Celebrity Hairstylist, David Lopez, on Defying Gender Norms in Latinx Culture
There are so many colorful aspects of Latinx culture—one of them being our vibrant, unapologetic approach to beauty. We come from generations of passed down secrets and insider tips, but as the world changes, so does the way we view makeup, skincare, hair, and more. Here's how we're mixing things up and bringing fuego to Latinx beauty today.
(Disclosure: HelloGiggles is using he/him pronouns for this piece, but as a genderfluid person, David Lopez's pronouns also vary to they/them.)
Take one look at David Lopez's social media and you'll get an instant boost of serotonin. Alongside the many video tutorials and fierce photos of the influencer, celebrity hairstylist, and member of the Ulta Beauty Pro Team donning a full beat of makeup and waist-long wigs, Lopez also uses his platform to break down gender norms by showing his over 123,000 Instagram followers how fluid gender is by sharing his journey, opinions, and words of affirmation.
Gender norms and stereotypes aren't new—we all know how limiting and frustrating they often are. However, for individuals like Lopez, a 36-year-old gay Puerto Rican, they're even tougher, as there are so many stereotypes and gender expectations thrust upon Latinx men from birth.
"The layer it adds for a lot of Brown and Black people [is that] in our cultures, being gay and other is already a 'no.' You have to be machismo—you have to be the man. Even if you're going to dress up and do your hair, you're still the man," he tells HelloGiggles over the phone. "That layer was a little bit hard for me to break down—I still struggle with it today."
Both of Lopez's parents are from Puerto Rico, where they were born and raised. "My dad is half Black and my mom is the most Mestizo version of being Puerto Rican," he shares. Lopez himself lived in Puerto Rico until he was six years old, and then moved around the world while his father served in the military. No matter where Lopez was in the world, though, he always kept his vivid culture and traditions at home. "We spoke Spanish and it felt very much like a Puerto Rican household," he says. "There was always salsa music playing, there was dancing, everything was a celebration—I am very orgulloso of being Puerto Rican, it's amazing!" As colorful as the culture is, though, it also comes with downsides for people who break the Latinx norm.
Unlike in many other cultures that value traditional masculinity, the Latinx community expects its boys and men to pay close attention to their physical presentation and grooming. "You have to make sure your hair is brushed and your face is washed. When I had acne, I went to the dermatologist. When I had crooked teeth, I went to the orthodontist," he recalls. "All of that ties into confidence, and as long as you're put together, you can go out into the world and have a little armor. People will treat you with respect because of what you look like."
While that may be a typical approach to grooming in Latin America, these norms differed in other countries Lopez lived in. With his father in the military, the future stylist and his family moved between the U.S., Italy, and Germany throughout his childhood. Lopez remembers how other students in the military schools he attended didn't understand his self care routine and ridiculed it. "I was bullied incessantly since fourth grade," he shares. "But I relied so heavily on my [grooming] routine to give me something that made me feel good."
In the '90s, Lopez continues, one specific type of beauty ideal was blasted on the mainstream—feminine and Eurocentric. Rarely was there representation of BIPOC in pop culture and in magazines, and there were very few, if any, femme men in the beauty industry. "I looked to the media and didn't see myself represented so I thought it must be true. [Beauty] wasn't for me, because there was no one Brown, no one with curly hair, no boys, no one like me," he says. Still, he recalls desperately wanting to feel the transformative power he imagined his mother and aunts felt when they did their hair and makeup. "I wanted to feel that way, but I was more ashamed of being feminine and girly than I ever was of being gay," he explains.
As Lopez grew older, he gravitated toward jobs that allowed him to experiment more with hair and makeup products to explore his more feminine side. At 19, for instance, he started wearing concealer for his on-camera job at QVC. And at 26, he dated someone in an electro-pop band, which "was an excuse for me to go big," he remembers. "It was so fun to experiment in that way, and it was a safe space for it."
At 28, Lopez started "Wig Wednesdays" at his QVC job, where he'd bring a bag of wigs to work and everybody would wear them for fun throughout the day. "I just loved how it made people laugh and smile," he recalls.
Yet Lopez's journey to self-confidence has had its bumps. Several years ago, he reveals, he spent months auditioning to be one of the Fab Five on Netflix's Queer Eye. "It was going to change my life—it was what I had worked my whole life for and what I was made to do," he says. He made the top 10, but eventually was dropped from the running. He recalls the producers and casting directors noting that there was a disconnect between his on-camera persona and how he was when he interacted off-camera with the other men. "I had been doing QVC for years at this point and HSN. I had my full on-camera personality worked out, but I had never been crossed by someone seeing past the veneer of the on-camera personality," Lopez says now. "It fully broke me."
Looking back, though, he sees the rejection as a pivotal moment in his life. "I had to think about what I do and why I do it, why I got into this in the first place," he explains. "It wasn't to be on camera. It was to make people feel good, and so others never have to feel what I felt growing up."
"I had to not only look at the systems that existed in the world that kept me oppressed and kept me out of conversations, but also [I had] to look within the systems that I had built to survive this world, and to break those systems down," he continues. "I had to explore my femininity and the way I experience gender and the way I experience beauty and let that radiate from the inside out to other people."
At 33, finally tired of hiding who he was and what made him happy, he decided to share his first photo in full hair and makeup to his Instagram page.
"I was shaking when I posted the photo. I was visibly vibrating. I was so scared that people would see that side of me," Lopez remembers. "I was about to air out everything I had hid since I was a kid, and what I was putting out was what I was made fun of for." Little did he know, though, that the post would change his professional and personal life for the better.
The response to the photo was extremely positive. Lopez says the reactions inspired him to keep posting similar photos and, by way of doing so, inspire others too. Of the many touching messages he's gotten from his followers in the time since, it's the ones that tell him how he has helped people feel comfortable in their skin and gender identity that mean the most. "I've had three moms tell me that I set a good example for what it means to be a man or a boy, and that [their sons] can be and do whatever they want—they can wear dresses and have a beard and long hair. Those messages are so special," Lopez says.
One mother, he recalls, cried to him, saying that her son struggled with being gay and his gender identity, and that Lopez's Instagram helped her son feel seen and better understood. "That generation of younger children are going to grow up in a world where they feel a little less alone and a little less scared because of people like me," he says now.
Looking at the beauty industry now, Lopez recognizes that it still has a long way to go in terms of inclusivity, but he's optimistic. "Is anybody getting it right right now? No, but people are trying. People are really wanting everybody to be a part of the conversation, and that makes me so happy to witness," he says.
Indeed, lipstick isn't just being marketed to women anymore, more men are openly wearing nail polish now than ever before, and gender norms are beginning to be broken in the mainstream. Additionally, gender expectations and beauty standards are slowly changing in Latinx cultures as globalization continues and younger generations become queerer. "My grandfather, who when I came out my family said not to tell him, now sends me photos of Ricky Martin holding up a rainbow Puerto Rican flag," says Lopez. "Our culture, as backwards as it can be, is so deeply rooted in love that we do have the capacity to open our minds and hearts a little bit."
Gender isn't blue or pink—it's millions of ombré shades in between that can fluctuate on any given day, and it's champions of change like Lopez who lead that conversation.