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What is Beauty?

Submitted by on February 12, 2010 – 9:40 am6 Comments

Frida Kahlo. Photographer unknown. Vicente Wolf Photography Collection.

By Nilki Benitez

With Valentine’s Day Sunday, and to answer questions that stemmed from a brief conversation with a friend, I decided to ask a few gentlemen to share thoughts on Beauty.

So it all started like this: I saw a tweet from my friend CTone, who runs a show in Vallejo, CA that explores “the roots and branches of the Afro-Latin Musical Diaspora” on Ozcat Radio. In his tweet he mentioned that he was in South Florida at the time and he was freezing his nalgas off. Our 140-character-or-less conversation went like this:

nilkibenitez: I’m sure seeing all the beautiful girls in Mia is helping keep you warm, somewhat  xoxo

LatinJazzMecca: Well certainly So.Fla can be eye candy! But it also comes across as a bit superficial at times, women afraid 2 show beauty their 30/40/50s?

nilkibenitez: see? Advertising/marketing needs more men like you! U rock xoxo

LatinJazzMecca: thx… & good point. I guess, then the challenge is how to ‘market’ such values, and Self-Esteem

Nilkibenitez: hmmm…you got me thinking…stay tuned…and try to stay warm  xoxo

And it did get me thinking. I thought about how many wonderful women I know who are nothing short of inspiring. Then I thought of how few women I actually know look like the late-teen and early 20-somethings who flock to Miami for the modeling/advertising business.

I wondered why the faces and bodies that traditional media present as “beautiful” don’t include women with features and bodies like las mujeres bellas I know.

I looked at myself in the mirror and saw dark circles under my eyes from too much time spent in front of the computer screen trying to forge my path as a writer, as a woman who braves to share her feelings and thoughts to paper. I saw the wiry, grey hairs that have started to radiate from my temples, one for each year that I dismissed and silenced my spirit, my muse.

I looked at my breasts, laying softly upon my chest. Breasts that have nourished and sustained precious new life. A t-shirt in Key West calls them “has beens.” I lifted my shirt and looked at my belly, no longer taut, and now with the marks, like lines on a map, part of a body that has carried new life within.

Then I looked back into my eyes, a brown so deep that if you want to really connect with me, you have to search deeply to find my pupils. Over my eyes, lay thick protective brows, and I wondered if Frida would’ve waxed if she were alive today. I don’t know the answer to that, but what struck me as even more curious, was the question: Why are there no Fridas today, on TV, in the magazines?

I looked at my reflection and I saw Beauty. But I wondered, does anyone else see that beauty when I, or any other woman, waits in a grocery check-out line, walks down the aisle of a packed airliner? Sans make-up, hair quickly braided, in old faded jeans and unpolished nails.

Is beauty like mine valid, or does it only exist to some women, like a secret, imaginary friend; uniquely ours, yet not quite universal? Is it only an inner beauty that doesn’t transcend to show as physical beauty?

I decided to ask around, and who better than the opposite sex to give a non-biased — we would hope — answer.

I started off by asking, “When you see, or meet, someone who takes your breath away, what is it that makes them beautiful?”

Ramon de Leon, of Domino’s Pizza social media visionary fame, replied: “Her smile and personality. The sexiest model who does not smile, is unhappy and not beautiful.”

Julio Varela of v5, LLC, and most notably the Papi of twitter’s #vivaviernes, replied: “It’s all about confidence.”

To Tomas Custer, a self-proclaimed aggregation master and founder of HispanicTips, beauty is “noticing uniqueness – the eyes and whatever is communicated through them against the backdrop of their face – add a wry smile and wow!”

So, for some men, happiness, confidence and personality play a major role in the perception of beauty. But what about those skinny, straight-haired, young models who grace every ad imaginable? If I, like so many other women, have a hard time seeing myself equally as beautiful as the mega-stars of the red carpet, surely men must notice a difference as well.

Salomon Huerta, an artist from Los Angeles offers: “It’s all about the spirit. If a woman nourishes herself with love, she will radiate true beauty.” But to Huerta there is a strong connection between spirit and body and he adds: “This means diet, exercising and doing what you love.”

Steve Roitstein, band founder of Miami-based Afro-Cuban Funk band PALO! had this to share: “True beauty strikes me when I can see that a person can make a real connection, wants to share something about themselves, and is also interested in learning something about me. Physical attraction and physical chemistry with someone doesn’t always coincide with a real connection.”

