When we think “passion for fashion,” we think creator Jessica Torres. The New York-based Ecuadorian American plus-size style influencer and host of the podcast, Fat Girls Club, who originally hails from the Bronx (“Jessi from the Block”), is one of our favorite source of inspiration for looks—so it’s no surprise that her two Chihuahua mixes, Manolo and Martina, often appear in her photoshoots. We spoke to Jessica about being a tiny dog mom, teaching her dogs to accessorize, and how she’s helping the plus-size community shop for great fits.
How did Manolo and Martina come into your life?
Manolo was originally my younger sister’s dog. She ended up getting married and moving to a place where they wouldn’t allow dogs. So I was like, okay, I’ll just take care of him. There’s no problem. He’s been mine ever since and he’s my baby.
“I’m actually planning on doing their little DNA test—do my own little Maury Show moment and see who the father is, see what breeds they are.”
Is he a Chihuahua?
He is a Chihuahua. I’m not completely sure what he is because we really don’t have full breed dogs. They’re little mutts. I think he might be the only one who is a full Chihuahua. We’re still not sure. He’s very petite and under five pounds. Manolo’s a very nervous, timid dog—but very also cuddly and sensitive. He knows when someone is sad. If he hears anyone crying, he’ll jump through their chest and lick their tears away. He also knows when a woman is on her period. I know this sounds crazy, but whenever he feels this, he’ll go to their bellies and just lay down.
He’s such a great comfort dog. When I had surgery a few years ago, he did not leave my side. He was on my bed all the time. He basically said, “You’re in bed, I’m in bed.” It was the sweetest thing ever.
What about Martina?
I moved in with my girlfriend and for our anniversary, we decided we wanted to get another dog. We had been talking about this for a while. We didn’t want Manolo to feel lonely every time we had to run errands or leave the house. He’s so used to being with people and gets so anxious when he’s not. He’ll bark like crazy. We thought it would be nice for him to have a little buddy. After living together for a year, we decided it was a great time to adopt a baby. We actually found this family who had puppies and agreed to give us one of the babies. That’s how we got Martina.
Is Martina a Chihuahua too?
We don’t know, but I think one of the parents was a mutt as well. I think she’s a Chihuahua Terrier mix of some kind. I’m actually planning on doing their little DNA test—do my own little Maury Show moment and see who the father is, see what breeds they are.
I have a total mutt too. And we took one of those DNA tests and she’s like 10 different dogs at once. Mutts are so unique, right?
With Martina, you can tell that there’s a Terrier and a Chihuahua in her. She’s got the long body of a Terrier, her ears also look like a Terrier’s, but her face is a bit of Chihuahua. She’s like a weird E.T.-looking brown, beautiful baby, which I love!
Compared to Manolo, how big is Martina?
Martina is actually seven pounds, so she’s bigger than him. She’s much meatier. She has a belly and loves to eat. She’s much more active than he is. She loves to play around and fetch things. She’s a very active dog, but also very quiet. She doesn’t really bark much.
How did they react when they met? Was it love at first sight or was Manolo jealous?
That was the hardest part! Manolo thinks he’s a human baby. When Martina came home, he was like, “When did we decide to get a dog? I was not included in these plans. What is going on?” Martina wanted to play with him from the first second, but he was so afraid of other dogs because when my sister had him, she never really had a lot of time to introduce him to others. It took us a couple months until Manolo was okay with just being with her in the same room. They’re finally getting along. They kind of cuddle. Sometimes, he still likes his privacy. But, he’s getting so much better at cuddling with her and checking up on her. The other day, my girlfriend took Martina to work and he kept looking for her. It was the best thing ever to realize that they were actually starting to yearn for each other.
Since you have such great taste, do you have any favorite dog brands?
For their food, they both do Royal Canin. Any other brand usually doesn’t suit them that well and they’ll get sick. I do a mix of wet and dry foods to switch it up for them. We really don’t have any favorite brands. We’re still experimenting because they’re so small that most clothes don’t fit! We usually buy something and then exchange it for something smaller. They have two little cow print onesies that I got on Amazon that they both like wearing. Those are my favorite to see them in.
What’s their play style?
Manolo strictly likes to just fetch things. We have these soft toys that are little volcanoes with dinosaurs that come out of it that they love playing fetch with. Manolo tends to get shy about playing in front of Martina, so we usually play separately with each of them. Martina always wants to play. My sister has two dogs now and she usually brings them over for playdates. Martina tussles with them and Manolo’s always on the sidelines, not wanting to be bothered. We also take them to the dog park nearby, but usually there’s not a lot of small dogs, so they’ll just run around by themselves. Everyone here tends to have really huge dogs and we’re the only ones with little babies.
I used to want a tiny dog, but I was always so scared I would sit or step on them. My dog is about 20 pounds and I still sometimes almost step on her!
They’re so aware that they’re very small. If anyone’s walking by them, they move out of the way. I used to test it on them. I would specifically place them on the couch and I would pretend to almost sit on them so they could practice moving out of the way. The moment I would get closer, as soon as I’d touched their bodies, they knew they had to move. They kind of got used to the idea that if anyone’s coming that close, they need to run.
You’ve trained them for the real world. They’re small and smart. Do they ever appear in your content or have they ever done a campaign with you?
