Accepting the Self: Latinas on Body Image
Body Image in Two Cultures
I usually have been too flaca for my Cuban family’s taste.
“Oye, estas muy flaca. Se te van las nalgas.” (Hey, you’re too skinny. Your butt is going to disappear.)
But, then at the height of youthful flaca-ness, the American boyfriend gave me running shoes as a gift. Hint, hint. (I weighed about 104 pounds)
Later, the American man I married — a former triathlete — and his running buddy told me that if I just gained a little muscle, wow! (I weighed about 107 pounds)
And then, back to the familia.
“Niña, come. Que estas muy flaca. Te vas a morir.” (Girl, eat. You’re too skinny. You are going to die.)
Now, 20 pounds heavier, the familia says que “estoy bien.”
Of course, way back then, I thought I was fat and flabby. And now, I think that while I could have been more muscular, I was a silly little fool to worry so much about it.
But, “too flaca” and “not flaca enough” provide a perfect example of what it is like to grow up in two distinct cultures that value and admire a woman’s body in two often distinct ways: The Latinos traditionally, and stereotypically, have seen a thin woman as “pobrecita” while the same woman can be viewed by non-Latino whites as having “to lose a few.”
Latina writers on Body Image
So, in this season of beach and pool, exposed skin and self-doubt, the Tiki Tiki has invited Latina writers who have grown up in two cultures to share their body image stories with the Tiki Tiki. They are the flacas and the gorditas. Their essays, starting tomorrow, are funny and insightful. Inspirational.
The writers are:
Amy Hohneker has lost more than 30 pounds this year. She is happy, but no one told her she would lose an emotional protective barrier too.
Yoly Ovalle says”Soy gorda, y que?” and shares the message her father gave her about self-acceptance.
Sujeiry Gonzalez’s essay is entitled “Flaca till Death” about being a skinny Dominican who would appreciate a few “Que Dios te bendiga” for her petite curves.
Alexandra Rosas Shultze, a regular Tiki Tiki contributor, asks: What would happen if we looked in the mirror and celebrated what we loved, instead of noting our short-comings?
Eva Smith and Denise Mitchell give us a mother-daughter essay contribution on growing up Latina and flaca.
Tracy Lopez on giving up excuses that have kept her from loving herself more and reaching her best potential. Even if only for a day.
Amanda Dufau started walking for exercise and to improve her health. It has worked. She hears her body say “Thank You.”
Maria Aquilino was, as a child, nicknamed Boliche by her dad. Today, while she still has a few rolls, her focus is on healthy habits and spiritual practice to maintain her body and spirit.
Aging and Body Image
These days, being skinny is not the focus of my body image and self-perception — despite my frustrating peri-menopausal weight gain.
I tell myself I want to be “strong” not “skinny.” I know how much my body has allowed me, and just how much further I need it to take me. And, take me there as a healthy, able woman.
So, my focus is more on the changes that entering 44 are bringing: the gray hairs that are sprouting — and that, so far, I have refused to color; the extreme desire I have for stretching increasingly tight muscles; how my neck is getting kind of chicken-like; how it is harder to maintain balance during exercise.
It is fascinating, really. And, I don’t feel afraid because it is oddly empowering. I feel more adventurous, more liberated, more determined. (Evidence: the growing collection of animal print clothing I own.) OK, I am not happy about future jowls, but we’re not there yet.
I study, and question, women older than I to determine whether they are comfortable in their skin, to learn how they stay healthy and highlight the best parts of themselves at a time in life when many women feel drab or invisible.
In Nashville, I watch elegant Southern ladies, in their capri pants, well-ironed blouses and super cute shoes. I notice their strong legs and fabulous posture.
I inhale the perfumed and powered cubanas during Miami visits. Those viejas — my Mom and Tias included — don’t ever forget the lipstick, the jewelry, the tacones, the awesome purse. A lot of times, they look better than I do, or make a stronger point to shine.
I know this because my mom often tells me: “Pintate los labios un poco.” (Put on some lipstick).
If I learn my lessons well, and if I remember to put on some lipstick, maybe I won’t ever go invisible.
Body Image Reading and Resources
Body image and young Latinas, a topic explored via the move Real Women Have Curves.
Positive Affirmations for Accepting and Loving Your Body via Mom it Forward.
The Shape of a Mother, a candid collection of photos and self-portraits of women’s bodies after babies.
Curvy Girl Guide, a community of essays by women who say “our curves don’t define us, they amplify us.”
Add your voice.
How to you maintain a positive self image? What is your struggle?
What are you doing to get strong, get healthy, get fit? Would getting more fit improve your body image?