8 Lies We Need to Stop Spreading About Teen Pregnancy



Cristina DeJesus was 16 when she first saw a plus sign on her pregnancy test stick. Like most new mothers-to-be, she rushed to the hospital anytime she experienced unusual vaginal bleeding. Once in a nurse’s care, however, her experiences changed drastically. Instead of concern and support, DeJesus was told that she’d be better off if she had a miscarriage.

The shame DeJesus faced for being a pregnant, baby-faced teen, while harrowing, is far from unique in the U.S., the country with the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the developed world.

In fact, the predominant message sent to young mothers and pregnant teens in the media, by politicians and from teachers at schools is that they are promiscuous, tarnished goods who are bringing “problem children” into the world.

It’s this kind of rationale that is forcing students “suspected” of being pregnant to take pregnancy tests,barring teen mothers from displaying their pregnant bellies in school yearbooks and allowing a New York City Human Resource Administration campaign that suggests teen moms are somehow “to blame” with slogans like “I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen,” and “Honestly, Mom … chances are he won’t stay with you. What will happen to me?”

These stigmatizing anti-teen pregnancy messages, so often tinged with racism, classism and sexism, end up placing a greater burden on a group of people who need the most support. That’s why#NoTeenShame, a movement led by seven young mothers, aims to improve strategic messaging campaigns and shift conversations around young parenting to a non-stigmatizing and non-shaming approach, while also highlighting the importance of comprehensive sex education.

While the controversial Candie’s Foundation’s star-studded anti-teen pregnancy campaign claims that young women are “supposed to be changing the world … not changing diapers,” the #NoTeenShame women, along with the many teen moms who battle the unnecessary stigma and discrimination that come with young parenthood, say they are changing the world because they are changing diapers, not in spite of them.

Here are just a few of the lies we need to stop telling about teen pregnancy and young motherhood in the U.S.

1. Teen pregnancy and birthrates are increasing.

Nearly 6% of teenage women in the U.S. aged 15 to 19 years old become pregnant each year. While this may seem high to some, in fact it’s a record low. Citing the most recent statistics on teenage pregnancy available, a 2014 Guttmacher Institute report shows that in 2010, close to 615,000 teen pregnancies occurred, marking a 51% decline since 1990.

This decline in teenage pregnancy crosses racial and ethnic groups, with both black and white teen pregnancy rates declining by 56% and Latina teens experiencing a 51% decrease of their own.

This significant drop in teenage pregnancy, however, hasn’t halted the mainstream media from inaccurately claiming that teen birth rates are on the rise, especially in communities of color. In May, for example, Bill O’Reilly responded to Beyoncé’s appearance on the cover of TIME‘s “Most Influential” list by suggesting the singer’s presentation and lyrics are contributing to the growing rate of teen pregnancy in the African-American community.

2. Teen pregnancy and childbearing is an “urban” problem.

Despite the stereotype that teen pregnancy is primarily an “urban problem,” statistics show that the teen birth rate is nearly one-third higher in the United States’ rural areas, not metropolitan city centers.

In fact, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy’s 2013 study, teens in rural counties face the highest rate of pregnancy and the slowest decline in teenage pregnancy. Between 1990 and 2010, for instance, teen pregnancies in urban areas declined by 49%, while rural counties saw a decline of just 32%.

Furthermore, while the Guttmacher Institute reports that today’s U.S. teens are predominantly less sexually active and using more contraception, the opposite is true for teens in rural areas, who are having more sex while often not using birth control. Though the study doesn’t explain this phenomenon, researchers speculate that a lack of opportunities and access to contraception in rural areas contribute to a high pregnancy rate.

3. Young love is never “real” love.

Teen romance is often devalued as nothing more than “puppy love,” with some adults even questioningteenagers’ abilities to know what love is.

When Natasha Vianna, a young mom and #NoTeenShame advocate, would talk to her parents about her love for her then-boyfriend and the father of her child, her parents would reduce her feelings to hormones or rebellion. Eight years later, at 26, Vianna still talks about her high school boyfriend as one of the most caring people in her life at the time, someone who was genuinely there for her.

DeJesus, who was 16 when she got pregnant, also knew that the love in her teenage relationship was genuine. “Yes, I was young,” DeJesus, who at 24 remains with her children’s father, told PolicyMic. “But you know when you love somebody and when that person loves you too. [Age] doesn’t matter.”

Dr. Nancy Kalish, a psychology professor who studies lost loves and lost love reunions, agrees: “First love, young love, is indeed real love.”

While Vianna and DeJesus speak from experience, Kalish is able to support the validity of teen love through scholarship — more specifically, a recent study of 1,600 people, where 25% of participants said they would reunite with their first love if given the opportunity.

4. Young women don’t know what they want.

It’s a mistake to assume that pregnancy is always something that teenagers want to avoid, or that all teen pregnancies are unplanned. In fact, a 1998 report by the Guttmacher Institute looking at teenagers’ pregnancy intentions and decisions in California reported that 32% of teens had intended to become pregnant, while 25% had not cared and 43% had not intended to become pregnant.

DeJesus would fit into the 25%.

“It wasn’t planned,” DeJesus told PolicyMic. “But we weren’t using birth control, so we knew there was a possibility that I would become pregnant.”

While fewer than half of the teen women in the Guttmacher Institute study had not intended to become pregnant, theirs is the predominant story we see in mainstream media. From films and scripted TV shows like Juno and The Secret Life of the American Teenager, which both depict consenting teenagers who have unplanned pregnancies after engaging in unprotected sex, to Precious, which portrays a teen mother who was impregnated after her father raped her, popular media seem to only be concerned with sharing teen pregnancy stories that perpetuate the idea that young parenthood is never planned.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with these representations — unplanned teen pregnancies do happen — but Vianna does think the propagation of the same teenage pregnancy portrayals furthers the idea that teens don’t know what they want and thus must be reminded to reject any notion of teen pregnancy.

“Teen pregnancy and teen parenthood is a feminist issue,” Vianna told PolicyMic. “We are repeatedly telling young women to say ‘no.’ If you keep telling them to say ‘no,’ do they have the power to say ‘yes?’ Who determines?”

