It’s not every day that a model makes the pages of a magazine (or even gets noticed by casting call directors). But Florinda Estrada is halfway there.
An Orange County resident, Estrada was just a child when she first got into modeling. She loved posing for the camera and thought it was a fun activity outside of her classes in Monroe. Then her teenage years hit, and everything changed. As she started to gain weight, she coped with feelings of depression, inadequacy, and low self-worth. She stopped modeling as she struggled with her self-image, suffering from highs and lows surrounding her appearance and weight.
And then she had a light-bulb moment.
Estrada by the Millpond Parkway in Monroe
“I ended up realizing that happiness has absolutely nothing to do with anything outside of ourselves, and that’s when I started my journey of self-discovery,” she says. “I learned to love who I am despite my mistakes, my flaws, or what I may look like.”
Around the same time, the plus-size modeling industry was heating up. Inspired by the changing landscape in photo spreads and on the runway, Estrada decided to give her childhood passion another go. After graduating from SUNY Orange in Middletown with a degree in exercise science, she relocated to New York City to complete a certification as an integrative nutrition health coach. As she split her time between Chester and NYC, she also split her career between modeling and working as a flight attendant for JetBlue. While the duality is sometimes hard to balance, it gives her the flexibility to make the most of two exciting paths.
“Sometimes my flying schedule doesn’t exactly match up with modeling opportunities. Sometimes I miss out on fun social activities with friends and family. And sometimes I’m running from one place to another like a crazy person,” she says. “But I honestly wouldn’t have my life any other way right now.”
Estrada at Glenmere Mansion in Chester
If Estrada’s success is any indication, her dedication and drive are paying off. Recently, she was named one of the 16 finalists for the next Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. It all began when she attended a casting call with thousands of prospective models in Miami and was selected as one of 65 semi-finalists. Twenty-four hours before Miami Swim Week with Sports Illustrated, she found out that, of those 65, she would be one of 16 set to walk the runway.
“Just when I thought I might have to endure another ‘no’ or ‘maybe next time’ as a model (something every model has to learn to accept in this industry), I was completely blown away by a ‘yes’ and a dream come true all at once,” she recalls.
That was July. Currently, Estrada and her 15 fellow finalists await the next round of selections to the final six and, eventually, to only one. While she’s nervous to find out the results, she’s also excited by the potential the future holds.
“All I can do is be who I am, hope for the best, and ride this extremely exciting, once-in-a-lifetime wave,” she says. “Fingers crossed!”
Estrada at Round One in Middletown
In the interim, she’s happy to make the most of the opportunity – she and other finalists were recently featured in People magazine. She also enjoys coming home to Puerto Rican food in the Hudson Valley. Her family owns the Empanada Master food truck, based in Orange County, so she has a direct connection to homemade empanadas and arroz whenever she craves them.
No matter what happens, Estrada plans to remain open to possibility. She loves modeling for the chance it gives her to inspire others, but she also enjoys traveling the globe with JetBlue. She hasn’t ruled out health coaching, either, since that’s what she studied in college.
“I’m willing to take my time and not know the answers until they’re ready for me,” she explains. “Until then, you better believe I’ll be making big plans, traveling the world, keeping an open mind, following my heart, and enjoying every moment of my current existence.”