THE MEXICAN ACTRESS ESTEFANÍA VILLARREAL IS A RADIATING FORCE HERE TO PROMOTE BODY-POSITIVITY
There’s something contagious about Estefanía Villarreal, a radiation so strong that it is perceivable despite the thousands of miles that separate her Mexico City flat from my Caracas home. One feels at ease with her, straight off. Following our greeting, I rush to tell the Mexican actress that I’m a firm believer in destiny, and that there’s something surreal about us speaking that day. She engages immediately, fixing her houndstooth button-down and silently listening as if I was to predict her fate in the next few seconds.
I tell her that, in previous days, I was crossed with a photograph of a young me with my face covered in fake tattoos and crested, dyed hair, evoking a punk attitude that complemented my costume for that year’s school carnival: an ensemble inspired by the members of the TV series that gave Estefanía worldwide recognition, Rebelde. She looks moved and agrees to the surrealism of us being brought together so unexpectedly for this story.
As cult series of the 90s and early 2000s keep reviving today in Gen-Z-targeted and more politically correct reboots, fans’ sense of ownership over original plots and characters can put new renditions under serious scrutiny. For Estefanía Villarreal, who played young Celina Ferrer in the 2004 version of Rebelde and reprises the role in the 2022 Netflix adaptation, there were also moments where it was challenging quitting nostalgia. “I had to let go, because that anchor that Rebelde meant to me, I couldn’t be dragging it as the new ship moved forward,” she says. “It was a process of telling myself, ‘this is something new, let go’.”
Estefanía wanted to vindicate her character in the new Rebelde, “inevitably, it had to grow up, because 17 years have passed, and although the current Celina keeps notes from her past, she had to evolve. She went from suffering to being a boss,” says the actress. Villarreal looks at ease speaking about her character, she knows it intensively. And with that same easiness reflects that for a moment, Celina might have kept her captive as an actress. “It was hard getting other roles, but this character gave me the chance to influence people positively outside my own country. It taught me how one can exceed their own expectations.”
With a modeling career in a state I like to call ‘soon to go big big’, she has made it very clear to herself what she wants her role to be in this industry. We begin to discuss modeling, and I hear the knife sharpener’s whistle –a sound distinctive to Mexico City – in the background. In an attempt to dissect the model’s words from the colorful song, I notice the caution with which she uses language when speaking of her journey in the business, replacing words like “fight” for “evolution.”
Villarreal denounces how the TV and modeling industries can become reduced, and the way talented people can be left out of the spotlight for not fitting a predetermined mold. “I have taken personally the job of defying these beliefs and being proactive when it comes to proving people wrong,” she says. “The activism that can change these industries has to –first– come from within us,” adds the model, “this empowerment needs to be stronger within us than in social media. Loving ourselves is offline work.”
The knife sharpener has passed, and Estefanía wants us to tackle body diversity “because, for me, it has been complicated to succeed in the modeling industry with my body,” she says – but rejection sparked nothing but drive in the green-eyed model. “This progress is my main driving force these days because if the doors were once closed for me, at least, I want to do my part, so others can have the opportunities I was denied,” says Villarreal, who with an Instagram following reaching millions and international stardom, is aware of her influence – and wants to use it positively.
“Fashion is in its best moment to keep being diverse and multicolored. I know I’m not the only one pursuing this career, and that is something I am grateful for,” says Estefanía after naming models like Ashley Graham and Paloma Elsesser. “I want to put my name –and body– in the fashion industry, and walk the runways. But what I want to put out there the most is my message,” she adds.
A team gathered in Mexico City in early December 2021 to photograph Estefanía for this feature, and suddenly the metaphorical platform she speaks about materialized in 6 inch-platform shoes. Fashion can be transformative, but it can also reveal what has always been there, “I wanted to see Estefanía Villarreal like never before. In full sexy, confident, powerful, spectacular mode – but still being her,” says Francisco Rondón, the stylist of her latest modeling projects. “I wanted to show her how I –and many of us– see her, how powerful she is,” he adds. The result was the daring, striking, almost religious set of imagery in which we see the Rebelde child actor fade and the powerful woman emerging.
Estefanía Villarreal wants to be transcendental, and through modeling, she feels she’s exploiting everything she can be as a human. “Through modeling, I can be all my forms. I can undress literally and figuratively. I get to inspire people and show them that they can be here too,” she says. “However our body is, we only get one chance to shine in that body,” she says, and we should be ready to see her shining a bright light.
Talent: Estefanía Villarreal @estefaniavillarreal
Creative Direction & Styling : Francisco Rondón @franciscojrondon
Interview: Sebastian Cabrices @sebastiancabrices
Photography : Alberto Lanz @lnznk
H&M: Jhon Yanez @sean_derbes
Production: Vile Studio @vilestudiomx
Brands: Cartier | Samuel Burstein | HUA | Maples Showroom | Wavey.la | Nike | Pleaser |
Edited by: Shirley Reynozo
Special Thanks to: Prince Chenoa Studio & Daniela Altamira.