Try as one might, you simply can’t shake the confidence of a Black woman from Texas. That’s been proven by the likes of Beyoncé, Megan Thee Stallion and Lizzo, and it’s also the case with influencer Sydney Bell.
“There’s definitely a large appreciation for curvy women and natural bodies in Houston, and I’m super thankful,” she tells ESSENCE. The plus-size model, body positive advocate and dancer isn’t validated by that appreciation, though. After being bullied in her high school in a Houston suburb where she was the only plus-size African-American cheerleader, Bell simply stopped giving a damn about the opinions of others. The key to that is her ability to see confidence as a lifestyle, not something you conjure up only in moments when you need it.
“My confidence started towards high school, or even beginning of high school when my parents instilled it in me to know who I was and know my worth,” she says. “Whenever it would come to being out in public or being in social settings or especially being a plus-size cheerleader in high school, when the bullies would say things about me, it really didn’t have an effect on me because I already knew who I was. With confidence, I feel it’s a life-long journey, and it’s a journey that’s something that you’re going to have to work on. But when you have it, there’s nothing anybody can tell you.”
She exudes it in a refreshing way on her Instagram account of nearly 200,000 followers. She wears string bikinis, and sometimes, nothing at all, breaking scales and dancing without a care in the world. Swimsuits are her uniform of choice, and she inspires countless other women to stop thinking so hard about what their bodies look like in them so that they can embrace them, too. The idea of having the “right” bikini body is something she shirks, and is a message Bell is planning to send as a panelist for the upcoming The BodCon TALKS: Beach Bodies on June 27 ($20). The event from the popular body confidence community will feature a discussion on the ways summertime can be triggering and bring about unhealthy expectations of the female form.
“Health brands and diet companies are pushing for us to hop on these diets or like, get this perfect summer body, when in reality, what even is a summer body?” she asks. “What is it that distinguishes somebody from having a bikini body and somebody not having a bikini body?”
It was something a teenage Bell had to answer when she first decided she was going to stop covering up at the pool out of concern over the judgmental gaze of others.
“I tell people in order to grow, you have to put yourself in an uncomfortable situation or consistently put yourself in uncomfortable situations,” she says. “I took the T-shirt off and I wore a one-piece. Then I went from a one-piece to a tankini. Then I went from a tankini to a high-waisted bikini. Now I’m in a string bikini.”
“When I took the T-shirt off, nobody said anything. When I wore the tankini, nobody said anything. When I wore the string bikini, yeah I get looks, but now I’m confident enough to be like, you know what, they really don’t matter,” she adds. “Like I said in the beginning, self-love is a journey. Just enjoy the journey.”
Bell is looking forward to inspiring other young girls and women at The BodCon event. When it comes to the everyday, she’s looking to provide the representation she didn’t see when she was a young plus-size Black girl, so more people can embrace bikinis, and more importantly, their bodies in all seasons and in all things.
“I just want to tell people to live their lives fully,” she says. “We have one body, we have one life, and if you think about it, the things and the insecurities that you’re worried about now are not going to matter. The things that you’re stressed out and thinking, ‘oh I don’t want to wear a bikini to the pool because somebody is going to say something.’ It doesn’t matter, because when you’re 60, 70, 80 years old, they’re not going to even remember you. So live fully and don’t have any limitations.”