Bella Latina

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Over the years, Latinas in the media and the presence of a stronger Latina voice in the United States have influenced the ideal body image of the Latina, or what is thought to be the ideal. Before actresses like J. Lo and Salma Hayek, Latinas were virtually off the map. However, they have been and continue to be considered exotic beings; a real trophy. But the unique blend of Hispanic and American cultures has since created a sort of double standard when it comes to the ideal body type. How do Latinas today deal with the pressures of the American skinny and the Hispanic voluptuous? How do young girls feel about the clashing standards they are forced to meet, but can’t simply because they lie on two opposite ends of the spectrum?

For years, Latina women were absent from media, until the arrival of beautiful actresses such as J. Lo. “Eva Longoria and J. Lo are known for their great physique and it’s proven you don’t have to be 5’7” to be beautiful but that you can have luscious curves and still feel beautiful about yourself,” says Carinna Arvizo, a junior in high school. However, many Latinas have come to think that even one of the most renowned Latina artists is slowly transforming into the ideal American beauty. “This focus on beautiful Latinas can feel like a relief,” argues Rosie Molinary, author of the book Hijas Americanas, “but it does not come without pressure. Red carpet commentary often focuses on Salma Hayek’s and Jennifer Lopez’s curves…But Hayek’s and Lopez’s figures are, for many Latinas, as unattainable as Paris Hilton’s.” Truthfully, however, we are all different, have different body shapes, hair texture, eye color, so it is virtually impossible to attribute or expect a specific body type from such a diverse ethnic group.

Unfortunately, the pressure comes from other sources as well. In our homes, we are expected to look a certain way. Some Hispanic moms like to feed us and feed us till we burst, and others don’t. Sometimes mothers fall into the American way of doing things, causing another source of outside pressure for a young Latina. “Other times, it seems as if we’ve conquered our own demons, only to find that our mothers and aunts have grabbed on to that North American standard of slimness, feeding us the same messages that lead to feelings of inadequacy.”

Seeing as body image forms such a large part of every girl’s upbringing, I have chosen to share the stories—and expectations—of the women in my family that have had to deal with these clashing cultures. My younger sister Carinna and I have different body types and physical appearance; while she is the curvy, green-eyed, fair-skinned beauty, I am thin, brown-eyed and brunette. When asked how she deals with the different expectations of beauty in the United States, Carinna answered: “I personally would like to be 5’7”, have long legs, be a size 3. Sadly, I’m only 5’2”, so there’s no way I can change it. I’m not the person to answer that because I’ve always hated my body. I just don’t like it.” Evidently, this double standard results in frustration and a tendency to dislike the Latina body.

I, on the other hand, have felt the pressure of the ideal American athletic body, exercising 6 days a week and obsessing over healthy eating habits. As Rosie Molinary writes, “Thus as Latinas we can be caught in between two standards of beauty—not feeling beautiful in either culture, or feeling beautiful in one but not the other.” Of course, my grandmother feels I do not have enough meat on my bones, but I have come to terms with my less than curvy body and have learned to love it! After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the only beholder that really matters is you!

Molinary writes, “After all, we are all the union of our parts. The truth is that every woman can be saccharine and salt, beauty and brawn, gentle and razor sharp. We, the multi-ethnic children of Latino parents and American upbringing, are able to take from our culture what we need and integrate our parts to become our best selves.”

January 2011

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