If you caught episode 4 of Hulu’s “Shrill,” you know just how powerful a body-positive pool party can be. After watching, we were immediately inspired to reach out to Essie Golden, the plus-size model who started one of the biggest celebrations of swimsuit-clad women of all sizes—the Golden Confidence Pool Party. Here’s her story.
When I first decided to start the Golden Confidence Pool Party, I was trying to break into doing the whole modeling thing. I was on Instagram a lot, thanks to the encouragement of my friends (I really owe them everything, honestly). I was modeling a lot for different independent brands that were making swimsuits for plus-size women that we really wanted. At that time, nobody was really doing it. And lucky enough for me, they wanted me to model their swimsuits.
I was posting the pictures everywhere and so many women were like, “Oh my god, I love the swimsuits. This is amazing. I wish I had your confidence.” Many women were saying, “I would wear a swimsuit like that if I had a place to wear it where people weren’t going to make fun of me and where people looked like me.”
Seeing other women doing something gives others the confidence to do it too. I felt that if I’m encouraging women to go outside and wear swimwear, I can’t not give them the tools to feel comfortable and confident enough to wear it.
At first, I was just going to do a beach meet-up. I thought that maybe I could just gather us together to meet up, take pictures, and have fun. My friends pushed me to do an actual pool party. I didn’t know if people were actually going to come—I thought it was maybe just going to be the three of us.
I put in the word and teamed up with brands that supported plus-size women from the beginning. I released the tickets, and within that first week, they sold out. I was in shock because I just didn’t think that anybody would really want to get together—but it ended up being so much bigger than me. I’m just so happy to be able to do something like that, not only for myself but for other women as well.
I realized that my fat-girl story was not the same as everyone else’s. Many people will be like, “Oh my god, I don’t understand why you can’t wear a swimsuit in public.” But there are so many women who just aren’t there yet. Not everyone has the same support system that I have.
Modeling kind of forced me to be comfortable and confident in my body because, at the end of the day, it’s not about me or my opinions. It’s about you selling the product and making women feel good. And, of course, living in New York, there are so many beautiful plus-size women in general, people in general, who dress stylishly and no one cares. You get this freedom living in New York City, and so much fashion inspiration, from people just literally letting you be. I had to sit back and think about how lucky I was to be able to live in a place that allows me to do and live as I choose.
When women come to their first pool party, you can see the change in them. The same women who say, “I can’t wear that, I can’t do that,” who come in with jeans and long-sleeved shirts, by the end of the night, they’re in the pool, they have their swimsuits on, and they’ve made tons of friends. They leave with more than what they came with—and that just means so much to me.
I would have women inbox me and write, “I’ve never been to an event where there weren’t mean girls, there weren’t cliques. I felt surrounded and supported, and I made friends, and for the first time in forever, I was able to be myself and discover more about myself.” I felt like there was something there and I wanted to see where we could take it. That’s why I wanted to bring it to LA and I brought it to Miami. The same energy was everywhere. It was just awesome to be able to do that.
The world can be such a cruel space for so many women. Growing up, every single woman who I’ve ever spoken to who is plus size has been on a diet. By the age of 5 or 6 and up until college, I was on a diet. It occurs to you that if you don’t look a certain way, you’re not good enough. That travels into your relationships, that travels into your friendships, that travels into your workplace. It exhausts you, going out into the world feeling like you’re not good enough or that nobody likes you.
I think things are a lot easier now. We have more access to clothes and we have more access to spaces. Women are finally seeing themselves in media, meeting other women like them, and finding those safe spaces. It’s just nice to know that you’re not alone—because sometimes you can feel like it’s just you.
We belong. We deserve to be here. We deserve to have access just like everyone else. We deserve to shop like everyone else. Something as simple as just being able to walk into a store and shop can be so impactful. I’m so happy with all the work that so many plus-size women, and people in general, have done to open up these companies. Years ago, we couldn’t walk into a Target and shop the plus-size section—and now it’s just right there with everything else.
Social media has definitely helped all of us so much from being able to curate our feeds to following women who look like us and hashtags that give you all these great ideas. I look at the #GoldenConfidence hashtag every day and I see so many beautiful people getting together—not just at pool parties, but at karaoke, or bowling, or this, or that. It’s a great way to connect and I’m so happy to see that social media is being used in a positive way.
I’m hoping to do more pool parties in the future. It was awesome being able to bring them to New York and LA and Miami, and I would love to do one in London, in Africa, and in all these different places. I love to see that people are already doing their own pool parties in their areas—that’s so amazing. I’m all about women coming together in a safe space where they feel allowed to be themselves.
You never know who you’re inspiring or what you’re doing just by simply living your truth. This summer, dip your toe into the pool of Golden Confidence. Sometimes it’s just about pushing your limits and jumping right in.
Founder of the Golden Confidence Pool Party