In light of the passing of Hispanic Heritage Month, countless inspirational Instagram infographics and posters, likely district-required, preaching Hispanic Pride have been storming classrooms around the country. Surprisingly, this month never meant much to me.
Growing up, I was never overwhelmed with pride for my culture whenever the cafeteria would play bachata and do Spanish trivia. For a long period of time, I acknowledged my background when it was in my best interest, which wasn’t often. How could it be? A 30-day period to affirm our authentic selves and 335 to adhere to hypocritical beauty standards set on Latinas.
To properly celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we need to also celebrate the features and traits that come with being Hispanic.
For many, Hispanic identity is a spectrum from nonexistent to extreme complying with stereotypes set out for Hispanic women. White skin, light eyes, straight hair, and a thin body. That’s what society taught me that “beautiful” meant. In my experience, I have shifted back and forth between the stereotypical Eurocentric and white supremacist attitudes about how women should look that revolve around Eurocentric features, to the desirable and “exotic” Latin beauty standard. Both are designed to be unattainable.
Journalist and beauty culture critic Jessica Defino defines the term “beauty standards” in a Teen Vogue article as, “the individual qualifications women are expected to meet in order to embody the ‘feminine beauty ideal’ and thus, succeed personally and professionally,” that are constantly being portrayed in the media as the societal expectation. This is a historical systemic issue created intentionally to put women of color down. Defino reveals that “Light features, like blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin, were believed to be physical manifestations of “the light of God.” With this ideal being built into our foundation as human beings, like other systemic issues, it tends to stick around.
This is amplified through marketing, with brands selling the dream of meeting the impossible beauty standards to their consumers and capitalizing from the misery of young women, especially women of color, who desperately try to appease these expectations history has laid out for them. The beauty standards rooted in colonialism through favoritism of those with lighter features set a perfect pattern for businesses to follow. Defino continues, “It illustrated just how easy it is to profit off of deep-seated insecurities stemming from a lifetime of being treated as less than.” There is always something brands come up with to push women of color further away from the bar while offering the myth that their products help them “fix it.” This can come in the form of hair straighteners or even skin lighteners.
Unsurprisingly, each separate culture across the world has its own book of standards women are expected to naturally meet and if they don’t, they have to deal with the consequence of being undesirable. The Hispanic and Latin beauty standards branch off from the Eurocentric ones the West follows like weeds in an already deadly garden. While there are a few minor tweaks, the general statement remains the same. In her Refinery 29 article titled “No, The Curvy Latina Ideal Isn’t Healthier than Other Beauty Standards,” Raquel Reichard highlights the similarities and differences between the two sets of standards.
“Like Western beauty ideals,” she says, “this Latina beauty standard favors whiteness and litheness but also expects physical attributes that are often inconsistent with slim frames: large breasts, round hips and derrières, and thick, toned thighs with no trace of cellulite or stretch marks.” She goes on to describe the idolization of these attributes along with a Latina hourglass body shape and features as a staple in Hispanic girls’ childhoods. Without these, women would be deemed unloveable and unsuccessful in life. This mindset has been emphasized not only by men, but by women as well. These standards can also impact older Hispanic women, with society encouraging them to reminisce on their youth when their bodies and faces lived up to these standards that are usually associated with their prime desirability and sexuality.
Two different beauty standards on two different sides of the identity spectrum I’ve gone between throughout my whole life. Then Hispanic Heritage Month comes around and societal expectations make a complete 180. The message of this month is an overdue time of appreciation for Hispanic culture. The real focus should go to appreciating Hispanic features and attributes all year round and teaching the women of the community to do the same.