As memories of Rio 2016 fade, the sting of negativity surrounding T&T’s performance persists.
There was no shortage of puerile, less-than-clever memes targeting gymnast Marisa Dick.
If only her high school friends could see her now, they’d be sorry they ever heckled the fat kid, she jokes.
Confidence, inner beauty and a strong sense of self, shines through 26-year-old Sonja Pollonais. But she says she has come a long way from the days of just feeling fat, insecure and unwanted.
Secondary school for the Mt Lambert native was extremely difficult, especially when it came to interacting with boys.
“When I wasn’t being made fun of, other times I would just feel invisible. That’s when I came to the reality that big girls face a lot of challenges when it comes to being accepted on many levels.
“I would see how boys would interact with slim girls and there was a clear distinction in the treatment,” Pollonais recalls. I lived with low self-esteem until my aunt, Blossom Bovell, instilled in me at age 16, that I was beautiful and powerful and all I had to do was accept that fact.”
“She taught me how to embrace my uniqueness which also included my naturally blonde hair and eyelashes, which I hated.
“Always dress your best because you never know who you would meet, she’d say.”
This advice helped Pollonais to regard herself in a new light as she became a young adult. She no longer got disapproving looks and stares from random people. Instead she found herself being complimented quite often.
“Even when I was attending UWI in Jamaica, my classmates would always compliment me on my outfits. When they saw me, they did not see some extra meat on my bones. They just saw a beautifully-dressed woman who knew how to dress for her body type and carry her weight with sophistication.”
“I think I told myself that I always had to be on point with my physical presentation because I would not get away with being full-figured and looking sloppy at the same time,” added Pollonais.
This newfound confidence also filtered into her studies, as the former guidance counsellor at the Ministry of Education achieved great success in her academic career as a recipient of two national scholarships. She is the holder of a bachelor’s degree in psychology with honours and an MSc in human resource management with distinction.
When she was studying, Pollonais joined a motivational group for plus-sized women where she became exposed to the local fashion and beauty industry. During her six years with the group, she got her first introduction to working the runway, which she said was surprisingly a superb experience.
This then led her to do some production work with Carivogue International Modelling Agency for its 2012 presentation of Caribbean Plus Fashion Week. The agency was so impressed with her work, it chose Pollonais to represent T&T in its Miss Plus Size Caribbean Universe held in Barbados that same year.
Pollonais agreed and was crowned the winner in the end. “I did not even know I would win it, but I did,” she says, with a chuckle. She handed over her crown last year to 2013 winner, 29-year-old Cheryll Rijger from Suriname.
The competition created a platform for Pollonais to continue growing in the industry, and as she says, she even gained more respect from many who may have previously disregarded her. She has modelled in countries across the Caribbean and can be seen in many local ads in print, television and even on billboards.
Pollonais eventually quit her government job earlier this year and decided to go full-time into providing image consultancy and styling for women in the plus-sized community. Together with her mother Sherma, she launched Closet Red Plus Size Boutique Ltd, located close to her home.
The boutique offers fashionable plus-size clothing for women sizes 12 to 26, as well as consultation services on body image, self-esteem and empowerment.
Her clients range from those in the corporate sector to the casual full-figured woman just looking for a new look, a good fit and something to boost her confidence.
“The store is so much more than just selling clothes. It is such an interesting dynamic for full-figured women to buy clothes, because I give them an environment that is free of judgment, warm, loving and one that allows them to be and love themselves.”
She adds quite excitedly: “Closet Red is founded on three pillars: beauty, fashion and inspiration.”
Out of those pillars came her annual fashion event Lights, Camera, Curves. Pollonais describes it as the premier fashion event for full-figured women in T&T.
“The pillar of beauty is clear at the event, as we highlight the beauty of everyone especially plus-sized women. It’s just beautiful people, enjoying a beautiful evening,” she says.
As for the pillar of fashion, she says it is presented in three runway collections: casual curves; sophisticated curves; and sultry curves. And she believes the pillar of inspiration is naturally the love and encouragement shared throughout the show.
The event which has been running for the past two years will be held at the La Joya Complex in St Joseph on August 16. According to Pollonais, to ensure that the event is truly a fulfilling one, they have partnered with some of the show’s sponsors and vendors who will be offering products and services tailored to the audience on that evening. Some of her sponsors include Toyota, Chee Mooke Bakery, Cher-Mere Herbal Hair and Skin Care Products and Services.
• For more information on the event, call 293-4341 or visit www.facebook.com/ClosetRed.
A bright future
Pollonais has big plans for Closet Red Plus Size Boutique Ltd including taking Lights, Cameras, Curves to a bigger stage.
“Well, one thing’s for sure. We are taking the event to Napa next year.
“As for the business, I am looking at presenting a fashion week, some charitable events that can be punctuated throughout the year and I definitely want to start self-esteem workshops.
“There is just so much in the world you already have to fight up with, like your job, relationships or family. You shouldn’t have to fight with yourself too. And that’s what I am here for. To help you celebrate you,” says Pollonais.