5. Teen moms don’t enjoy motherhood.

ust about every episode of the MTV reality show 16 and Pregnant has a scene where the new mom is “reminded” that her pregnancy or baby has “robbed” her of her social life and ends with her talking into a web cam, expressing her regret for not waiting to have a child.

Putting aside the fact that these types of reality shows are often staged, these depictions ignore facts in the name of dramatic entertainment. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teen moms are more likely than older moms to have postpartum depression.

With messages of loss and regret often regurgitated in the media, anti-teen pregnancy campaigns and even unconsciously among friends and family of a teen parent, it’s not difficult to decipher why young moms experience depression.

“How can I enjoy a punishment?” Vianna, who experienced postpartum depression the first year of motherhood, told PolicyMic. “It’s not meant to be enjoyed.”

But Vianna believes that if teen mothers weren’t bombarded with messages that shame them, their entry into motherhood would look much different.

“If young mothers had the support and resources to think about what makes teen motherhood so hard, they’d realize it’s not being a mother; it’s society. Life was hard because the people around me were rooting for me to fail,” Vianna said.

6. Only white teen moms can have a happy ending.

From advertisements to characters on hit shows and in films, the only teen mothers who seem to get their happy ending in the media are young white moms.

Amy Juergens, for example, the main protagonist of The Secret Life of the American Teenager, escapes a loveless relationship with her baby’s father and is able to move across the country to New York to attend Hudson University. In Juno, Ellen Page’s character Juno MacGuff has supportive parents, easily finds an adoptive parent and gets her guy in the end to top it all off. Meanwhile, Quinn Fabray of Glee is getting the “best of both worlds,” as she gives up her baby without incident, successfully pursues her high school love and ends up at an Ivy League school.

In contrast, Precious ends with Claireece Precious Jones’ plans to complete a GED test and the news that she’s HIV-positive. Details about The OC‘s Theresa Diaz’s pregnancy and teen motherhood are incomplete, leaving viewers guessing if she in fact doesn’t know who the father of her baby is, or, the more popular assumption, that Ryan is her child’s father, but she lies to him about it. A similar portrayal of a struggling, single young mom of color with boyfriend troubles is found in Chenille Reynolds in Save the Last Dance.

The contrasts are clear: Juno, Quinn and Amy are all white women and all seem to easily navigate the teen pregnancy experience. Meanwhile, minority mothers like Precious, Theresa and Chenille are left stranded and struggling, with little hope for a future in sight.

7. Teen pregnancy is young women’s fault.

From STIs to unplanned pregnancies, young women already disproportionately suffer the consequences of unprotected sex, and anti-teen pregnancy campaigns and programs only continue to tilt the scale against them.

Though we all know it takes two to tango, a Legal Momentum report titled “Sex, Lies and Stereotypes” shows that anti-teen pregnancy programs, specifically abstinence-only measures, teach young men that women are the gatekeepers of male sexual aggression. This places the onus completely on women to face the unintended consequences of unprotected sex, as reflected in anti-teen pregnancy campaigns, which are overwhelmingly directed exclusively to teen girls.

If the goal is to help prevent unintended teen pregnancies, however, it’s crucial to add teen boys and young men, who have as much control over unintended pregnancies as do young women, into the conversation. Even more important, surveys show that young men want to be armed with the information they need to prevent unintended pregnancies.

8. Teen moms are tarnished goods.

Once a teen woman in the U.S. becomes pregnant, she is often seen as sullied, no longer able to contribute productively to society.

While statistics show that teen moms are less likely to finish high school than other teens, it’s also true that when a pregnant teen or a teen parent has support at home and in school, their chances of finishing school increases. Further, most teenage pregnancies occur at 18 and 19, when parents have already graduated from high school.

But schools, clinics, government offices and greater society are generally not very supportive of teen mothers.

“Everyone is really good at being really terrible to teen moms,” Gloria Malone, a #NoTeenShame activist who got pregnant at 15, told PolicyMic. “Someone once told me that I’m stealing their tax dollars because I couldn’t keep my legs closed.”

The truth is that teen mothers are just like many other new mothers. Parenting is novel and challenging, but they too want their children to lead great lives.

“We are contributing members of society,” Malone, 24, said. “Maya Angelou was a teen mom. The MVP of the NBA is a child of a teen mom. LeBron James was a teen dad. Our president is the son of a teen mom. The idea that we are tarnished goods is simply not true.”


When Fear of Harassment Curbs Recovery From an Eating Disorder

An Added Burden

The New York Times

Originally published in Latinitas: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/05/12/when-fear-of-harassment-curbs-recovery-from-an-eating-disorder/

My growling stomach is trying to tell me something. I’m hungry. But I’d rather not eat. Grabbing dinner with only a debit card in the South Bronx means I’ll have to walk to an A.T.M. or a restaurant on the corner, and I know that means preparing myself for the endless catcalls, the sexist jeers and the unwanted touching.

But I have to eat. My body needs it; my mental health depends on it.

I’ve struggled with an eating disorder for a large part of my life. I chose recovery more than three years ago, but each night when I fall asleep with a stomach barking for sustenance, an unwelcomed part of me rejoices. I don’t want to feed into the eating disorder, and I haven’t, but fear of the street harassment I’ll undoubtedly endure as I scurry to the nearby food spots keeps me static in my bedroom.

I’ve been dealing with street harassment since I was in elementary school, so I already know what to expect. On most occasions, someone will make an unsolicited comment about my body, likely remarking on the parts I’ve struggled with the most, and then hurl expletives my way for not appreciating their “compliments.” But then there are other times, like when I was 12 years old and a man in a white car chased me while I ran home, only to follow me around during the day and sit in his car in front of my house at night for an entire week. It was horrifying then, and it still is more than 10 years later.

These days, I’m terrified when groups of men crowd around and tell me what they’re going to do with my vagina. I want to get home, but walking there as they follow and taunt me means they’ll know where home is. I’m alarmed when I plod through a busy avenue and my body flings back because some stranger thinks it’s O.K. to grab my hand or arm while he rushes in the opposite direction. I’m exhausted having to literally run away from men who chase me in their cars or on their bicycles. It’s triggering to me when my harassers constantly tell me how “fat,” “thick” and “big” my derrière is, and then squeeze it because they “just couldn’t help myself.”

