Ilia Isorelýs Paulino On What *Never* Fails To Make Her Feel Most Confident

Written by Bianca Lambert

Actress Ilia Isorelýs Paulino radiates confidence. However, like most of us, she’s had to work at unlearning the untrue and homogeneous lessons about what society has historically affirmed as beautiful. The first time she realized that women’s value in society was directly linked to the “limited spectrum of beauty” was when she was just 7 years old — and the learning didn’t stop there.

"Then I was 9 when I learned that beauty, and where you fall on the scale of beauty, is to be a woman's social currency in this world,” she tells Bustle. “And then I was a 13-year-old girl who realized that although my mother had the best intentions when she said that I'm the most beautiful girl in the world, she might have been a bit biased. And the culture shock that I was immediately confronted by when I realized that in the face of a true '10,' I could never compete."

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The “10s” in her worldview mimicked that of the newest supermodels sashaying down runways with thin frames and chiseled faces who donned the latest must-have fashions. Unfortunately, this POV later caused resentment directed at the one who Paulino calls her biggest fan: her mother. "I developed a story that I'm somehow an underdog, a victim to my 'ugliness' all the while ignoring the inherent beauty I possess.” Paulino jokingly adds that much of this internal dialogue showed up outwardly in dynamic ways, given she was a self-described “very dramatic child.”

Paulino’s journey to exuding self-confidence hasn’t always been linear. In fact, as she embraced the positive affirmations her mother expressed to her in her formative years, she realized her mother was correct. She is, in fact, a stunna with depth, has compassion for others, and a pure multi-hyphenate talent. A trifecta that makes her one-of-a-kind.

However, this is a transformative point she was only able to reach through radical acceptance and introspection. "I can only get there when I can confront the reality of who I actually am,” she shares. “I am a Dominican, plus-sized powerhouse artist with a giant heart and an amazing sense of humor who loves easily and whose heart breaks quickly.”

“So when I say I love myself, I can say with certainty that I know myself."

So what makes this powerhouse feel confident? Well, for starters: "Shaking [my] ass in a club." And her list doesn't stop there. It runs the gambit from buying lingerie, watching TV with her dog, one-on-one time with her pink vibrator, therapy, weight lifting during a workout session, and supporting friends.

In her world, there is a feeling myself meter. For example, a feel-good moment for Paulino is sipping tea on her porch daydreaming to early 2000s romantic comedy soundtracks. And feeling great is swimming topless in the Caribbean Sea with friends as they sing in five-part harmony under a full moon at 3 a.m. If you’re wondering if this is a true story, it absolutely is.

Paulino's confidence is intertwined with her art, friendships, advocacy, and love of herself. However, she notes sometimes she just wants to be. “Sometimes you just don't have the energy to be a political statement — you just wanna go look good, feel good, have buttery ass skin, and that's it.” Attaining that buttery skin, she says, isn’t always as easy as making a reservation at a waxing studio like European Wax Center. She tells us that her friends share the same sentiment.

“[My friend] didn't even make a reservation because she was worried she'd break the table — like it would have a weight limit or something.” This fear might seem overly dramatic, but Paulino reminds us this feeling is very real. “This fear of 'oh my God, will the table support me?’ is rooted in something that is very real,” she tells us.

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“This world isn't built for bigger bodies.”

However, European Wax Center curates an environment where every body that enters the threshold of their centers feels like their best selves without ever fearing not being supported by a table — or the person providing their service.

“I think we're moving in a direction where people can see beyond that, and hopefully by doing a project like this, we can walk to the other side and go to a place where we can stop talking about bodies for like 15 minutes. Let's put on the sparkling shoes, dance it out, and go get our waxes done.” We say cheers to that.

Photographer: Alanna Durkee; Makeup: Nathalie Allen; Hair: Brian Banks; Wardrobe Stylist: Shameelah Hicks; Set Designer: Kelly Fondry; VP of Branded Content Design: KC Connolly; Art Director: Angela Poccia/BDG; Creative Producer: Kandice Chavous/BDG; Director of Photography: Marshall Stief /BDG; Talent Manager: Mikaela Baruch/BDG; Production Lead: Danica Butkovich/BDG; Branded Beauty Lead: Irma Elezovic/BDG