When I was asked to contribute a blog post for this Hispanic Heritage Month Blog Hop I really wrestled with the idea of talking about body shaming. So many of the other posts seemed to be celebrating their culture while it seemed I was was going to sit here and bash mine. Then I realized that part of celebrating who we are is understanding our how culture shapes the way we see ourselves. Not every part of that has been an uplifting experience and in between all of the parrandas, y fiestas there are things we must talk about in order to move forward. By talking about it we can change acknowledge, heal, and mend our past so it does not define our future.
I was born in Bogota, Colombia in 1983. I moved to Florida with my family 4 years later. The mix of being born in and raised by a traditional Hispanic family in the US has given me an incredible insight. An insight that many first generational Latinos now have and are using to bring the best of both worlds together.
What it means to be beautiful to a Latina then and now.
Beauty is everything. Beauty rituals start young. Our ears are pierced at a few months old because a little girls needs to look pretty and accessorized. Our heads are shaved because it was supposed to help our hair grow in healthy and strong. We are dressed with necklaces and bracelets from the moment they can fit. We are expected to be walking muñecas from the very beginning.
I remember everyone’s nicknaming is based on appearance. The overweight and underweight kids are either gorda or flaca. One being a direct insult, while the other being a constant reminder of what they are not. Worse, it was just put off as a joke. That somehow we were supposed to understand that no one means it in a mean way. Once you are labeled though, that is all you know and that is how you begin identify yourself even if the label isn’t true. My nickname?? Pirañita. I was the little piranha because I loved to eat. Every other picture of me is of me eating. Someone always pointed out that I was eating. Again. Which I did because food is awesome but became self conscious of the fact that I “shouldn’t” eat as much as I did because it meant I was going to gain weight. Because being fat was worse that being hungry. I was 6.
Your beauty is directly correlated with how attractive a man finds you. Women had to walk a constant line to make sure they were beautiful enough to please their partner but be prepared to take the blame for catching the eye of any other man. It was my fault is someone found me too attractive or not attractive enough. I was supposed to welcome all the catcalls but would quickly be shamed for having too much attention drawn to me. My mom once told me that as a dancer my body was too big and not good enough for the stage but that it was at least attractive for a man to desire. I had already been described as curvy, exotic, sexy, and it was all supposed to be a compliment. I was 16.
When I became a young wife and a mother my entire world felt like it had come crashing down on me. I gained a lot of weight with my pregnancies and life in general. I was in an emotionally abusive marriage but convinced it was because he loved me so much. I had to curve my successes and my looks because I had to do enough to be bragged about but couldn’t outshine him in any way. My body was wrecked. My weight was at its highest and my tummy was covered in stretch marks and scars. I was no longer exotic. I was no longer desirable. I was no longer deserving of love so I had to accept whatever I could get. I was 26.
Finally, I sought out the help of a therapist thanks to a recommendation from a friend. A therapist isn’t a thing you do in most Hispanic cultures. It’s shameful because it all must be in your head. You’re told you’re being una exagerada. You “should” be able to just get over things by thinking positive or pray about it. I believe in God, too. I just don’t believe in waiting around for miracles. I got help instead. As I began to heal my heart, I began to heal my thoughts. I learned to recognize that my attachment to my need to be desired held me back from being able to see my worth on my own. I had to learn I was valuable without an attachment to my education, income, or looks. I was 28.
My entire life I had been groomed to do what I had to do to be called beautiful, exotic, desirable, successful, etc. When in the end I just wanted to be called Ana. I worked for years trying to figure out who that was. Years.
I had to realize I had the power redefine beauty and realize it did not define me.
It isn’t easy. I wish it had been. Once I divorced and got healthy I did end up losing a lot of weight. It was emotional and physical weight that was literally and figuratively lifted. I visited my family in Colombia after 10 long years. I was looking forward to seeing my familia, eating a ton of empanadas, and gorging on granadilla. When we were all sitting around talking my uncle said I was getting too flaca. My mother responded rather quikcly by telling him not to say that because I was going to get fat again. My heart sank and thankfully my kids didn’t understand much Spanish so they didn’t hear that. Instead of the usual laugh it off because I don’t want to offend anyone approach we usually take, I spoke up. I had to break the cycle. I said I didn’t care about either as long as I was healthy. Now I just had to learn how to identify those moments and respond in a new way a million more times to change the habits that were so ingrained in me. Like I said, it was A LOT of work.
In order to change things for my children, I had to be that change.
We don’t talk about our bodies the way I grew up hearing about them. I teach them what our bodies are for. To live. What they’re capable of and what we are not limited by simply because of their appearance. Never once have I heard my daughter mention the hair on her legs or the number on the tag of her clothes. People tell her she’s thin and beautiful and I tell her she is smart, hard working, caring, and her own person. People tell my son he has to be strong and handsome and I tell him that he is caring, thoughtful, tender, and responsible. They are 9 and 10 years old.
As for me. I enjoy eating again. Food is fuel for my body to do all of the things I have set out to do. It is not a crutch. It is not shameful. It is not my enemy. It should delicious and should be savored. I go on adventures. I try new things. I finish raced. I have started down a brand new exciting path. I have started PowerToPrevail to help others in a way I wish someone had helped me. I am unafraid. I am creating my own story. I am 33.
With each generation we learn. We inherit so much from those who have come before us. We have an incredible opportunity to experience the past and blend it to create our own future. This journey has given me a deeper and greater appreciation for my heritage and my own personal journey. My desire is to keep moving forward by never forgetting my past. A label does not define who you are. As we continue to celebrate Hispanic Heritage month continue to ask yourself: Who Am I? Why Am I?
Who am I? I’m Ana
Why Am I? Because I am the only me there can ever be.
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Texas Latino Bloggers Hispanic Heritage Month Blog Hop
Juan of Words – Mexican-American Culture – Monday, 9/19
Sweet Life– Food Recipes – Tuesday, 9/20
The Optimistic Heathen – Sharing Our Heritage with the Kids – Wednesday, 9/21
Modern Tejana – How to Live Your Latinidad in Mixed-Race Families – Thursday, 9/22
The Esposa Experience – Navigating the Pressures of Traditional Esposa Expectations – Friday, 9/23
VodkaGirlATX> – Latin-Inspired Cocktails – Monday, 9/26
Momma of Dos – How Mexican I grew up! – Tuesday, 9/27
Family Love in My City – Immigration – Wednesday, 9/28
Creative Meli – Basic and Healthy Latin Cooking – Thursday, 9/29
Mejorando Mi Hogar – Being Latino or Hispanic – Friday, 9/30
Power to Prevail – Body Shame in Latino Culture – Monday, 10/3
Teatrolatinegro – Latin@ Theatre Show in Houston – Tuesday, 10/4
Candypo – Being a Latino Military Spouse – Wednesday, 10/5
Coppelia Marie – Am I a Bad Latina Mom? – Thursday, 10/6
The Restaurant Fanatic – Cocina Latina – Friday, 10/7
Haute in Texas – Mothering Latinas When You’re Not a Latina – Monday, 10/10