So like Steve says, maybe in beauty, there are two very different elements that intertwine. One is a spiritual, person-to-person connection, in which beauty manifests itself through psychological factors such as happiness, confidence and empathy, and the other, a raw physical attraction, of which scientific studies have shown that people are attracted to things like symmetry in facial features. This, my friends, is “eye candy.” But aren’t these relatively new trends? Many cultures have invented contraptions to force the body into different shapes to match different ideas of beauty.

Clearly, there is not just one universal truth when it comes to beauty. I remember as a child, visiting Colombia, and hearing over and over, “Ay, mirela, que gordita esta! Que Linda!” (Oh, look how chubby she is! She’s so beautiful!)”

I hated that. I would be angered to tears by those comments, but the truth is, I was seen as beautiful. I was clearly well-nourished, and the society at that time saw a well-nourished body as healthy, beautiful; a symbol of wealth and success.

For many women, hitting our 30s and 40s is when we finally are getting comfortable in our own skin. These are our real beauty years, and many obviously men — like my smart friends — agree!

We’ve all seen the mature woman in all her mujer-greatness shakin’ it on the dancefloor to the sounds of a good cumbia. Among the young, body-image-conscious she is the true Reina. Let’s once and for all embrace our beauty, our sexiness, that comes with emotional maturity, embrace that inner Celia Cruz.

Maybe one day, true beauty will be celebrated in media and advertising.

And celebrated by us all.

Nilki Benitez is a freelance writer and founder of Nilki Benitez Communications, a writing and PR service company focusing on helping Latino entrepreneurs, artists, and their products, receive marketing exposure.

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  • Romina says:

    Me encanto este post. Muchas veces he reflexionado acerca de la belleza y la seguridad. Mi opinión es que lo que hace atractivas a las mujeres, es la seguridad en si mismas, es lo q irradian, mas allá de los estereotipos impuestos por los sistemas. Uno debe lograr sentirse bello, para que entonces los demás así te vean, sin necesidad de elementos superciales y vanales. Un abrazo y felicidades!

  • Thanks for the shout out and my little comment there. That was very kind of you. And BTW, awesome picture of Kahlo.

  • nilki says:

    Gracias, Romina! estoy de acuerdo, pero es dificil aveces, no? Mire la foto encima de su comentario!!! lol

    Tambien es lindo saber que muchos hombres sienten lo mismo…feliz dia del amor y la belleza real!!!

  • Max Vasquez says:

    I had posted a link to a song I covered from Rodgers and Hart’s 1937 Babes In Arms. It didn’t run very long but the song has become a staple of The Great American Songbook. I had hoped you would hear what the words are saying, but Chaka Khan does a better job than me. The lyrics:

    My funny Valentine
    Sweet comic Valentine
    You make me smile with my heart
    Your looks are laughable, un-photograph-able
    Yet you’re my favorite work of art

    Is your figure less than Greek?
    Is your mouth a little weak?
    When you open it to speak, are you smart?

    But don’t change a hair for me
    Not if you care for me
    Stay little Valentine, stay
    Each day is Valentine’s Day

    Is your figure less than Greek?
    Is your mouth a little weak?
    When you open it to speak, are you smart?

    But don’t change a hair for me
    Not if you care for me
    Stay little Valentine, stay
    Each day is Valentine’s Day

    I think it says a lot in defining what we find beautiful in one another. Not superficial looks, but what makes our hearts rush each time we’re near the one we love and find beautiful throughout the years in a loving relationship. But if that may not be what you asked for, you are getting something quite deeper from good and deep men. If you go to a singles’ scene bar, you may get a completely different take, but I somehow not by much.

  • Carrie says:

    Max, you are a poet. Thank you for the video link.

    Nilki, thank you for your essay and for bringing the guys and their perspective to the Tiki Tiki….

    You know, guys, we always want you here with us.

    Happy Valentine’s Everybody!

  • Izaura says:

    What an appropriated and refreshing theme for a ‘Valentine’s Day”
    which is about love, about friendship, about honesty and about caring! What is beauty you asked and you make a lot of sense with your reflections. It is an old question for humanity but we all have know the answer one way or another: beauty is on the eye of the beholder or it is in the heart of the beloved and yes good care of the physical health is a most!
    Today we must add to another answer: Beauty is on the hands of the advertisement industry! it is the highest achievement of consumerism!
    I grew up listening from the elder wise women in the neighborhood:”Que importa que tan bella eres hoy si los guzanos se lo comeran todo mañana, solo tu alma sobrevira para siempre por su belleza!
    “so who cares of how beautiful you are today, if the worms will eat it all tomorrow, only your soul will survive for its beauty for ever”

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