I grew up in Columbia, South Carolina as one of only two Puerto Rican girls I knew. The other was my sister. My dad’s role as an enlisted soldier brought us to the United States, and his final tour at Fort Jackson established our roots. For decades, it felt like I was solitary in my Latinidad, and I often turned to writing to sort through my feelings and experiences.
By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I had processed how much my ethnicity mattered in creating who I was, and I began to wonder what the experience was like for other Latinas. What was it like for a Latina growing up in a Latino-dominant community? How about for the Latina who never spoke Spanish or the Latina who immigrated when she was older? I desperately wanted to have those conversations I could never have growing up, and so I set out to write a book that allowed me to have the conversation over 100 times. In conceptualizing Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image, and Growing Up Latina , I wanted to look at how Latinas who grew up in a culture that had one idea of beauty, femininity, and gender roles reconciled those expectations with what they heard from mainstream America and what they wanted for themselves. I ultimately had the honor of hearing the coming-of-age stories of 100 Latinas that I interviewed from around the country and over 500 Latinas who completed a web-based survey for the book. To be trusted with these stories was one of the most humbling experiences of my life.
WHAT IS BEAUTIFUL?
In opening my heart to these stories, I learned so much. One of the most profound realizations was that so many of these women were suffering from insecurities that paralyzed them. These were women who told me they wouldn’t use the word “beautiful” to describe themselves, but were willing to use it for other people in their lives.
One of my favorite moments in each interview was when I asked the women what they considered beautiful because, for so many, it led to an enlightening moment. Almost unanimously, they described beauty as confidence and a comfort within one’s own skin. They didn’t say “tall, blond, and thin.” They didn’t say “rocking a hard body.” And in that moment of truth, they often realized that they were judging themselves based on perceived pop culture standards, even though what they considered beautiful was more innate and organic. I received several e-mails from interviewees later about how liberating that realization had been. I loved those moments because I believe that as women come to recognize the disparity between how they view others versus how they view themselves, they become more inclined to embrace their own view of beauty. And that’s not just good for their body image; it’s good for the world.
FOCUS ON YOUR PURPOSE, NOT YOUR BODY
Because here is the thing: We each have a purpose that is uniquely ours. If we are consumed by our bodies, then we are taking valuable time away from the work we are meant to be doing and the gifts we are meant to be giving to this world, from our mission. If we are in the mirror, assessing, obsessing, critiquing, despairing, we are not doing the work of our lives. What are you not doing while looking in the mirror, lamenting your fate?
After Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image, and Growing Up Latina was released, I found that the conversations women most wanted to have were about body image, self-awareness, and self-acceptance. Ultimately, those conversations led to my second book, Beautiful You: A Daily Guide in Radical Self-Acceptance, which walks women through developing their self-awareness so that they may embrace the process of self-acceptance. This month, I will be introducing you to a few important elements of this journey.
There is no room for us to play small or scared. But in order for us to play big and brave, we must do the work that allows us to become our best selves. When we arrive there, what we have is not just self-contentment, what we have is the ability to pull off one of the many miracles this world needs. It is not a cosmic accident that we are here, right now. To paraphrase Alice Walker, we are, each one of us, the ones the world has been waiting for. Our realization of this truth and our ability to embrace it changes everything. We can’t afford for that not to happen.