But this is my reality. Street harassment is a part of my everyday life. And I know I’m not the only one. This is also the reality of countless New Yorkers. So many women in New York City who walk out of their buildings, jump on a subway, head to school, commute to work, jog through a park or grab a bite to eat will deal with some form of street harassment, whether it’s annoying like leering and whistling, or illegal like stalking and sexual touching.

I’m just 23 years old, and I’ve dealt with all of that. But even knowing that the women in this city are surely experiencing the same street harassment that I meet most times I walk out of my building, I still feel isolated and helpless during each encounter.

Even on a crowded block, when my body is threatened, I feel alone. The strong and empowered woman that took years to build loses control, resembling the vulnerable girl struggling with bulimia.

What do you do, then, when you want to fight back against street harassment but you literally fear for your life?

How do you deal with that sense of failure that creeps in when you had the chance to school someone on sexism and the objectification of women but you let your anxiety get the best of you?

How can you truly get over an eating disorder when your fear of the men outside and the potential for sexual harassment keep you in a painfully familiar state of hunger, apprehension and self-loathing?

7 Lies We Have to Stop Telling About Latina Women in America


Originally Published: http://www.policymic.com/articles/90195/7-lies-we-have-to-stop-telling-about-latina-women-in-america

Once Latinos became the largest ethnic minority group in the U.S., contrasting characterizations of Latinas became popular myths. Just as with other identity groups, these myths are more often than not perpetuated by the media, helped along by heavy-handed, stereotypical or just plain inaccurate depictions spread widely through television programs, popular music and film.

This contradictory imagery aside, it’s important not to believe everything you read on the internet (or see on TV, or hear from a politician). In fact, the lives of U.S. Latinas are much more nuanced and less sanitized than pundits, marketers and producers would like to convince you. Here are just seven of the damaging lies about Latina women common in American society today.

1. They are anti-abortion, anti-birth control social conservatives.


poll commissioned by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) found that the majority of Latinas agree that women have the right to make their own personal, private decisions about abortion, countering popular narratives of Latinas as being socially conservative and anti-abortion. Furthermore, in an NBC Latino article, NLIRH executive director Jessica González-Rojas says that “90% of married Catholic Latinas,” who are often portrayed as religious and anti-contraception, “have used birth control banned by the Vatican.”

2. They cross the U.S.-Mexico border to give birth to “anchor babies.”



The image of a barefoot Latin-American woman running across the U.S.-Mexico border holding on to a rounded belly that houses her soon-to-be-born child is a deception, popularized by proponents of more restrictive immigration policies. While it’s true that some women cross the border to deliver babies, comments like those of Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (who in 2010 said on Fox News that “[people] come here to drop a child. … They cross the border, they go to the emergency room, they have a child, and that child’s automatically an American citizen.”) misleadingly turn a secondary effect of immigration into a primary motive. According to Jeff Passel, the coauthor of a 2010 Pew Hispanic Center report quantifying just how many children are born in the U.S. to undocumented immigrants, more than 80% of the births cited in the report occurred more than one year after the women arrived in the U.S., debunking the myth of the plotting, pregnant border-crosser.

3. They don’t suffer from low self-esteem or eating disorders.


While Latinas have predominantly been excluded from research on body image and eating disorders, they are not immune from developing disordered eating habits and mental illnesses like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. On the contrary, despite rarely being reported or diagnosed, recent studies show that Latinas have eating disorders and body image issues at rates comparable to or greater than non-Latina whites. For the most part, researchers have concentrated on Caucasian girls and women from middle- to upper-class backgrounds, with few doctors even equipped with the language and questions to ask Latina sufferers. But even though researchers and physicians seem to overwhelmingly disregard Latinas in their work, eating disorders do not discriminate. A 2005study looking at almost 2,000 Latinas ranging in age from 11 to 20 years old concluded that eating disorders are prevalent in all subgroups, illustrating that these illnesses cut across race, ethnicity, class and age.

4. They are financially stable and socially mobile.


The Latina Power Shift,” a 2013 Nielsen report, casts Latinas as decision-makers in household spending and as attractive consumers eager to be courted by leading journalists and marketers alike to celebrate the group’s new “powerful influence.” But as headlines like “Latinas Drive Hispanic Purchasing Power in the U.S.,” “Latinas in Charge,” and “The Power of the Mamás Latinas” spread the message of Latinas’ economic leverage, they mask the actual economic insecurity burdening many Latina women every day. In the same year Nielsen published its report, for instance, the Center for American Progress released its “State of Latinas in the United States” report, detailing many of the economic woes besetting Latinas in the U.S. Although feminists regularly cite the gender wage gap as a scourge holding back women in the workplace, in fact for Latinas, the gap is much worse. According to some estimates, Latinas earn just 55 cents for every dollar earned by non-Hispanic white men. Furthermore, the share of Latina women earning at or below minimum wage is actually increasing, tripling from 2007 to 2012, and contributing to an overall poverty rate of 27.9% — close to three times that of non-Latina white women.

5. Mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex only affect Latino men.


In the last 20 years, the number of women incarcerated increased at a rate almost double that of men, with Latina women being 69% more likely to be incarcerated than white women. Driven largely by the War on Drugs, women of color, particularly black and Latina women, comprise the fastest-growing sector of the prison population. In 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union maintained that mass incarceration has an exceptional effect on Latinas and black women, who are typically the primary caregivers for their children and are also disproportionately victimized.

6. They rarely suffer from institutionalized education disparities.


As women, racial and ethnic minorities and (for the most part) members of a low socioeconomic status group, Latinas posses a triple minority status, all of which impact their educational opportunities. Though the Center for American Progress reports that the level of educational attainment for Latinas has risen in the past few years, graduation rates for Latinas, at 31.3% in 2008, are still significantly lower than graduation rates for white women, at 45.8%. According to a Colorado State University study, Latinas are victims of a broken educational pipeline, meaning they are underrepresented in honors, advanced placement and gifted and talented programs. This disparity, the researchers argue, is not due to a lack of intellectual capabilities, but rather a deficiency in opportunities. Cultural and language challenges, like limited knowledge of the U.S. education system, weak relationships with teachers and inadequate school resources, inhibit Latinas’ representation in these programs, leading Latina students to pursue education in trade or two-year community colleges, where opportunities for advanced degrees are often delayed or limited.