I’m the typical mother that thinks my dogs are the cutest dogs in the world, so I want put them in everything. Whenever I have the opportunity of shooting some home content, they’ll be in the photos because they’re beautiful to me and I want them there. Martina is great with the camera! She’ll just be sitting and looking cute, while Manolo just constantly gives me his back. It always looks like I’m just carrying a little cow because of his black and white body. I do try and include them in all the photos I can. Manolo goes so well with certain outfits, as does Martina with others!
What kind of outfits do they go with?
Manolo is black and white and a little spotty, so I do monochromatic looks with him. For Martina, I go for more earthy patterns, because she’s a brown little dog.
That’s so cute. You’re the first person I’ve spoken to who doesn’t emphasize accessorizing their dogs, but rather, matching your outfits with them. Do they have a grooming routine?
We’ll just take them to the groomer near us once a month. They don’t really need a lot of grooming. We bathe them every two-to-three weeks. The groomer cuts their nails and cleans their ears, because we’re really scared of doing it ourselves. Aside from that, I’d say they’re very low maintenance. I don’t think I could have a high-maintenance dog because they’re already very emotional, crazy dogs. Having to take care of them physically with special care would be too much for me. I hate doing my own hair—I’m not doing anyone else’s!
Do you use a specific brand of dog shampoo?
We’ve been using a baby shampoo that the vet recommended.
Baby skin is close to the pH of dog skin. And it makes sense—they are your babies!
I literally treat them like my babies.
What is your biggest indulgence for them?
They’re not allowed on the couch or the bed because my girlfriend doesn’t like that. But when she’s not here, we’re always together on the bed. She doesn’t know that though. It’s my dirty little secret. I love it because I’ll be tired from a long day of work and then for 30 minutes I’ll bring them up the bed so that they can cuddle with me. They’ll lay by the pillows or my legs and we’ll take a nap together.
They know it’s a secret. That’s so funny. How do you think your dogs have changed your life?
Right before I moved into my new apartment, my mom was taking care of Manolo for the first two weeks because I needed time to move in and unpack all the things, and I didn’t want to stress him out with all of that. So, for those two weeks, I was extremely depressed. Not having him nearby did affect my mental health. I felt so sad that he wasn’t around. No matter what kind of day I’m having, if it’s stressful or sad, I know that literally just looking at them makes me feel so much happier, excited, and relaxed. I think it’s the mothering side of me that just wants to take care of them and make sure that they’re okay.
Did you grow up with dogs?
No, not at all. We lived in a small apartment with my family. My sister and I weren’t allowed to have dogs because we had childhood asthma though we always wanted one. We would tie strings to balloons and we would walk the balloons around the apartment like they were our dogs. We would even draw little dog faces on them sometimes and just walk our “dogs” from one room to another. Now that I have my own dogs, I feel as if my childhood dream came true!
Your childhood dream really did come true! Do you feel your life with your dogs changed since the pandemic?
It really hasn’t affected my life that much. I work from home and even when I’m out running errands, I always put them in my bag and they’ll behave very well.
How did you become a style influencer?
I started my blog about ten years ago. I realized that I was a Bronx Latina and I didn’t have a lot of connections to work in magazines, so I decided that maybe starting my blog would be a good way to get noticed—and it worked. I became very noticed on Instagram and social media. I ended up getting a job at a site where I worked as a producer and reporter for them. I created a lot of content that had to do with body positivity, plus-size fashion, and beauty. After a while, I quit the job so I could work for myself full-time.
The content that I create is pretty much fashion related. I cater to plus-size women in the fashion world. I do hauls where I show what clothes actually look like on plus-size bodies. I try to be that connection between the fat consumer who doesn’t really get to see themselves and the clothes that are on the site.
You have a really engaged community. Have you been able to connect with other dog moms through your work?
Having dogs is such a great icebreaker because a lot of people love dogs, but meeting another content creator who has one makes you instantly connect with them.
Do you ever take your dogs out to brunch?
Because they’re so small, I can just put them in a tote bag and no one will know they’re there. I actually snuck Manolo into a movie theater once. He literally slept the entire time and didn’t bark or anything. We got up and left, and no one noticed. It was really sneaky, but I was lucky enough that he’s really calm and quiet so he didn’t make any noise or disturb anyone.
That’s incredible, and really a testament to you that he trusts you and wants to be around you so bad, he is okay with just chilling in a tote bag in a theater, just happy to be wherever you are. If they were human, how would you describe Manolo and Martina?
My girlfriend and I talk about this all the time. We think Manolo would be the shy, nerdy boy in the corner—a wallflower—who just wants to vibe and is probably very anxious, but a really nice guy once you get to meet him. As for Martina, she would probably be a world traveler. She wants to make friends with everyone. She usually wants to play with every dog, no matter the size or the weight of the dog. She thinks everyone’s her friend.
Martina seems kind of sophisticated and adventurous. What are some of the dreams and goals that you have as a mom dog for your two babies?
So I definitely want to travel with my dogs. I would love to have world traveling photos with them. But, personally for Manolo, I want him to be a little less anxious and we’re working on that. That’s my biggest mission in life right now, to make him a little bit more confident. As for Martina, I’d definitely love to travel with her. She seems like the perfect travel buddy.
Photography by Tayler Smith