By: Daniela Sosa-Roque
I have never been a thin girl and it’s fair to say that I’ve always been a couple of pounds overweight.
I think it was around fifth grade when I really became aware of my body.
I was born in Cuba and I consider my latinx identity to be major part of who I am.
In Latin-American cultures the word fat is casually thrown around and it’s not uncommon to refer to people as fat or skinny. Growing up I was used to being called fat. As a little girl I remember how much being called gordita (chubby or fat) triggered me, because I knew what being fat implied.
To me, being fat meant I was unattractive.
The characterization of the latinx also had a strong influence in determining how I looked at my body. The latinx is perfectly constructed for the male gaze, she is the epitome of sexy. She has a voluptuous “hourglass” figure that short skin-tight dresses cling to. She has a small waist and wide hips, curves in all the right places. She has big boobs and long sculpted legs. Her hair isn’t an unruly mane of curls: it’s wavy and silky. Her skin is the colour of café con leche, she’s not light or dark but right in between.
The other half of the stereotype is the idea that latinxs are hypersexual, promiscuous and have fiery, passionate personalities. While there’s nothing wrong with a woman owning her sexuality, this stereotype often suggests that a latinx’s agency and value only stems from her sex appeal.
This inaccurate portrait is a harmful myth perpetuated by pop culture. It was also highly problematic for me as a latinx that didn’t quite fit this mold.
What about the latinxs whose shoulders are broader than their hips? What about the latinxs with pelo malo (bad hair), whose tight curls and kinks can’t be tamed with combs? What about the ones that don’t have small waists and don’t exude sex and confidence?
Growing up I felt like there was a particular set of expectations I had to meet because I was latinx. However, trying to conform to this ideal was like attempting to squeeze into a dress that I didn’t fit into, yet desperately wanted to. Obtaining the “latinx figure” and meeting those standards – fitting into the dress – meant I could be beautiful.
Sometimes I felt like I even took up too much space. I wanted to be smaller, thinner and more petite. I began consciously and instinctively monitoring my posture. I would sit up straight and rigid, so my stomach wouldn’t fold.
Despite only being a few pounds overweight, I often found myself feeling disgusted when I looked at my body. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror without picking out every flaw. I would pinch my belly or thigh and think, “If you just lost this and this and this…you would be perfect.”
The little voice that reminded me I’m not supposed to have that extra bit of fat on my tummy and thighs was impossible to block out. I wanted to reclaim and love my body, but how was I supposed to do that when it seemed that everywhere I looked, there were thousands of reasons to hate it?
Being a latinx trying to find peace and acceptance in my appearance also made me question if fat and sexy could coexist, even if sexy excludes everything that fat implies. Sexy can’t be cellulite, stretch marks, tummy rolls and love handles…right?
The idea that sexy has to tick off all these boxes leaves out a whole range of women. In particular, women that think that they can’t be sexy because their tummies aren’t flat or their bodies have cellulite.
All women come in a diverse range of shapes and sizes and insisting that a group of women should look a certain way neglects different body types. The solution to the misrepresentation of latinxs is to challenge it with more diverse representations in the media.
The voices that demand we change to fit these unrealistic standards are loud, but the voices that ask us to accept ourselves regardless of our body shapes and sizes must be louder. The voices of self-love and acceptance need to begin within us first.
It’s a long process, but loving your body and being happy in your own skin requires allowing yourself time to heal. It’s not easy and it’s still uncomfortable for me at times, but recovery from suffering with an unhealthy body image shouldn’t be easy and it definitely shouldn’t be comfortable.
I am a latinx and I happily reject the unrealistic and oppressive beauty standards that have made me feel like I’m not enough.