7. They are hypersexual and promiscuous.


From Naya Rivera’s role as Santana Lopez on Glee to Shakira and Jennifer Lopez’s somewhat infamous music videos to shameless advertisements, it’s not hard to find examples of the sexualization of Latina women in pop culture. But there’s a more insidious side to this kind of stereotyping — besides being inaccurate, these types of depictions have been used to blame high rates of teen pregnancies in the community on the “spicy Latina.” But while Latina teens have a much higher rate of teenage pregnancies than their white peers, they don’t have sex more often than their white counterparts. In fact, a 2009 study looking at sexual health factors in teens by race and ethnicity shows that the female rate of teenage intercourse for Latinas and non-Latina whites are identical, with 45% of teen girls from both racial/ethnic groups reporting having had sex. A CNN study conducted the same year, however, found that 53% of Latinas get pregnant in their teens, about twice the national average. This number, while not reflecting the hypersexuality of Latina teens, can be attributed to intersecting social issues of gender, race, class, immigrant status and education. Limited transportation and lack of health insurance impede access to birth control for many Latinas, with immigration regulation creating additional layers of difficulty. Abstinence-only education, common in states with large Latino populations, also contributes to the high rate of Latina teen pregnancies, as girls are not armed with the information they need to make safe and healthy decisions about their reproductive and sexual health.

Underrepresentation of Minority Heroines



Originally published in Latinitas: http://laslatinitas.com/teens/underrepresentation-of-minority-heroines

It is no big revelation that women of color seldom see themselves in powerful positions in the media, oftentimes making them feel homely and irrelevant. But according to some experts, the lack of representation of minorities in cartoons could also be causing a similar effect for young girls of color.

Today’s Youth in Media

Maria O. Alvarez, the Hispanic media consultant at Common Sense Media,  a non-profit organization that studies the effects that media and technology have on young users, believes the lack of colored girls in youth media leads to low self-esteem among minorities.

“We do know that all these messages have a direct impact in all their behaviors and how they see the world,” said Alvarez. “You feel that you’re in a lower level in society when you see that people like you, your skin color, are not in powerful positions.”

Her thoughts are supported by a 2011 study by Nicole Martins and Kristen Harrison, which found that minorities tend to feel worse about themselves after watching youth media.

The study found that unlike white male characters, who are often presented as highly educated and powerful, which tends to lift white boys’ self-esteems, girl characters are often simplistic, sexualized beings, while characters of color tend to be more violent.

But this particular study, like many, lacks to demonstrate how youth media represent young girls of color.

According to Hugh Klein, who has been studying the underrepresentation of out groups in animated cartoons for the past 20 years, it is difficult to break down the representations of girls of color in animated cartoons because there are too few of them to analyze.

In Klein’s ongoing study, which examined more than 4,000 cartoon characters, he found that only 3.6 percent of the characters were African American, 1.8 percent were Latinos and 1.0 percent were Asian.  Out of the 27 Latino characters in Klein’s research, only one-third, or 9, of them were Latina.

“In the process of leaving people out of the media, you communicate a message to viewers just as much as if you were portraying them in a positive or negative way,” said Klein. “They’re so few in number probably because they’re unvalued in our culture,” said Klein.

According to his research, because animated cartoons are likely to be among the earliest media types to which young people are exposed to and because they are exposed to these messages on a daily basis, animated cartoons end up being “one of the earliest and most influential sources of negative messages.”

Minority Heroines

Some have argued, though, that with minority heroines like Doc McStuffins, Dora the Explorer and Kai-Lan, non-white children are now unburdened by stereotypes and underrepresentation.

But just as mainstream films or music videos feature the token colored gal, Doc McStuffins, Dora the Explorer and Ni Hao, Kai-Lan are some of the only programs on TV with leading girl cartoons of color.

The halfhearted gesture to include a single leading Black, Latina and Asian cartoon character, according to Alvarez, sends the message that although several little white girls can be pop stars (Olivia from “Olivia”), mechanics (Widget from “Wow Wow Wubbzy”) and mathematicians (Milli from “Team Umizoomi”), there’s only room for one visionary girl of color.

“It’s not just cartoons. It’s all over. And it has an impact on how we see ourselves and how proactive we are,” said Alvarez. “We all have great value to share with the society; we can all be in powerful positions. It’s hard to believe that when the media doesn’t show you like that. But if together, parents and community, can share those messages with kids, that’s going to help.”

Alvarez believes that young girls need role models outside of the media.

“There’s a huge gap in reality and what they see in the media. We need to help them see that what they see in the media is not reality.”

Here are a few tips for young girls from Alvarez and Common Sense Media to help with self-image:

  1. Limit media consumption: Limit the amount of media you expose yourself to every day. Set limits. The earlier you start, the better.
  2. Become a media critic: Pay attention to ads, magazine covers, billboards—and talk to your parents about how these messages make you feel and ask them about their own reactions.
  3. Look for role models that look like you: Ask your parents or older relatives about professionals and community leaders who look like you do.
  4. Find everyday role models: Role models don’t need to be famous. They can be teachers, neighbors or family members. You just need a positive influence to look up to.
  5. Understand your value: Even if you’re not seeing people who look like you in the media, understand that race doesn’t define value. Compliment yourself and your peers on all of your/their wonderful talents, like your/their creativity or thoughtfulness.

Latinas Leading the Fight Against Human Trafficking



Originally published in Latinitas: http://laslatinitas.com/uncategorized/latinas-leading-the-fight-against-human-trafficking

While Blockbuster films and news media portray human trafficking as a problem that takes place across our oceans, many Latinas are working to shatter that myth and inform Americans that this criminal act exists near their schools and on their playgrounds.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 300 thousand children – of various ages, genders, classes, races and ethnicities – are trafficked for sex in the United States every year. This figure doesn’t reflect those trafficked for labor or the number of adults also being trafficked within the U.S.

