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Accepting the Self: Latinas on Body Image

Submitted by on June 26, 2011 – 6:44 pm37 Comments

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.

Nourishing the Soul

Curvy Girl Guide, a community of essays by women who say “our curves don’t define us, they amplify us.”

Y tu?

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?


Share, por favor!


  • Gracias for the beautiful post. It’s interesting to hear “the flaca” side of the story, never thought about the losing your nalgas issue. It’s hard to be very happy if you are staring too hard into the mirror or looking for others to tell you that “you are beautiful”. It’s a lesson I am learning way too slowly. Maybe by 50. Love this post.

    • Carrie says:

      Julie, we have several essays by flacas this week. The flacas came out to be heard!

      I have reached the point where I want to be strong. Just strong.
      Being a writer does not make a woman strong and I am at the use it, or lose it age.

      Also, finally tired of not thinking I can do it, you know?
      We can, we can, we can…

      And before 50!!!

  • [...] headline » Accepting the Self: Latinas on Body Image June 26, 2011 – 6:44 pm | One Comment [...]

  • Alexandra says:

    I am looking forward to these essays: I know, that growing up, a figure like Sophia Vergara is what is desired.

    Not so easy when you are as skinny as a beanpole.

    And there is nothing you can do about it.

    Truly, I can remember the minute by minute hatred of my long, thin, flat, shape.

    This is a wonderful series, Thank you, TikiTiki!

  • I’ve been overweight the past 10 years of my life. The last 10 years happens to be when my career really kicked into high gear. Raising a family, writing, blogging, crafting, speaking, teaching – eating is my quick guilty pleasure of escape. It may sound like a cop out, but I feel like I’d be a completely different person with different motivations and goals if I was a slender size…14. Yes, to me that is slender and gorgeous!

    It’s a goal of mine to be healthy when I can, but I can’t add one more layer of stress to my life, so…I just accept it and make the most of it and don’t let it stop me from being adventurous and loving life. From going on rollercoaster rides to walking 16 blocks in NYC to going to fancy cocktail parties, I pretend I’m super thin and rock it the best I can!

    I believe we are all vessels of beauty inside and out, life is too short to dwell on our shortcomings when we can be soaking up the good life and love!

    • Carrie says:

      I hope a lot of your women read what you wrote, Kathy…especially: “I believe we are all vessels of beauty inside and out, life is too short to dwell on our shortcomings when we can be soaking up the good life and love!”

      Thank you!

      Y mucha salud!

  • Mercedes @BeChicMag says:

    o m g! We just had a conversation on this on my facebook page this morning. I can totally relate to the “you’re too skinny” comments. Heard from it all: the neighbors, family and even the BF :/ lol
    But the truth is, I’ve learned how to accept myself. I even wrote about it on http://BeChicMag.com.

    This is great, Carrie!

  • Monique says:

    It’s funny, because all through high school I considered myself fat. At 5’6 I only weighed 120lbs, and every day I would look in the mirror and scrutinize every body part. Today, I’m a size 16/18 and I’ve never been more comfortable in my body. It has taken me a long time to get here. It’s all about self-acceptance, not just confidence (although that’s very important). Thank you for your post, it’s a great reminder that not matter your height, size, or weight body image is always on our mind.

  • Tracy says:

    Can’t wait to read all these essays. This is an amazing thing you’ve put together and I’m honored to be a part of it.

  • I am likewise excited to read all the essays, and see the issues from its many varied viewpoints. I have my own issues, of course (don’t we all…), and am working on accepting and loving myself, while also trying to be the best *I* can be. One thing I can’t change (and finally don’t want to) is that I’m so tall. Especially as a Latina, that’s always been something folks remarked upon. And when I lived in Mexico City, it was a constant source of commentary/discussion. But growing up, it was difficult, and I even was told at one point that I was “less Latina” for being so tall. Interesting, huh? But now, I think I’m lucky to have the height, and it comes in handy — both around the house and at large events! :) It’s so important we all learn to appreciate ourselves so we can also appreciate other women — in all the variety, beauty and wonder in which we were made. Great topic!

