Latinas Struggle with Body Image Too

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WHEN I FIRST WATCHED THE MOVIE "REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES" STARRING AMERICA FERRARA, I THOUGHT TO MYSELF: FINALLY. A LEADING LADY WHO HAS CHICHOS AND SHE REACHES A POINT WHERE SHE IS TOTALLY COOL WITH IT.

 Now, I know Marilyn Monroe, among others like Jayne Mansfield and Sophia Loren, were often praised for their voluptuous figures. However, seeing Ferrara on the screen was way more relatable to me because she wasn’t representing a "sex symbol". She is also a Latina— just like me.

I grew up in the South Bronx in New York City to Puerto Rican parents. I think it’s safe to say that most Latinos are proud of their culture. Our food, our flags, our music— de todo. But, when it comes to body image within our community, we seldom talk about a massive issue that affects us: body dysmorphia and disordered eating.

I remember being a little girl and listening to grown ups talk about how Latin women are all "curvaceous" and proud of it because culturally, it’s "what our men like". By the time I got older and my body developed, having big boobs and a big butt was a goal among my friends and I. I used to wear leggings underneath my jeans to make my legs look thicker and one of my best friends used to wear super padded gel bras. We were in sixth grade.

Linking aesthetics to culture can create an image and identity issue among Latin women who don’t fit the curvy mold.

On the flip side, there is also a massive disconnect in society between being “Latina, curvy, and proud” and being gordita. How many times have you visited family members who instantly make a comment about your body? Either you’re not eating enough and are too skinny, or it’s the complete opposite. You’re damned either way. This kind of conversation creates a mentality that teaches us to set our value as women based on what our bodies look like. Don’t even get me started on how TV/Film and the Media pressure all women about body image in general.

In high school, I started developing insecurities around my body. Like many of us around that age, I wanted to “fit in” and unfortunately the normal responses to “Hey! What’s up?” were “Great! I feel skinny today!” or “Ugh— I feel fat.” Needless to say, I took on that kind of self talk and eventually developed body dysmorphia (obsession with what my body looked like) and disordered eating (tons of yo-yo dieting as well as anorexic and binge eating patterns). By the time I was in college, the struggle was real. Some moments were a lot tougher than others, but one thing was for sure, the insecurity I felt towards my body spilled into doubting my capability in other areas of my life.: work, finances, relationships— de todo.

One day in a psychology class, we were discussing eating disorders. My professor said that eating disorders are “white-girl disorders”—excuse me, what?! Mental health disorders are not exclusive to any particular culture, gender, race, religion and to make a comment like that was ignorant on her behalf. As a Latina who had her very own personal struggle with body dysmorphia and disordered eating I had to speak up. I did. In front of a 60 person class, I shared my story for the first time.

The more I spoke about my experience with body image, the more I began to heal. It took a lot of work, but I’m proud of la mujer that I am today. I want Latinas to know that they are not alone in  fighting negative body image or disordered eating.

Whether you are flaca, gordita or have some chichos, embrace it. We are beautiful. 

 

WORDS BY Juliana Estrella
IMAGES FROM iStock by Getty Images


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Juliana Estrella is a fitness and health coach, as well as teacher at Rumble Boxing in New York City. At a young age, she she developed eating disorders and body dysmorphia. She slowly began to heal herself through learning more about the body and mind; committing to her health by eating mindfully and being present in her workouts. This transformed her life both physically and mentally, and in finding peace in the process. 

 

Follow her on Instagram: @juliana_estrella
Learn more about Juliana Estrella and her coaching at www.julianaestrellafit.com