Often ridiculed and singled out for my lack of ‘Latina-ness’…
Being Latina and thin and tall was definitely not the usual in my community. I stood out being 13 at 5’5″ and 85 lb. I remember only identifying with the models in SEVENTEEN Magazine because our body image was a match, even though our features, complexion, and hair wasn’t. But, that’s all I had.
Often ridiculed and singled our for my lack of curves and “Latina-ness”, growing up in a poor neighborhood in the Bronx, surrounded by the “Morenas” (black girls). They actually made me feel special since they adored my long curly hair. They marveled in braiding and playing with it. However, they never failed to remind me that I was “white” or “rich” just because I lived in a house, took piano lessons and studied ballet. I decided to own it and be unique and be “punky”.
High school was rough, I was very eccentric and got threatened for embracing my uniqueness and creativity. Ruffled petticoats with colorful tights, converse and wild hair and being skinny —that was a problem. Everything I did being myself was an issue. As a result, my self-esteem plummeted by 14.
I tried diets in reverse, exercise, weight gainers, shakes after meals, ate everything….
I remember wearing tights and leggings under my jeans to look “fat”. Wearing those knit tights under pantyhose, anything to fill out my shape. I became obsessed with weight and fitting in and developed an eating disorder. I tried diets in reverse, exercise, weight gainers, shakes after meals, ate everything all the time and even took Cod Liver oil injections (illegal now). I was able to reach 110 lb. by 17 at 5’7″. Not 100% yet I thought but I felt better, I saw progress.
Then came braces after I heard a boy say “she’s cute but when she smiles…Yuck!” Yeah, actually I demanded braces. I actually liked the way I looked in them and my smile started to shine and get noticed. Two years later, they came off and it was time for transformation and I began modeling. I felt it was my calling since I was naturally built like a model. But my self-esteem still wasn’t there. I modeled and competed in the Latin market to still be confronted with the lack of my curves and “Latina-ness”. Relying on my new smile and pretty hair wasn’t enough to get me gigs. I also began dancing professionally in the same market and got the same feedback, “muy flaca” (too thin).
…I allowed all that negative feedback to send me into a tailspin…
By my mid-twenties, I shifted my focus and in my generation, teenage pregnancy was at its high. I started a non-profit organization working with girls in my community that I felt had no access to making their dreams reality. I chose to empower them and via my interactions I saw myself in their eyes. I heard the same struggles with identity, image, and fitting in. I was able to show them how to fight for themselves and choose to push past everyone’s opinions and tastes and to stand up for who they are. At the same time, I was doing that for myself. I became forced to be their example and no longer worried about how I looked in fashion shows or dance costumes. Being on stage gave me the opportunity to release that thinking and just be myself for the first time. I realized that I allowed all that negative feedback send me into a tailspin to fit a mold. A mold that wasn’t made for me. I needed to create a new mold. A shifted mindset and boom, I was getting modeling and video gigs. I shed the shame I felt of not being enough and embraced myself without apology.
Now in my forties, accepting what I look like was a long journey, but one that I value and appreciate. I would have never thought that those girls would have helped me see all my talents, skills, sexiness, creativity, intelligence, savvy, versatility. That was more valuable than curves, or fitting in, or ultimately being liked. That’s where the true power lies. Not in what I look like. I’m a proud tall, thin, curly hair, brown skin Latina. I still represent what the culture embodies, curves or not, and I don’t need anyones permission to do that.
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