Recognizing this exploitation, Latinas – young and old – are taking a stand against this modern form of slavery.  They are joining forces with other people and organizations to spread awareness, instill programs and laws that prevent trafficking and console victims of sex slavery.

In Washington D.C., Dr. Carolina De Los Rios is serving as the Director of Client Services for the Polaris Project, a non-profit anti-trafficking organization.

She supervises case managers, social workers and fellows who work directly with victims of human trafficking. Her team provides survivors with counseling, emergency housing and more specialized assistance all intended to help and to rebuild their lives.

“Seeing survivors after you have helped them in an emergency situation is so rewarding,” De Los Rios said. “You’ve seen one of the worst moments of their lives, and then you see them after you and the team worked so hard – smiling, getting their GED, going to college. You see them thriving with their life, and then I know it makes sense what I’m doing.”

Del Los Rios, a Colombian, believes that being a Latina has given her a unique lens in her fight against trafficking.

“Being Latina makes me more aware about the challenges that you experience as a Latina, and it makes me more sensitive to the different challenges that women and girls experience,” Del Los Rios said.

She also said that although all young people are vulnerable to being recruited, Latinas who just immigrated to the U.S., who don’t speak the language and who don’t know how the system works here, may be in an even more vulnerable position.

Public interest attorney Norma Ramos understands that vulnerability firsthand.

The now executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) was once a child in New York’s foster care system.

“I always felt a strong sensitivity about human beings who are being commercially and sexually exploited,” said Ramos. “I felt that that could have so easily been me – I still feel that way.”

At CATW, the world’s first organization to fight human trafficking internationally, Ramos raises awareness about human trafficking and promotes the Nordic model – laws that penalize the demand for commercial sex and decriminalize victims of the commercial sex industry – as an approach to combat human trafficking.

“When a country passes the Nordic model, I’m very happy,” said Ramos. “Norway passed the Nordic model, then Iceland followed. These were ‘break out the champagne’ moments for me.”

Ramos, who is Puerto Rican, also hopes to encourage young people and Latinas to take a stand against injustice.

“The world has too little political courage; it’s the No. 1 disappointment for me when I see people not risk something in order to change and end a social injustice.”

A few hundred miles east of Ramos is a young Latina in Connecticut whose political courage would make Ramos very proud.

Ana Alarcon is a high school senior and anti-human trafficking advocate.

The 17-year-old Colombian recently traveled to Washington D.C. for the National Youth Summit on Abolition, where she was a panelist alongside human trafficking experts like Wesleyan University professor Lois A. Brown, founder and president of the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation Kenneth Morris Jr., and U.S. Ambassador in the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking Luis CdeBaca.

As a young Latina, Alarcon’s voice and perspective was very unique at the event.

“It feels very empowering as a young person and as a female and as a Latina. There are generally a lot of men in this field,” Alarcon said. “I feel like I could give a voice to different groups, I feel honored, and I feel like I could give other people a sense of ‘you can do this, too.’”

The young Latina hopes to continue her advocacy beyond high school. She was recently accepted into Fordham University, where she will be studying international relations.

“Human trafficking is just a link to so many world issues – poverty, drugs, abuse – it’s all interconnected. If I can stop one thing, it will be a chain reaction to cause peace somewhere else,” Alarcon said.

Like Ramos, Alarcon also wants girls her age to be courageous.

“If you want to do anything, you could absolutely do it. Just because you’re a girl, a minority or you’re young doesn’t mean you can’t do something important or be someone important,” Alarcon said.

If interested in connecting with anti-human trafficking services near you or to obtain free training materials to help you with your advocacy, visit: http://www.polarisproject.org/what-we-do/national-human-trafficking-hotline/the-nhtrc/overview.

Cover Girl Controversy: Why Aren’t Women of Color On Newsstands?



Originally published in Feminspire: http://feminspire.com/cover-girlconsumers-buy-white-ideal/

Unless you spend your days and nights under a rock (or you’re not on Twitter), you’ve probably heard that The Huffington Post recently published an article that shared the results of a survey they conducted on the diversity of cover girls in mainstream women’s magazines.

Although the results were unsurprising – the covers overwhelmingly feature white women – social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter went abuzz. Many of the users I follow had the same question: Why can’t the magazine industry keep up with the nation’s racial shift?

Women of color make up more than 36 percent of our nation’s female population and about 18 percent of the entire U.S. populationYet, according to the article, minority women account for only 18 percent of cover girls on leading women’s magazines.

But how many of the women of color featured on these covers were whitewashed? How many appeared with lighter skin and straighter hair? And, among all of the cover girls, were there any who could be considered fat? Were they all able-bodied?

Now, obviously the survey, which looked at magazines from September 2012 to September 2013, didn’t examine these other elements. However, considering that the magazine industry’s goal is to make money – not to adequately represent the nation’s women – my question is, do pretty, thin, able-bodied, white women generate more profits than non-white women of different shapes and abilities?

British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman seems to think so. Shulman once said that, “Black cover girls don’t sell as well as white cover girls.

She’s not alone. Many industry leaders are under the assumption that Americans won’t buy magazines that don’t feature white women, a position that carries some support.

In 2002, for instance, The New York Times seemed shocked that Cosmopolitan magazine chose Halle Berry for the cover of its December issue, with media reporter David Carr writing, “in many broad-circulation magazines, the unspoken but routinely observed practice of not using nonwhite cover subjects – for fear they will depress newsstand sales – remains largely in effect.

Moreover, in 2010, not one of the top-selling cover girls were women of color – also unseen were bodies that differed from the thin, able-bodied norm.

The fact that 82 percent of cover girls are white, or that industry leaders continue to choose white models or celebrities because they bring in the big bucks, doesn’t mean that the industry can’t keep up with the nation’s racial shift. Instead, it further illustrates that even as the United States grows more diverse, the beauty standard remains shamefully narrow.

The growing body positivity movement has helped expand ideas of beauty, though not nearly as much as we’d like to think. Black women like Beyoncé and Gabourey Sidibe can’t go to a photo shoot and expect the same digital treatment as their white counterparts.

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Their skin is lightened, their hair is straightened and their bodies are slimmed to “help” them get closer to the dominant white ideal. And women with disabilities, whose bodies have been so desexualized, don’t make covers even if they are closer to the white ideal.

