Tears streamed down Rosie Mercado’s cheeks after the flight attendant delivered his stinging words: “Ma’am. You are not going to fit into one seat. You need to purchase another fare.”
The humiliating exchange on the red-eye from Las Vegas to New York in June 2011 was among a series of embarrassments endured by plus-size model Mercado when she tipped the scales at 410 pounds.
They included having to hire a nanny to take her kids to Disneyland, because she was too big to accompany them on rides; mobility issues; and hurtful comments from gaping strangers.
Now, 3 ½ years after pledging to fight the flab, the 35-year-old beauty has lost more than half her body weight, shrinking from a size 34 to a size 16 to 18 through a strict diet and exercise regimen.
At 5-foot-9, she weighs 201 pounds and has just 21 pounds to go before reaching her target of 180 pounds and a size 14.
“I now truly love myself and appreciate every single moment that I live and breathe,” says Mercado, who signed with Manhattan-based True Model Management in April 2014. “When I was larger, I just wasn’t leading the lifestyle I wanted.
“Now I couldn’t be happier.”
The Las Vegas-raised former makeup artist courted success after competing in plus-size beauty pageants such as Miss Plus America in 2009, during which she was featured in National Geographic Channel’s “Taboo” documentary series.
At her heaviest, she filmed the reality TV show “Curvy Girls” on NuvoTV in 2011, but found that top modeling agencies would pass on her portfolio as soon as they found out her measurements.
They would contact me after seeing pictures of my face and upper body, neither of which were big, yet were shocked at my 65-inch hips,” recalls Mercado, who has killer cheekbones but describes her body as “very pear-shaped.”
“It was disheartening,” she adds.The mother of three confesses her key problem was comfort-eating, particularly during stressful times such as pregnancy and her 2008 divorce.
“I made some very poor choices, opting for fast food like McDonald’s burgers and supersize fries rather than fruits and vegetables,” she says. “My health was low priority, and it was affecting everything I did, especially spending quality time with my kids.”
Although Mercado was voted the Face of Full Figured Fashion Week in New York in 2010, delivered red carpet TV fashion reports and appeared in magazines such as “The Best of Brides,” it wasn’t until she took charge of her unhealthy eating habits that her career really took off.
The “a-ha” moment came a few months after the cringe-worthy plane seat incident when she signed up for a weeklong “Unleash The Power Within” course in LA led by self-help guru Tony Robbins.
It was out with the junk food and in with lean proteins, fruits and vegetables. Mercado, who began running small distances, also enlisted the help of a boot-camp-style personal trainer. She now hits the gym six days a week for an hour a day.
“It has not been the easiest journey, and I’ve had my ups and down,” admits the model, who describes her weight loss as “steady and gradual.”
“But, when I compare my quality of life now to how it used to be, I know it was worth it.”
She claims the biggest payoff has been the improved relationship with her children — she took them to Disneyland without the need of a nanny this year and goes walking with them in the hills — but counts her signing 18 months ago with True Model Management as one of her best achievements.
“They believed in me and supported me every step of the way,” she gushes.
The partnership has since led to a number of high-profile modeling assignments, including 2015 campaigns for plus-size fashion companies igigi.com and Ibbi World.
“I’m proof that, if you follow your vision, your dreams can come true,” adds Mercado, proudly sashaying with her now-48-inch hips.