Ellie Mariyo, creator of Big Girl Besties brand, takes videos and photos for her Instagram and TikTok accounts on Jan 8, 2023, in Oak Park. | Sara Janz

In a culture where a woman’s worth seems to be tied to the numbers on the scale, Elizabeth “Ellie” Mariyo is pushing back — with grace, humor, killer outfits and a bright smile to share. With her new company, Big Girl Besties, the Oak Parker is taking on the world of podcasting and events planning to empower plus-size people and their allies to embrace who they are as they are.

“In society, we are more focused on the appearance of health, rather than actual health,” Mariyo says. “We’ve decided that if you’re not a size 2, 4, 6 and don’t look like that movie star or model, then you’re not healthy. That’s just not true.”

Such thinking is detrimental to the body and the mind, which Mariyo knows firsthand. She spent years yo-yo dieting, denying herself whole food groups, counting calories and treating exercise only as something she had to do to lose weight. She realized that was no way to live.

“I don’t think I was physically healthy with all the dieting, and I don’t think I was mentally healthy either,” she said. “There was always something that needed to be better. There was always some workout I needed to do.”

As she started to love herself more, she became happier. Instead of denying herself, she thought about eating as providing nutrients to her body. Instead of punishing herself, she started to exercise because it felt good, both for her mind and her body. Now at 30 years old, Mariyo views herself through a heart-shaped lens.

Ellie Mariyo takes photos and videos for her Instagram and TikTok accounts in Oak Park. | Sara Janz

“I don’t think because I’m in a bigger body, I can’t continue to do great things,” she said.

And she wants others to feel that way about themselves, too, and she now has the capital to make her mission a reality. This past fall, Mariyo won $75,000 through a contest called “The Great Unshackling,” sponsored by the California-based wine company Unshackled.

The contest was intended to give the winner the necessary funds to pursue their passion. Those who entered were tasked with posting a video to Instagram, explaining how they would use the prize money.

Mariyo almost missed her chance to post her pitch. She put up her video just three days before the deadline, when she learned about the contest from her brother. He encouraged her to apply, being well aware of his sister’s entrepreneurial aspirations.

“When I saw the video, I immediately thought of her,” said Mariyo’s brother, Jim Adams IV. “The rest of the world may be surprised she won, but I’m not. I’m so proud of her and know she’s destined for great things.”

His faith in Mariyo was obviously not misplaced. Her video entry was chosen out of hundreds through a combination of public voting and panel judging. Her inclusive message resonated. She has over 45,000 followers on Instagram. She has more than double that amount on TikTok.

Ellie Mariyo poses for her social media accounts in Oak Park. | Sara Janz

Seeing her social media posts, it’s no surprise why she’s popular. She loves to dance. She shares fashion secrets. She doesn’t suffer trolls. She’s extremely likeable, upbeat and authentic. She’s like a friend you’ve known for ages, hyping you up when you feel down.

Fearless and intelligent, she speaks three languages, lived in Spain and Switzerland, worked for the International Trade Center, and has a master’s degree in international relations and affairs from the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations.

Now with Big Girl Besties and backing from Unshackled, she’s excited to embark on her latest adventure: debunking harmful stereotypes and misinformation, facilitating healing, and promoting joy for the benefit of all people, no matter their size.

“I believe that accepting bigger bodies is good for all bodies.”

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