    • Carrie says:

      Ay, Aurelia “less Latina: for being tall?!!! Me muero.

      Though I have to say that I have been told I am not really Latina because I have an Anglo name! How is that? LOL

      And as someone who is 5-foot-3, let me just say I always have wanted to be tall. Always. I told a girlfriend who is 6-foot that I would have ruled the world had I been as tall as her!

      We are all wondrous children of God, for sure.

  • Unknown Mami says:

    Lately, I feel invisible and I know it has nothing to do with how others see me and everything to do with not wanting to be seen.

  • Bren says:

    i love this. as a Latina with some curves (and super short with long thick legs), I’ve gone through periods of insecurity… I have small boobs, unlike my mother but it always came back to the thighs. I used to dubbed “thunder thighs” — they were a lot for a 5’1″ chica… at my age now, I looooooove them! They’ve seen better days of toning which I work at quite a bit, but I’m in love with them. They make up for the lack of J.Lo and Beyonce bootay and big tatas…. I’m content with the body that God intended me to have. I look in the mirror and am happy. I have a small waist which I watch and strive to maintain at a certain size but that doesn’t mean I deprive myself of eating what I love; after all, I cook for a living. But the end of the day at 5’1″ and 126, that’s borderline overweight in the BMI index! LOL! imagine that… looking forward to all of the essays! Y pa’alante con los cuerpasos!

  • Maura says:

    Tiki Tiki always has THE BEST series of articles that speak directly to who we are. Thank you for that. It means everything.

  • Growing up only abuela would say that I was too flaca. I never felt that I was fat nor that I was skinny. I never had a bad self image about myself but only wish I had been blessed with more curves in the rear. Growing up I remember my best prima (cousin) and I would talk about how “we” latina’s were blessed with big tatas. lol our sisters had the booty and hips but not us. It wasn’t something I let bring me down or keep it from making feel pretty. I am very short therefore I always got the “oh, your so tiny” – Everyone til this day thought I was younger than I really was.

    It wasn’t til after I had my twins. I really think stress and emotional bondage had a big card in my gaining weight. I remember during this period in my life that I was “FAT” – members of my family (I won’t say who) would really make me feel bad about the way I looked. In so many ways they would hint I should get on a diet /loose weight. Can you imagine getting sexy nightgowns when you don’t feel sexy at all. I would be given sexy nightgowns for my birthday, christmas, mother’s day, etc. That really bugged me…because there was so much more going on in my life that was causing me being “gorda” and unattractived. I have learn that it’s not about being “flaca” (skinny) it’s about being and living HEALTHY! Being HEALTHY has to do with mind, body, & soul. If your stress, overworked, mistreated, etc because the list goes on…not only will it effect your health, it will effect your mind, your soul, and your BODY.

    So it took me alot of years to figure it out…or should I say it took me alot of years to WAKE-UP and start doing things to change my life.

    First yes it was physically…once I got down in weight….making changes to my mind & soul was a must.

    I would recommend it to anyone and everyone out there….SELF-HELP, SELF-IMPROVEMENT, Motivational, & Positive books, CDS, or DVDS are wonderful.

    I’ve learn so much not only in my fitness coaching business but it’s open my goals to do more…especially for our Latina Ladies….sometimes we come from homes, marriages, or personal life that is filled with everything BUT positive words…it’s filled with negative words, verbal and emotional abuse…..and it has to STOP…women need to heal from it…..p.s. stay tune for my book wink wink :0)

    *** One thing I have learn…anyone needing to make a change in their life – be it physically, career wise, etc..needs encouragement, support, motivation, and inspiration to get them started and on that path to a healthier lifestyle. *** Hint Find it!

