and I assumed I was never fit enough yet to even try. Now what I do, I do for me, because I’m happier and finally feel that I have a life and body worth caring about.

Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?

See above! Honestly, self love and self esteem are the building blocks to your whole life. A lot of us stay in mediocre relationships because we think that’s the best we could get or fear that no one else may want us. Some stay because no one wants to dive back into the shark tank of dating apps, lies and ghosting that is far too prevalent today as well. Though sometimes it is a hard and lonely path, I always say that I’d rather be single than with the wrong person. A mediocre relationship where you feel unappreciated will do more harm to your self-esteem over time than you realize. So, even though, breaking it off can lead to heartbreak and some sad nights, it will also lead you to a path of self-discovery and freedom to do whatever you want. No one should have to settle. Everyone deserves to feel like someone’s first choice, because as a friend always told me “there’s a lid for every pot.”

When I talk about self-love and understanding I don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?

I think what I do the most is work with a therapist as my touchstone to reality. If I’ve had a pattern of bad relationships or failures of any kind, I critically dissect these scenarios with an independent professional to see what, if anything, I am doing that may be causing these trends. Whatever is bringing you down, you need to reflect on what you can do to change it, while being careful not to dump a ton of unnecessary blame on yourself. Sometimes you can do everything right and things still crash and burn, but other times, you are in a rut and not living the life you want because you are too scared to ask yourself the tough questions. So really dig deep and see if you are letting fear of change, the unknown or avoidance of your feelings lead you to be stuck in a job/life/place/relationship/habit you don’t like.

So many don’t really know how to be alone, or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?

You have to be at peace with yourself alone or you are doomed to making terrible decisions on relationships — romantic or otherwise based on your fear of being alone. The older I get, the more I find myself struggling with anxiety, and even with therapy I know sometimes it can be hard to be alone with your thoughts. You have to learn to let your feelings flow, breathe and know that time heals all. I know it sounds silly but sometimes I visualize my worries running down the drain in a long relaxing shower or fall asleep to the TV if I feel particularly jumpy or alone, and by morning, I embrace the new day. No one person, thing or activity can make you happy. We all know happiness comes from within, so rip the Band-Aid off, look yourself in the mirror and start finding the beauty and strength we ALL have. What are you waiting for?

How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?

Once you understand yourself, you will understand your boundaries. You choose to surround yourself with people who love, respect and add value to your life instead of just anyone to keep you from being alone. It makes good relationships better and gives you the perspective to finally be rid of toxic relationships you previously felt you deserved or somehow obligated to continue.

In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?

I think acceptance comes with the understanding that in the end, we are all basically the same. No one is perfect and most everyone has experienced the same troubles you have. I’m sure Beyonce has gotten her heart broken and Bill Gates has gone through terrible times in the office. So, you are doing just fine.

What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?

  1. Give myself a break. This is a learning process and no one is an expert in self love. Some days, I just feel awful and let something get me down. The important part is to pick yourself up quickly and move on.
  2. Indulge. Perhaps this isn’t the more responsible ideas of self care but sometimes you just need to do whatever you need to do to cope. As long as it’s not hurting myself or others, why not treat yourself a little? I actually like to treat myself to fancy lingerie and swimwear because it reminds me that I am worthy of luxuries and they are not reserved for a sexual gaze. It forces me to look at my body as-is and find a way to appreciate, love and honor it again.
  3. Buy your own “hype.” This may sound silly and narcissistic but I find sometimes that looking through my own social media helps me remember how cool I am! Yes, I know a lot of it is curated and it took 37 takes to get that one shot, but if you’re going to make a sizzle reel of the best versions of yourself, you should admire it too. It reminds me of all that I have done and how far I’ve come.
  4. Disconnect. So this is the opposite of #3 and very necessary if I find myself wrapped up in FOMO or longing for meaningful interactions. I’ve noticed a few of the major “body pos” and plus size influencers have turned to hawking detox teas or showing off insanely drastic rapid weight loss. Comments that used to be uplifting and celebratory of women of any size, have now turned to stories of longing for a thinner body like her and asking for diet tips. This must have subconsciously triggered me because the more I looked at social media like this, the more I noticed a general malaise and a return to habitual fasting for days. I had to unfollow these accounts and disconnect from the internet for a few days to reset my mood.
  5. Write. I find that writing answers like these help me just as much as I hope to help others remember how to prioritize yourself. Making a list of all of your great qualities and all of the things you seek in life or a partner can help you visualize and actualize your dreams through setting a more positive tone.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?

I’m not a huge fan of self-help books and the like since I’d rather explore life first hand and try to learn on my own. That being said, I have a few social media accounts and podcasts I follow that broaden my horizons to self-love, intimacy and acceptance on issues that are usually too embarrassing to talk about. Wildflower Sex on Instagram is actually a shop. I didn’t realize this at first. I started to follow them because I loved the honest and open portrayal they had on all things relating to sexuality, for a very diverse group of people. TheSexEd podcast by Liz Goldwyn is also incredible at breaking down barriers and being fully inclusive when discussing sex, health, and self love.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…

Ending hatred. There is so much animosity and bigotry in the world and it seems like we are only fanning the flames of this blaze for clickbait, shock value and ratings. Enough is enough. Can we just let people live their lives without fear of physical and emotional abuse? I’m not asking you to emulate me or find my fat body beautiful. I’m asking you to allow people like me the ability to post pictures like everyone else without shame, bullying or death threats. You don’t have to love every race/religion/sexuality/size/type of human, but you do have to stop going out of your way to harm them. You don’t like something, don’t look at me. Keep your opinions to yourself for a change and instead look inward to make yourself a better person with a happier life. We must stop this culture of tearing each other apart. 
 Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by?

I try to take the tough times head on, knowing that tomorrow is a new day to pick yourself up and move forward. But when I’m feeling low, I listen to my body and give it whatever it needs and try to soothe and re-center myself by reminding myself of how far I’ve come and how tough I am. I find this phrase applies to most situations when I feel like I’ve failed.

“You really are enough. You deserve better and if they don’t agree, that wasn’t for you anyway.”

Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?

It’s been helpful for me to learn to show compassion and appreciation towards myself. By telling myself that I’m enough and that perhaps some things were never meant to be, it helps limit the amount of spiraling I can do. It’s easy to blame yourself and slip into a depressive abyss wondering if you were only this or that, could you have gotten that date or job. If I am living the best way I can and still get crushed by life’s disappointments, I try to remember that it wouldn’t have worked out long term and I shouldn’t want anyone who does not see my value.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

— –

You might also like...


“Lead by example” with Renee Cafaro of SLiNK Magazine

by Ben Ari

Philanthropist Renee Greenstein: “I’d like to start a movement to end the shaming that goes on in social media”

by Alexandra Spirer

Renée Rouleau: “Transparency in partnerships”

by Jilea Hemmings
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.