Living in a time when everyone is constantly taking photos and posting them to social media, it can be hard not to be self-conscious of your body or the way you look, especially for young women of color.
Many women can remember specific moments in their lives in which they were made to feel ashamed of their bodies or have had something pointed out about them that suddenly feels like a flaw that needs to be fixed or hidden. This is particularly a problem during puberty, and unfortunately, not all Latinas have a good support system while navigating the changes that come with entering adulthood.
I hate to admit that I have always struggled with body image, which I have battled for nearly two decades. Growing up, I was always considered the skinny daughter and was constantly reminded of the importance of staying this way. Being skinny was the equivalent of being pretty, so I was always conscious of what I ate for fear of gaining weight.
Puberty came as a shock when I started to develop curves and breasts.
I hated hearing all the whispers within my family that I was not a “little girl” anymore, but no one ever approached me directly to talk, as if it was a transformation I had to undergo alone. The “advice” I heard was to stay out of the sun so that I would not get browner because light skin was more attractive (hello colorism). Like many other Latina teens, having excessive hair on my arms and the cystic acne I was plagued with from age thirteen only added to the many reasons I felt so uncomfortable in my skin.
I was always comparing myself to the other girls in my school, who had fair skin and blonde hair, and thought if I hid from the sun enough and scrubbed my face vigorously morning and night and skipped a meal or two, one day I would finally be “beautiful.” In the meantime, I had to hide as much as possible.
But in a Latino household, the relationship with our bodies is ambivalent
My family was pretty strict and religious, so modesty was a topic my sister and I had to listen to again and again. My mother never wore makeup, except on occasion, and was never one to pamper herself; she was always working, cooking, and cleaning, so we were expected to do the same.
I was not allowed to wear makeup or shave my legs when my friends at school started to, and I was a little envious of the girls who learned it from their moms. I was proud of my hard-working mother but secretly wished she would teach me how to properly apply eyeshadow or lipstick.
As I got older, I noticed this trend within my family and other Latino acquaintances; many girls had similar self-esteem issues that were never addressed. Something as simple as telling a young girl going through these changes that she is beautiful could make all the difference. Sitting down and talking through these changes openly is crucial to ensure a Latina will have body positivity.
Breaking generational curses
Fast forward to the present, where I have become a mother of three, I wish I had not spent so many years loathing my body.
Pregnancy brings on a whole other transformation for women. Weight gain, stretch marks, melasma, and hair loss are just a few things that come with bringing a child into the world, not including the mental tolls and other medical issues.
Having had a difficult twin pregnancy, I finally started seeing a therapist for the mounting anxiety and stress I was dealing with. During this time, I also noticed my daughter constantly staring at her own body. She had just gone through a growth spurt, and I could tell she was confused by this change, especially when she started seeing fine little hairs on her arms and legs.
Seeing my daughter puzzled and even worried brought me back to myself as a child and that feeling of being alone.
One of the ways I decided to approach this was by asking to take a picture with her. As much as I still hated taking pictures due to my negative body image, I would manage a smile and a few silly faces, and we’d use animal filters which would make us laugh. The goal was not to make my daughter feel pretty but to help her feel loved and remind her that I was there for her. After these photo sessions, she’d be much more relaxed, and we’d have conversations about what was on her mind, whether it was about her body or something else.
Even when I have bad days of my own, when I try on a dress that doesn’t fit as it once had or I see the loose skin in my stomach area decorated with stretch marks, I let myself feel the sadness for a minute and then remind myself that this is my body and I have to give it the love it needs. I can’t teach my daughters to love their bodies if I don’t learn first. I try not to dwell on the years of unkindness I’ve shown myself, even though I wish I had taken more pictures as a teenager to show my kids.
My advice to any mom is to embrace the different phases and changes her body undergoes. Love it the way your children love you. And lastly, take all those pictures, mama. When you look back on them one day, you won’t be focusing on how your body looked, just the smiles and happy memories with your family.