Detroit woman -- director, chief engineer for DWSD -- fights weight bias with modeling campaign

Palencia Mobley breaks down barriers, blows up stereotypes

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DETROIT – A Detroit woman has been recognized by Forbes for breaking down barriers and blowing up stereotypes in a modeling campaign that challenges weight bias at work.

Palencia Mobley, 39, is the deputy director and chief engineer for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

"I'm in charge of all the operations for DWSD, and so all of the water main replacement and repair, all of the sewer system maintenance and rehabilitation," Mobley said.

Engineering is not a common career path for women, she said.

"I didn't have anyone to look up to, and I think it's important I could have," Mobley said.

Her skill in science and math helped her earn her current position.

"I've been successful," Mobley said. "I've been remarkably successful."

Now, she said she can be a role model for other young girls who might want to be engineers.

Recently, during her private time, Mobley sent an audition tape for a national modeling campaign -- a plus-sized clothing company.

She was chosen to be part of the campaign.

"I didn't really tell a lot of people," Mobley said. "I kind of said, 'Oh, yeah, I won this competition, kind of casting call thing, and I'm going to go take these pictures.' But I didn't really understand the magnitude of it."

Now, Mobley is on buses and signs. She's made national magazines and talks about unconscious weight bias at work.

"I've always had to be comfortable in this body," she said. "As a young woman, I would want to know that she can do anything that she puts her mind to. It doesn't matter what she looks like. It doesn't matter how she dresses, per se."

She said she shares her story to inspire other young women and teach people not to judge others by their size.

"I can remember being a kid, and my mom would make sure your skirt, you know, comes down below your knees," Mobley said. "But the way my body shape is, the rear of my skirt is always going to be shorter than the front of my skirt."

Mobley is also using social media, posting pictures of her running a half marathon, working out and sharing exercise videos.

"I didn't know that so many people found it inspirational until people started telling me they did," Mobley said.

She plans to continue using her body and her life to help others see her success and realize their beauty.

"I think it speaks volumes to have someone who's confident in who they are, who -- not to toot my own horn, but I'm not too bad to look at, and who is smart, out here saying, 'This is what an engineer looks like,'" Mobley said.

The modeling campaign was done on Mobley's personal time and has nothing to do with city work.

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