I’ve Had a Weird Relationship with Red Lipstick Because of Latinx Stereotypes—I’m Finally Saying “Screw It”
Can we stop sexualizing Latin women, please?
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.
Growing up, I lived in a neighborhood with people of different backgrounds, races, and nationalities. Despite how diverse it was, I still endured my fair share of micro aggressions from people at school, friends, and even strangers. Comments about my lack of curves “for a Spanish girl” were the norm. I was ridiculed for having thick, bushy brows “like Frida Kahlo,” and gaslighted about not being “Latina enough” because of my choppy Spanish.
However, of all the taunts I faced, the one that made the longest-lasting impact has got to be about red lipstick. As a light-skinned, dark-haired, Salvadorian-American female, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard commentary whenever I wore red lipstick. I was catcalled by strangers, called “spicy” by a schoolmate, and a “chonga“— a term used to sexualize and make fun of Latinx women—which made me develop a weird relationship with this vibrant shade.
But what hurt the most about these comments was the fact that I love beauty and makeup, including red lipstick. However, thanks to these comments, I avoided wearing red lipstick for fear of being sexualized, accused of seeking attention, and fulfilling the stereotypes placed on Latinx women who look like me. While the comments about me wearing red lipstick have offended and annoyed me over the years, I’ve never been truly shocked when people (especially those outside of my Latin community) call me out for wearing red lipstick, as I know a big part of their views stem from how Latina women are depicted in media.
How people are portrayed in media largely depends on the point of view of the storyteller, and unfortunately, there’s a lack of Latinx people that work in the industry. A report by the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) showed that out of the top 1,200 most popular movies in the last 12 years, only four percent of the directors were Latinos, three percent were producers, and three percent were casting directors. On top of that, out of the 100 top-grossing films each year from 2007 to 2018, only three percent featured Latino actors in lead or co-lead roles. The result is very narrow misrepresentations of Latinx people, both on and off-screen: The most commonly viewed portrayals of Latinx people are related to gangs and a life of crime, immigration, and hyper-sexuality, especially of the women.
Many Latinx women cast in media have a similar, homogenous look—dark hair, light-to-tan skin, curvy body—and are portrayed as sexual figures, often wearing tight clothing, high heels—and, yes, red lipstick. We’ve seen it time and time again in shows, such as Modern Family where Sofia Vergara is cast as the sexy Latin housewife fulling every sexual and “fiesty” Latinx stereotype. Then, there are other shows like, Devious Maids, which highlighted four Latin protagonists (a great start!), but the cover photo alone tells the same story as all of them are wearing form-fitting or revealing dresses paired with, you guessed it, red lipstick.
All this matters because I internalized this messaging. It’s so frequently the message that was reiterated about Latin women through movies, shows, friends, and even strangers on the street, that for most of my teenage and adult life, it made me insecure about wearing red lipstick.
For most of my pre-teen and teenage years, I was a shy girl with low self-esteem. I didn’t mind not being the center of attention, and unwarranted commentary about my looks was the last thing I wanted to experience. However, my love of beauty products so desperately made me to feel comfortable and confident within my own skin while wearing makeup.
Sadly, I felt like the only way to be accepted when wearing bold red lipstick, though, was if I looked like all of the white, blonde-haired women I’ve seen wearing red lipstick on the covers of my favorite magazines. I learned from a very young that when someone with Eurocentric beauty standards swipes on a red hue, it’s feminine, classy, fashion-forward, and beautiful, according to society and media. This is evident as celebrities who fulfill these “all-American” beauty standards get spotlighted in the world’s most renowned magazines or are praised for their signature red lip—hi, Taylor Swift.
The biggest difference, between me as a young girl and me as an adult, though, is that I’m finally overcoming this fear of what people decide to think of me whenever I wear red lipstick. Recently, on a date, I wanted to add a pop of color to my very simple makeup and outfit. Instantly, my mind went to red lipstick. After a lot of back and forth, I decided to put on the damn lipstick.
That night was the first night I wore red lipstick for an entire date—no second-guessing and no wiping it off—and it felt really good. For the first time, instead of wanting to hide from others, I felt present. I wasn’t worried about the bold shade. I wasn’t paying attention to anyone around me. And, as a result, I realized red lipstick wasn’t the enemy. My real struggle was with those who choose to let one point of view determine how they see a collective.
I wish I could wrap up this essay with a happily-ever-after and say I now confidently wear red lipstick, but the truth is, the insecure girl in me still hesitates when thinking of her past experiences and the dreaded Latinx stereotypes that still exist. However, I’m not going to let that hesitation dictate my life and beauty choices, even if someone decides to catcall me. The truth is, I’m super proud to be a Latina and love my culture for all that it represents. So, even though it’s annoying to mainly see narrow points of view of Latin women depicted on screen, I’m not going to let that deter me from making choices that make me happy. I’m now choosing to live a more colorful, brighter, and confident life wearing different kinds of lipstick— including all of the shades of red. The next time I wear red lipstick and someone decides to compare me to some stereotypical Latina they’ve seen on TV or sexualize me in some creepy way, well, I’m learning to just say “screw it.”