With the Latinx diaspora expanding over 20 countries, “Hispanic” isn’t a one-size-fits-all term—especially when it comes to beauty and style. As Hispanic womxn, we’re challenging these narratives by embracing all aspects of our culture and choosing which ones are right for us. This Hispanic Heritage Month, HelloGiggles will be taking a deep dive into the beauty of our culture through Mi Cultura, Mi Belleza. We’ll be featuring essays about hair and identity, giving beauty tips from our abuelitas, highlighting the unique style of the Afro-Latina community, and more.
I always looked different than everyone else in my family. Out of my 23 cousins, I’m the only one with brown skin—my only other relatives with darker skin tones are my father and grandfather. Like many immigrant Mexican families, my ancestors came to the country from Spain and England, so many of my family members are very white and have European facial features. As a child, it was hard to feel comfortable with my brown skin and thicker hair texture—I wanted to fit in with the people I loved the most.
I also wanted to fit in with the white American kids I grew up with. Whenever my parents would speak Spanish in public, I’d quickly turn around to shush them and I’d tell them that Spanish wasn’t cool. I refused to learn it—none of my other friends spoke different languages, after all. I thought America was #1 and everything else was beneath me; despite being Mexican myself, I refused to see the beauty of my country and tried to distance myself as much as possible from it. I remember wanting so desperately to belong that I’d purposefully find shade to stand in and would shy away from the sunlight, even if I was cold, to prevent getting tan and, therefore, browner.
Back then, I was doing this to look like my friends and family (I went to mainly white schools in the U.S. and Mexico, where I lived later), but as I grew older, the impacts of advertising and European beauty standards seeped into my mind and fueled my desire to look whiter. As soon as I became a teenager, the world of beauty products opened up to me. I piled on pounds of sunscreen to prevent myself from tanning, I straightened my hair to oblivion, and I wore color contacts for nearly a decade.
After a few trial-and-error shades, I settled on hazel-colored contacts. I thought that the light brown shade looked the most natural on me out of the range of greens and blues, and I loved how they popped against my black hair and medium-toned skin. Putting them on each morning felt like putting on armor. I couldn’t change the color of my skin or the texture of my hair, but I could change the color of my eyes. The contacts were my membership card to the exclusive club of the white people around me—for the first time, I felt like I belonged, even though nobody had told me I didn’t or treated me otherwise.
My desire to fit in was likely rooted in an animalistic herd mentality for survival. When my ancestors came to Mexico from Europe, they took over the country and established themselves as the upper class, while much of the indigenous community was pushed to the bottom. Today, the physical distinction between many upper- and lower-class Mexicans can be seen through differences in height, facial features, and skin tones, and the lower class is largely looked down upon and treated as lesser. I’m ashamed to admit it now, but as a teen, the classist racism in Mexico made me want to distinguish myself, too.
Day after day, year after year, I wore those hazel-colored contacts from the moment I woke to the minute I fell asleep. In a way, I felt like my contacts were weaved in with my worth. I was an insecure teen who had just moved to Mexico, didn’t speak Spanish, and whose parents were starting a messy divorce. I often felt like the way I looked was the only thing I actually had control over, so I held onto my contacts harder than I did most things.
I put so much of my value into my appearance that I nearly lost myself in the process. I thought my worth and value was integral to my physical appearance, so I was inescapably bound to the perception of my looks and what I thought they should be. That obsession was fueled by my friends and family, who commented on my new eye color had nothing but positive things to say—even my dad, whom I resemble. Only one friend lamented the loss of my real eyes’ natural sparkle. I brushed off her words at the moment, but now, nearly 15 years after I tried colored contacts on for the first time, I see what she meant. My natural eyes are so expressive and full of life, and as cheesy as it sounds, they really are the windows to my soul. Putting a barrier between that and the world is wrong.
Thankfully, I eventually grew up and began to piece my self identity together. Each year, I discovered a little more about myself and put less value on my physical appearance. Rather than obsessing over whether I was protecting my skin tone in the shade or not, I started worrying about my SAT scores and being a good friend. Slowly, I found my confidence and my voice. Instead of trying to fit in the mold of what a “good, pretty girl” was, I started experimenting with edgy styles and befriending people deemed as misfits by the popular crew I hung out with. I’m not saying I totally put away the mirror and broke free from the B.S. beauty standards shackles—even now, I still want the silky smooth hair and sparkly eyes I see in so many makeup ads. But I did develop a healthy relationship with myself and my culture.
Since my teen years, when I used to want to change everything about myself, down to my nationality, I’ve grown so much. Now, I feel like I couldn’t love Mexico and its culture more, and I celebrate it at every opportunity I get. Maybe even more importantly, I’ve learned to love every bit of myself, especially the parts that look different from my white friends and family. When I wake up and look in the mirror, the first things I see are my big, brown eyes, and the sparkle my friend once pointed out.