After speaking with Christina Mendez, one thing is very clear….she loves her life. Upon receiving the news that her son was diagnosed with Autism, Christina did what any mother would do, she became her child’s advocate. She put her dreams on hold only to pick up where she left off at without missing a beat years later. Since taking the modeling world by a storm she appeared in a number of print magazines and walked in a host of fashion shows. Christina received the honor of being named one of sexiest, most successful top plus size models in the industry by Fox News in 2009. Her modeling resume is extensive but her work as a spokesperson for Autism Speaks is admirable. In this interview, we’ve taken a different approach to the life of this curvy model. It’s more than just about fashion for her, it’s about motherhood, support and standing up for those she cares about the most. __________________________________________________________
This month we are honoring women who are using their voices by supporting worthy causes. Tell us how you became a spokesperson for Autism Speaks?
My son was diagnosed with Autism when he was 2 years old (almost 12 years ago) and I was depressed, confused and lost. I leaned on the internet to find support groups and found Autism Speaks.
What type of reaction did you receive from others when you decided to rally behind this cause?
I volunteered at various events, I did fundraisers at my job to raise awareness and now I am fortunate enough to be a spokesperson for this amazing organization. I don’t think anyone was shocked that I was so passionate about the cause because they knew that my pride and joy (Damian) was affected by the disorder daily.
What is one the biggest misconceptions about children or adults who are autistic?
Many people believe that everyone who has autism reacts the same. The disorder is so complicated and has different ranges. When some folks meet my son they say “He doesn’t act autistic”. But not everyone will act the same or have the same issues.
Some people with autism talk while others don’t. Some like attention and others don’t, the list of differences goes on.
However, I think the BIGGEST misconception is; that they have no feelings. Some don’t know how to express it but they feel pain, hurt and rejection and as a mother that hurts me to see.
Do you think the way people view autism over the years have changed? if so why?
I believe the increase in awareness and celebrity endorsement has made it more acceptable by people who are not immediately affected by the disorder. When my son was a toddler and he would throw himself on the floor in the mall I would get dirty looks. Now I see the same thing happening with other kids and people are less affected by it. These issues affect the parents a lot because we ALREADY feel helpless and the perception of others can make our day go from bad to worse.
Growing up were you the type of teenager who actively supported causes that you believed in?
All the time! Besides Autism Speaks I work with other charitable causes, such as self esteem workshops, interview and job prep courses, supporting the needy including seniors and many others. I am a strong believer in God and my last year of High School I didn’t attend school. Instead we did an internship. I selected to work in a school for disabled children. I had no idea that God was preparing me for this journey when I was only 17 years old.
I think your journey is inspiring and I’m sure that your son appreciates everything you do for him. How do the reactions from others affect him?
He Is just like me. He was born 5 days after my birthday. We are very giving, friendly, outgoing and sensitive.
I know he smiles his way through hurt. He never expressed to me that he felt sad but as his mother I know that at times and in certain circumstances his feelings get hurt. I am so proud of him. He has accomplished so much and has inspired so many people. I don’t consider this work I consider this being a parent and I would never give up on him.
I love that!! Tell me about world autism awareness day and what takes place.
People can visit lightitupblue.org to see the various events in their cities. Basically it’s our day to show unity and wear our blue and let the world know this disorder is affecting so many and its growing so fast…WE NEED A CURE!
The 2010 Autism Speaks Walk is Sunday, June 5, 2011 at South Street Seaport, NY at 9:00AM. I am looking for walkers (only 1.5 miles) and donations visit, www.walknowforautismspeaks.org/nyc/teammendez.
So a little birdie told me that you were expecting another bundle of joy? I know you are excited.
YES YES YES!!!!! I am expecting a little girl named Cailey. We are ALL very excited, especially her big brother Damian.
I love that name. What are you most excited about?
Thank you. I always wanted a daughter and something that many don’t know is that before I had Damian I was pregnant and gave birth to a little girl named Taliyah. She passed away after 2 hours so my heart always missed her.
I am also excited that Damian gets to practice is independence, speech and social skills with her when she grows up, because for 14 years he has been all alone around the house.
I’m sorry to hear about your first daughter. So now is your chance to get that little girl plus I bet he’s going to be a very protective big brother.
This pregancy has brought back a lot of those emotions and past hurt again. It never goes away.
So when is your due date?
My due date is August 7, 2011
What is one thing that you’re looking forward to doing with you daughter?
So tell me about the Curvy Mom 2-B Maternity collection from Qristyl Frazier?
I can’t wait for the photo shoot, we shoot on April 30th. We became great friends throughout my modeling journey and she spoke about doing this a long time ago so when I told her I was expecting she said GREAT lets shoot this vision I’ve always had.
I’ve been pregnant for almost 6 months and my clothing selections are horrible. I miss getting glammed up and feeling fab and I expressed this to her. I am super excited to see the collection. I want to burn my sweats and tee shirts and look HOT!
And I know you are going to look great!! With all the strides we’ve made in the plus size fashion industry, I think we have a long to go when it comes to plus size maternity clothing. What types of selections did you have to choose from?
I agree. I can still wear Ashley Stewart and Lane Bryant by going up a few sizes but that isn’t flattering. When you want to emphasize your baby bump you don’t want feel like you are wearing oversized clothes. I see the cute Peas in the Pod designer maternity stuff and they go up to a size 12 which isn’t me. Then the plus size maternity selection at Motherhood & Target are limited to 4-5 selections of horrible, horrible selections that are not at all what I would wear. So I ONLY wear tights, tee-shirts, sweats and long sweaters.
I must be honest that makes me feel a little sad. Maybe it’s the hormones but I feel BLAH!
So how long after giving birth are you going to get back on the runway? Mommy has to strut her stuff!
I am so eager to wear my 5 inch heels and walk ANY runway or side walk….LOL. I plan to get back to working out ASAP and getting back to my love of modeling in October. I will be the only model with a newborn baby backstage.
Hey you never know, the baby may get you a few more jobs. Would you ever introduce your daughter to modeling as a baby?
YES, I would love that. I would never force her but I would encourage her. Another thing that people don’t know is that my son Damian was working at 3 months and did a milk advertisement at 9 months. He also did Nike campaign at 11 months. I will send you his milk picture…too cute!
Oh wow, talent runs in the family. I remember seeing you on the cover of Venus Diva Magazine years ago. What has changed for you since then?
Oh so much has changed. That was MY FIRST cover EVER and I was literally in tears. I strongly believe Venus was my lucky charm because after that cover my blessings rained on me.
I never stopped woking since that cover so I am forever grateful and thankful that you guys still love me. Cailey will be the cover model in March 2031.
But really, you’ve done so much and your photos are amazing. To date what’s your greatest accomplishment in the world of modeling?
I always get asked this question and honestly every opportunity has been an accomplishment for me because I came into this industry with very little expectations. I was a mother of a BIG kid with a disability, my schedule isn’t as flexible as the young ladies that are in the industry. I came into the industry with very little experience and I honestly didn’t think I had what it took but God as usual came through and showed out. So picking just one will make me unappreciative when all of them mean so much to me.
It’s been great talking to you Christina.
Likewise, thank you and the ENTIRE staff. I Love You guys!!