Drawbacks of the Curvy Latina Stereotype

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With the growing body positivity movement, the “women come in all shapes and sizes” mantra has been voiced both in everyday conversations and in the mainstream media. But with just a glance at Hollywood’s leading ladies, it’s clear that the catchphrase doesn’t apply to Latinas.

The sensual curves of Jennifer Lopez, Sofia Vergara and Salma Hayek have created a curvy, sexy stereotype of Latinas, leaving many who don’t measure up, and even those who do, dissatisfied with their bodies.

“It’s a Latino mystique,” said body image author, teacher and speaker Rosie Molinary. “It has become the storyline for Latinas and creates an incredible pressure whether or not [they] are close to fitting it”.

The voluptuous Latina stereotype has become an ideal among Latina youth. And like all beauty standards, this curvy ideal keeps Latinas paying for products and services that are marketed to help them reach the unattainable ideal.

“The whole point of standards is to keep us as consumers. The more that we feel a level of unrest with our appearance, the more effort we would put into an ideal; and the more effort we put into fitting an ideal, the more we consume,” said Molinary, whose book “Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image, and Growing up Latina” highlights Latina body image in America.

Many people believe that because the curvy ideal celebrates thighs that touch, it must be healthier than the more common white, thin ideal. But according to co-founder of Beauty Redefined, a non-profit that aims to redefine ideas of beauty and health, Lindsay Kite, the curvy ideal affects Latinas just as much as the thin ideal affects their white peers.

“The curvy ideal values thinness just the same, but Latinas have to meet those other ideals too: big behinds and big breasts,” said Kite. “That contributes to eating disorders just as much as the thin ideal does.”

The results of a survey by Self Magazine in partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill show that three out of four American women have disordered eating behaviors.

Latinas have historically been left out of eating disorder research, leaving researchers with the assumption that Latinas and other minorities were less likely to suffer from disordered eating. But recent studies have found that Latinas have eating disorders and body image concerns at rates similar to those of white women.

And according to Kite, women who are closest to the curvy ideal are at the same risk of eating disorders and body dissatisfaction as those Latinas who seem to be the farthest from the ideal.

“Girls and women who are often closest to those ideals are the people who feel the farthest away. They’re the most critical of themselves … because they are valued primarily for their appearance,” said Kite.

That’s why Kite believes it’s important for young girls to surround themselves with positive, less critical people.

She suggests that girls make friends with people who aren’t critical of themselves and other girls’ or women’s bodies and who aren’t preoccupied with their looks.

But not all Latinas are interested in the curvy ideal.

Dana Heymann, 16, has no desire to look like Jennifer Lopez. But the young, slim, fair-skinned, light-eyed Argentine is miffed over the stereotype that tells her she’s not really Latina because she’s not so bootylicious.

“I am full Latina, but I don’t fit the stereotype of curvy or anything, and I don’t really like that stereotype that every Spanish girl has to be curvy because, no, that’s not true,” said Heymann. “It sometimes just slips my mind, and I’m like ‘wait I am Spanish.’ I sometimes think it’s because of the way I look. I’m not tan, I don’t have curly hair, I don’t have the big butt or big boobs.”

Heymann, unfortunately, is not the only young girl questioning the validity of her ethnicity because of the limited representations of Latinas in the media.

When researching for her book, Molinary spoke with a host of Latinas who all felt restricted by the fact that there was just one working Latina for a handful of Latino countries. They hoped for a wide scope of working Latinas who could illustrate to both Latinos and non-Latinos the range of Latina beauty.

Molinary believes that putting Latinos in decision-making positions could help remove the curvy stereotype.

“There’s a significant amount of diversification that needs to take place in Hollywood. On the screen is great, but I would argue that it’s even more important behind the scenes. There needs to be someone to say ‘this is not OK,’” said Monlinary.

Molinary’s call for diversity is important because she believes that young girls must understand that bodies of all shapes, sizes and colors are beautiful.

Here are three strategies Kite believes will help young girls on their path to fighting unreal beauty ideals:

1. Surround yourself with positive people: Our friends and peers can have a big influence on how we feel about our bodies, so try to spend time with people who aren’t critical of themselves or other girls’ and women’s bodies. At the same time, do your best to stop saying negative things about your body out loud. When a friend or family member makes a negative comment about her body, remind her that she’s beautiful. Set a goal with her to recognize when you’re saying negative things, and stop yourself by replacing it with a compliment for yourself or someone else.

2. Go on a media fast: Choose a day, a week, a month or longer to steer clear of as much media as you can. That way, you can see how your life is different without all of those messages and images; and when you return to viewing and reading popular media, you will be more sensitive to the messages that hurt you and those that are unrealistic. Tuning out of media will help girls better recognize what real bodies look like all around them and the wide variety of bodies that are considered attractive and desirable in their own lives.

3. Be critical of the media, not yourselves or others: We need to feel an obligation to put media under closer inspection for the influence it has in our lives. Next time you are flipping through a magazine or watching a movie, train yourself to ask important questions about what you see. If you don’t like the answers you find, remember you can turn away from the messages that hurt you. Ask yourself:

  • Do you feel better or worse about yourself when viewing or hearing this media? Do you believe the females in your life would feel better or worse about themselves after viewing or hearing this media?
  • Who is advertising in these pages or on this screen? (Look for ads and commercials, and you’ll see who is paying the bills for your favorite media messages)
  • Who owns the TV show, movie, magazine, video game or website you are viewing? (Research the company and its owners and you’ll find out who the powerful decision-makers are behind the scenes of your media of choice)
  • Is the media you read and view promoting real health or impossible ideals meant to make you spend money and time? Who are those messages promoting impossible ideals usually speaking to?
  • How are women and girls presented here? Are they valued for their talents and personality? Do they look like the females in your life? Which body types are presented as beautiful or desirable?

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