What Does a Latina Look Like?

9 Apr
Multi-ethnic Models

Multi-ethnic Models

I belong to a group on Facebook where Hispanic online marketing professionals can gather to share news on the industry and debate issues.  One member posted a link to an article in MediaPost about Estee Lauder’s new Idealist skin care line, which is supposed to work wonders with all skin types.  The models pictured at left are the ones whose faces will grace the campaign, and there was a bit of a comment kerfuffle on the Facebook group as to whether Latinas were being excluded from this campaign.  We see no Latinas in the photo. Or do we?

Several commenters rushed to point out that there is no Latina look, and that Latinas can indeed look like anything. Some mentioned that they and their daughters do not look typically Latina, yet they identify closely with the culture. Well, count me and my Mom in that category. My looks are far from typically Latina- my skin tone is something akin to eggshell white- and this is compounded by the fact that my first name is a little less Guadalupe María, a little more Jane. People do not assume that I am Hispanic.  And yet, I am.

Back to the image of the models.  It turns out that the model on the left, Joan Smalls, is Puerto Rican. You can be Latina and black, por supuesto. The model in the center, Constance Jablonski, reminds me of Alexis Bledel, of “Gilmore Girls” and “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” fame, who herself is Mexican and Argentinean. And the model on the right, Liu Wen, bears a resemblance to Peruvian presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori.  So all of them could conceivably be Latina.

Many people, we Hispanics included, have an idea in mind of what Latinas look like.  Brown-skinned. Mestizo, looking both a little Spanish and a little Indian. Brown eyes, brown hair. If asked, I would say Mexican actress Kate del Castillo fits the mold quite well. But Hispanic is not a race- it is a loosely defined idea, a grouping for those people living in Spanish-speaking lands.  It covers everything from Dominican Republic to Argentina, and all the lands in between.  Naturally, there will be some variety.  In this country, we like knowing who’s who and what’s what.  Admit it- how many times do you rush to Wikipedia or Google while watching a TV commercial and search for something like, “guy from the Sprint commercial, what is he? Asian?” Faces of ambiguous origin make us uneasy- we need to have an explanation, fast.

Latinas are underrepresented in Hollywood and the mainstream media, which I think explains the consternation of the member of the Facebook group that a typically Latina face was not included in the Estee Lauder campaign.  Yet I think if we broaden our idea of what a Latina can look like, we’ll see that our community is more diverse than we realize. Let’s use a big-tent approach to Latinidad.

4 Responses to “What Does a Latina Look Like?”

  1. OneBrownGirl April 10, 2011 at 9:55 am #

    I love this post and agree whole-heartedly: What does a Latina look like?!?!? Love, love, love. =)

  2. Flor Olivo April 12, 2011 at 12:47 am #

    Love the way you ended this. As Latinas we should be able to identify as we choose el mestizaje is the great mix that unites us all. We are beautifully different. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. jane smith April 13, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

    As latina we should feel proud that this young lady is representing the latinas. I believed that Joan also represent not only the latina, she also represent the women that struggle and goes for her dreams. Cong Ms. Smalls.

  4. Joe Gabriel Condorcanqui December 26, 2021 at 10:53 am #

    Latin Americans are native people….. Most latinos are part of the native diaspora even if they aren’t presenting. An overhwhelming amount. Native erasure seems to be a trend in the american neoliberal circles. Its ironic as the conversation around “what do africans” look like never arises despite their being 800 ethnic groups and 2 separate native peoples (berbers and sub saharan “blacks”). So this anybody can be African, anybody can be Latin American narrative is built on erasure for westerners to appropriate the identities of those groups.

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