    • Maria K says:

      Very well put! I love all your ideas and advice-

      Unfortunately, our society does not make it easy for women.

      We all need to find what we are comfortable with and can maintain. I learned long ago that I don’t need to look exactly like everyone else!- I try to be healthy and still enjoy life and cuisine, Cuban and others, but con medida! (okay, not always).

      We all just need to love ourselves so that we can love others!

      God bless all the beautiful women reading this neat blog!
      I am glad I stumbled on to it -I think I will share it with my flaca daughters with Cuban nalgas and curly hair

      Everyone knows OUR Family song is ” I got it from my mama”. Even Abuela used to dance to it when she could!

  • Ericka says:

    I can’t wait to read these essays! Thank you for bringing this up.

  • [...] headline » Accepting the Self: Latinas on Body Image June 26, 2011 – 6:44 pm | 21 Comments [...]

  • Tia Mirtha says:

    One thing us “gorditas” hate, is people who are always saying”Oye gorda”… I know I am “overweight”, I don’t need anyone else to remind me of it. Some people are born to be “flacas” other like me “gordita”…
    And about the lipstick..get Cover Girl 8 hours lipstick. Just put it in the morning and you will not have to worry about it the rest of the day.
    At my age, 65 I am healthier that my friends that were always “flacas”. LOL

  • Sue Valencia says:

    Ay Carrie, thank you! Another series of great essays that I can´t wait to start reading!
    At 4´9″ you can imagine the kind of comments I get all the time! The great thing is that my self perception has never been of a short person. I only realize how short I am when I see myself in photos among other people or when I´m walking with my hubby and see our reflection on a mirror or window. THEN I know I´m short! Haha! But in my mind I´m as tall as a Swedish model! ;D

  • Diana says:

    Great post and wonderful series. When I was growing up my nickname was Gordita. I look back at photos when I was a child and while, I did have that baby chubbiness I was certainly not gorda. But the name stuck and it stayed with me into my teen years, when I was was active and fit. I was certainly not gorda then but I felt it, and saw it every time I looked in the mirror. I tried all types of diets back then, but still felt like I was gorda. Now, at this point in my life I still struggle with looking at my body and feeling gorda. I try eat well and exercise and accept my body type for what it is. Having grown up with Gordita, what my family called a “love nickname,” i have been careful not to give my own kids and step-kids their own love nicknames, and I am very conscious of the messages I send when I remind them not to snack and make good food choices.

  • Abuelita says:

    And to think at age 24 I was 98 lbs.& always feeling that I was muy flaca y acomplejada,boy!this days I wish I was flaca again,but as we grow older there is no need to have the grey hair,don’t leave the house without make up(I put it on to go to the gym)so do put your lipstick on,and face cream, lot of it.Primero muerta que desgreñada.

  • [...] headline » Accepting the Self: Latinas on Body Image June 26, 2011 – 6:44 pm | 26 Comments [...]

  • [...] headline » Accepting the Self: Latinas on Body Image June 26, 2011 – 6:44 pm | 28 Comments [...]

  • All these essays are great. Thank you for posting this great subject.

  • As a flaca, I too understand your plight! Great story.

  • [...] headline » Accepting the Self: Latinas on Body Image June 26, 2011 – 6:44 pm | 30 Comments [...]

  • [...] headline » Accepting the Self: Latinas on Body Image June 26, 2011 – 6:44 pm | 32 Comments [...]

  • [...] headline » Accepting the Self: Latinas on Body Image June 26, 2011 – 6:44 pm | 32 Comments [...]

  • [...] headline » Accepting the Self: Latinas on Body Image June 26, 2011 – 6:44 pm | 34 Comments [...]

  • [...] post about Latina writers on topics of body image is WONDERFUL. I am scrambling to add these writers to my reader. I love a good multi-dimensional, [...]

  • [...] headline » Accepting the Self: Latinas on Body Image June 26, 2011 – 6:44 pm | 36 Comments [...]

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