I’m not saying that the magazine industry escapes accountability. With images of tall, thin, white, able-bodied women flooding all areas of the media, including magazines, the white, Western beauty ideal is repackaged with a new, trendy outfit and sold to each generation. In other words, media perpetuate this ideal. It lies to women and girls (as well as men and boys), making them believe a standard of beauty that excludes a majority of women.

And seeing as the audience has already bought into the white ideal, they are likely to pay for glossies that feature cover girls who fit the standard. Those are the ones that make it to coffee tables, and those are the aspirational images that are cut and pasted onto the walls of teenage girls.

The magazine industry, which would rather make millions than produce images of everyday women, won’t diversify their covers if they don’t think their product will sell. This means that the onus lies on the consumers to stop buying the beauty lies they’re selling and stop buying the magazines.

I know, this is so much easier said than done.

But in the quick poll that accompanied The Huffington Post article, most readers said that because of the overall lack of diversity in these magazines, they will be more selective about what they read.

Consumers are willing to zip their purses once they recognize the issues. That’s why we have to keep performing these surveys, writing the articles, Tweeting the facts and talking about these harmful ideals.

If we want the magazine industry to reflect the nation’s racial shift, we have to stop believing that there’s only one standard of beauty. We have to unlearn all of the lies that we were taught about race, color, size and ability. And we have to use both our voices and our wallets to get the magazine industry’s attention.

What do you think about the results of the survey? Do you agree that tired, Western beauty ideals play a major role in the underrepresentation of women of color?

Second- and Third-Generation Latinas and the Difficulty to ‘Fit In’

Everyday Feminism

Article originally published on Everyday Feminism: http://everydayfeminism.com/2013/08/latinas-and-the-difficulty-to-fit-in/

“And we gotta prove to the Mexicans how Mexican we are, and we gotta prove to the Americans how American we are. We gotta be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time. It’s exhausting.” –Edward James Olmos, playing Abraham Quintanilla, in the film Selena

In that one-minute clip from the film Selena, Abraham Quintanilla could have so easily been my father, and Selena, rolling her eyes and making silly faces, could have been me, all while my older brother laughed in the passenger seat.

My family is Puerto Rican, not Mexican. And my brother and I are second-generation Latinos, not third-generation Latinos like Selena, A.B., and Suzette.

But regardless of the nuances, this message rings so true in my culture, too – as I imagine it does for most Latinos.

I vividly remember myself as a child and teenager trying to understand the duality of being a Nuyorican.

I loved being Puerto Rican. The gleaming waters, flavorful foods, vibrant music, energetic dances, and the undeniable pride were equally as exciting as they were comfortable. It was home.

But la isla del encanto seemed so old school. I thought there were too many Spanish conversations and too few homes and churches with running water and air conditioning.

Although my parents always boasted about being “Puerto Rican, Puerto Rican,” because they were born in the island, I would’ve never traded my birthplace from NYC to the motherland.

Who cares if Héctor Lavoe or Gilberto Santa Rosa were born there? Mariah Carey and Nas were born in the States, and that’s the music de ahora.

Besides, I would reason, those salseros wouldn’t have become so mainstream if it weren’t for us Nuyoricans (Take that, papi).

My dad never bought it, though.

He always reminded me of our history, talent, strength, and wisdom. He knew the racism my brother and I would undoubtedly face growing up in los Estados Unidos, and he needed to instill a sense of Latino pride in us early on. And it worked.

What didn’t work, however, were my parents’ attempts at making me speak Spanish fluently.

I could sing the lyrics to songs by Selena y La India, and I could respond to abuelaand abuelo. What else did I need to know?

Besides, I reasoned, I was always going to be “la gringa” of the family, so why even attempt to perfect my Spanish?

And it must be noted that acquired the “gringa” nickname, like so many of us do, early on.

I’m a light-skinned Latina with long, thin, straight hair and natural blonde highlights, which apparently made me white. But my “Valley girl” accent, obsession with the Spice Girls, and fondness for cardigan sweaters, according to my friends and family, meant I was a full-on “gringita.”

Interestingly, although unsurprisingly, white America never agreed with my family.

In middle school, my family always teased me for not speaking Spanish properly, but my white school friends said I spoke English with an accent.

In high school, my brother made fun of me for listening to rock music, while my white peers expected me to translate reggaeton lyrics.

During my undergraduate years, my brother would refer to me as “college,” but to my actual college classmates, I was just another spicy Latina.

And while my family always reminded me that my acculturation would take me far, my white, male colleague once “joked” that regardless of how smart and talented I was, I’d never be anything more than “the Puerto Rican girl.”

How could I, like Quintanilla so aptly put it, prove my Latinidad and my Americanism if I’m failing so horribly at both?

There’s no winning, because “no soy de aquí, ni soy de allá.”

Luckily, I no longer feel like I have to prove my identity to anyone.

Because being Latina is a multidimensional experience.

My iPod skips from Marc Anthony to Avril Lavigne, then from Juanes to Lauryn Hill. My restaurant of choice would typically be Italian, but my pantry is filled with either Goya or Iberia. I prefer reggae over reggaeton, but I will cut you out of my life if you say salsa music is anything short of brilliant (joking – kind of).

I love my Puerto Rican roots, but I’m also not ashamed that I’ve acculturated into American society.

And to my second- and third-generation Latinos, you shouldn’t be either. After all, you’re still Latino.

Your Spanish Sucks, You’re Still Latino

When your family speaks to you in Spanish, do you respond in English?

Have you mastered the Spanglish language?

After you tell your tia “bendición,” do you hide for cover, hoping the Spanish conversation doesn’t go further than her blessings?

Do you ever wonder why most “Rossi’s” aren’t expected to know Italian, but “Rodriguez’s” are given disapproving eyes for not being bilingual?

You’re not alone.

Among U.S.-born Latinos, more than half are English dominant.

Whether their parents forbade them from speaking their native tongue, as an attempt to help them “succeed” in American society, or they simply rebelled against the “old culture,” most second- and third-generation Latinos don’t speak fluent Spanish.

This is even true for some of our favorite Latino pop stars.

Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz, Rosario Dawson, and Selena Gomez are all non-Spanish fluent Latinas. But they grace the covers of “Latina” magazine and are hailed as Latino megastars.

Their Spanish skills, or lack thereof, just like yours and mine, don’t define their Latinidad.

Remember to drop this bit of information to folk who try to criticize you for not being able to speak “your” language.

You Can Pass as White or Black, You’re Still Latino

Latino is not a race.

The term refers to people of Latin American or Spanish Caribbean origin.

These countries are diverse, multiracial, and generally racially mixed. The people that inhabit these lands, or whose families once occupied the lands, come in many different shades and phenotypes.

Although images of the olive-skinned, curly haired, and curvy-shaped Latina permeate all areas of the media, these representations don’t showcase the full spectrum of Latino aesthetics, leaving many who don’t fit the mold feeling “not Latina enough.”

All of the times I’ve been called “gringa” have left me insecure.

My looks and style of dress along with my German surname leave me asking new friends and acquaintances if they knew I was Latina when they first met me, with my fingers crossed, hoping for a “yes.”

Meanwhile, mutual acquaintances are often surprised when they realize my brother is Puerto Rican, as they thought he was Indian or Afro-Caribbean.

The uncertain stares my Afro-Latino cousins receive when they speak Spanish remind me that this is not the Latino look people are used to seeing.

Don’t let your “white girl” style or kinky hair keep you from owning your Latinidad.

Remind people of the range of Latino looks.

Shock them by letting them know that Alexis BledelTatyana AliSara Paxton, and Christina Milian are all Latinas.

You’re Not a Latin American Studies Major (or Minor), You’re Still Latino

I used to be intimidated by fellow Latino classmates who knew all about the political climates of each Latin American country, the history of colorism in the Spanish Caribbean, and the immigration laws of the U.S.

These people knew so much. They were authentic.

They were also Latin American Studies majors and minors.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with this discipline.

But I was measuring my Latinidad to people who spent weekdays learning and weekends studying the history, theories, art, policies, and economics of Latin America and Latin American people, which made it almost impossible for me as a full-time student, college journalist, and peer adviser to catch up.

But that’s the thing. My ethnicity and culture aren’t games.

Although these Latin American experts-in-training unknowingly made me feel as if I were playing make believe, there was nothing fake about my identity and my experiences as a second-generation Latina.

But I wouldn’t have learned this very personal and indispensible lesson if I hadn’t participated in what scholars call retro-acculturation.

Retro-acculturation happens when minorities who have assimilated or acculturated to their new culture begin searching for elements of their ethnic identities to incorporate into their new concept of themselves.

I’m a proponent of Latino rights in the U.S. I regularly aim to debunk media-perpetuated stereotypes about Latinas. I act as a mentor for numerous young Latinas. And I try to write stories that highlight the experiences and issues that Latinos face.

In doing this, I learn more and more about my ethnicity, which in turn helps me understand and accept myself both as “la gringa” y “la Boricua.”

And you can do the same.

Acknowledge your roots and acknowledge the constant struggles of what it means to be a Latina or woman of color in this country.

Read and learn more about both of your worlds.

Accept and respect the person shaped by those two worlds.

Be true to yourself, and don’t feel ashamed to relish your duality.

If you’re like me, you’re not exactly the person to go to when a friend needs someone to proof his or her Spanish assignment. But, oddly, there are still terms you only know how to say in Spanish.

This alone may make you feel as if you’re failing in both of your worlds, as it seems that you’re “[less] Mexican than the Mexicans and [less] American than the Americans.”

But considering that Latinos, like all humans, are multidimensional, you are not less than anything or anyone.

There is no need to “exhaust” yourself by trying to live up to what society has deemed “Latino” or “American.”

You are exactly the person you need to be, and you can thank both your Latinidadand the U.S.A. for that.

Airing “Dirty Laundry:” A Latina Woman’s Fight Against Eating Disorder Stigma


Originally published in Feminspire: http://feminspire.com/airing-dirty-laundry-a-latina-womans-fight-against-eating-disorder-stigma/

Trigger warning for eating disorder, mental health and suicide

While most of my friends were running to third base or performing the steps to Britney Spears’ Baby One More Time choreography, an 8-year-old me was staring at myself in the mirror, noting all the parts of my body that needed to be erased.

By middle school I realized that those parts that I hated so much could disappear if I just stopped eating. So I did.

I started purging in high school and continued throughout my first two years of college.

I didn’t realize I was suffering from an eating disorder — or “worse,” a mental illness – until I sought professional help.

I was 19 years old, and after a decade of suicidal ideation, I had finally decided to take my own life.

My story is one historically told by white, middle to upper-class women. Mental illnesses, like eating disorders and suicidal ideation, are generally not the province of young Latinas, or so “they” say.

Last week, Erika L. Sanchez highlighted the high depression and suicide rates among young girls in the Latino community in an article for Al Jazeera. The individual stories she spotlighted and the statistics she shared, rang so true for me, and I knew it was time that I opened up about one of the darkest aspects of my life, one that’s been hidden to all but three people.

Although 13.5 percent of Latina female students in grades nine through 12 admitted attempting suicide, which is significantly higher than Black girls (8.8 percent) and non-Hispanic girls (7.9 percent), the topic is extremely taboo in Latino communities.

There is a stigma associated with mental illness in the Latino community that leaves sufferers feeling ashamed, forcing young Latinas to hurt in silence.

In high school, I decided to open up to my parents about my self-hate, purging and thoughts of suicide. I knew there was something wrong with me. I wanted to go away. I wanted to disappear. I needed to die. That was the only way. I wanted my parents, the people I cared about more than anything, to understand that I loved them and that they never failed me; I was just no good and unworthy of this world.

Of course, they didn’t understand. They couldn’t wrap their heads around the notion that someone so “beautiful,” with stellar grades, vast talents and so much love to give could hate themselves to the point of self-destruction.

El diablo is messing with your head,” they’d tell me. “Just pray, mamaPapa Dios is stronger than those demons lying to you.”

My strong faith in God had helped me put the knife down numerous times. But the hours I spent on my knees crying out for supernatural intervention wasn’t helping.

I hated myself. And as someone who was always told that I was the apple of God’s eye, I felt guilty for not appreciating that.

As I locked my door, stopped talking and closed myself up, my parents’ concern quickly grew to frustration. I was over their religious advice. That wasn’t working for me. This was going to be a lonely fight, I predicted. And it was.

My friends were aware of my body image issues. They knew I’d rather spend my days and nights locked in my room than at a pool or a movie theater. They understood that I suffered from extreme social anxiety, but they had no idea what I was battling. They still don’t.

My silence wasn’t peculiar, though.

In 2012, the New York State Psychiatric Institute found that there is greater stigma toward mental illnesses among non-whites, including Latinos, who often seek help from family members or priests before reaching out to professionals.

That explains why only 27 percent of Latinos in need of mental health care services seek treatment, compared to 40 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

My story is recognized in white communities, but Latinas and other young girls and women of color are suffering from mental illnesses as well.

Although national statistics on Latinas with eating disorders are not available, it would be inaccurate and harmful to believe that Latinas do not suffer from eating disorders. Mental illnesses like eating disorders and the suicidal ideation that sometimes stems from these disorders hold no boundaries; they exist in all cultures.

Some researchers attribute the rise in eating disorders among Latinas to acculturation. As Latinas become more ingrained in the culture of the United States, researchers argue, they are likely influenced by the pressure to be thin. But, again, not much attention is afforded to Latinas when discussing eating disorders.

This is part of the problem.

If the media are telling Latinos that this is an issue only afflicting well-off white girls, they’ll never think to understand the complexities of mental illnesses or be prepared to handle them.

They also may not believe, even when their children open up to them, that this is really happening and that it deserves professional attention. In many Latino families, you don’t air your dirty laundry. You don’t talk to people about your problems.

But we need to.

We have to get over the stigma. It can’t continue to be the elephant in the room. Seeking professional help doesn’t mean you’ve failed; it means you are doing your absolute best to avoid failure. For some, it really is a matter of life and death.

Drawbacks of the Curvy Latina Stereotype

Originally published in Latinitas magazine: http://www.centralfloridafuture.com/news/leader-in-feminism-hosts-rally-on-campus-1.2781516#tabs_article_comments_tab1

With the growing body positivity movement, the “women come in all shapes and sizes” mantra has been voiced both in everyday conversations and in the mainstream media. But with just a glance at Hollywood’s leading ladies, it’s clear that the catchphrase doesn’t apply to Latinas.

The sensual curves of Jennifer Lopez, Sofia Vergara and Salma Hayek have created a curvy, sexy stereotype of Latinas, leaving many who don’t measure up, and even those who do, dissatisfied with their bodies.

“It’s a Latino mystique,” said body image author, teacher and speaker Rosie Molinary. “It has become the storyline for Latinas and creates an incredible pressure whether or not [they] are close to fitting it”.

The voluptuous Latina stereotype has become an ideal among Latina youth. And like all beauty standards, this curvy ideal keeps Latinas paying for products and services that are marketed to help them reach the unattainable ideal.

“The whole point of standards is to keep us as consumers. The more that we feel a level of unrest with our appearance, the more effort we would put into an ideal; and the more effort we put into fitting an ideal, the more we consume,” said Molinary, whose book “Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image, and Growing up Latina” highlights Latina body image in America.

Many people believe that because the curvy ideal celebrates thighs that touch, it must be healthier than the more common white, thin ideal. But according to co-founder of Beauty Redefined, a non-profit that aims to redefine ideas of beauty and health, Lindsay Kite, the curvy ideal affects Latinas just as much as the thin ideal affects their white peers.

“The curvy ideal values thinness just the same, but Latinas have to meet those other ideals too: big behinds and big breasts,” said Kite. “That contributes to eating disorders just as much as the thin ideal does.”

The results of a survey by Self Magazine in partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill show that three out of four American women have disordered eating behaviors.

Latinas have historically been left out of eating disorder research, leaving researchers with the assumption that Latinas and other minorities were less likely to suffer from disordered eating. But recent studies have found that Latinas have eating disorders and body image concerns at rates similar to those of white women.

And according to Kite, women who are closest to the curvy ideal are at the same risk of eating disorders and body dissatisfaction as those Latinas who seem to be the farthest from the ideal.

“Girls and women who are often closest to those ideals are the people who feel the farthest away. They’re the most critical of themselves … because they are valued primarily for their appearance,” said Kite.

That’s why Kite believes it’s important for young girls to surround themselves with positive, less critical people.

She suggests that girls make friends with people who aren’t critical of themselves and other girls’ or women’s bodies and who aren’t preoccupied with their looks.

But not all Latinas are interested in the curvy ideal.

Dana Heymann, 16, has no desire to look like Jennifer Lopez. But the young, slim, fair-skinned, light-eyed Argentine is miffed over the stereotype that tells her she’s not really Latina because she’s not so bootylicious.

“I am full Latina, but I don’t fit the stereotype of curvy or anything, and I don’t really like that stereotype that every Spanish girl has to be curvy because, no, that’s not true,” said Heymann. “It sometimes just slips my mind, and I’m like ‘wait I am Spanish.’ I sometimes think it’s because of the way I look. I’m not tan, I don’t have curly hair, I don’t have the big butt or big boobs.”

Heymann, unfortunately, is not the only young girl questioning the validity of her ethnicity because of the limited representations of Latinas in the media.

When researching for her book, Molinary spoke with a host of Latinas who all felt restricted by the fact that there was just one working Latina for a handful of Latino countries. They hoped for a wide scope of working Latinas who could illustrate to both Latinos and non-Latinos the range of Latina beauty.

Molinary believes that putting Latinos in decision-making positions could help remove the curvy stereotype.

“There’s a significant amount of diversification that needs to take place in Hollywood. On the screen is great, but I would argue that it’s even more important behind the scenes. There needs to be someone to say ‘this is not OK,’” said Monlinary.

Molinary’s call for diversity is important because she believes that young girls must understand that bodies of all shapes, sizes and colors are beautiful.

Here are three strategies Kite believes will help young girls on their path to fighting unreal beauty ideals:

1. Surround yourself with positive people: Our friends and peers can have a big influence on how we feel about our bodies, so try to spend time with people who aren’t critical of themselves or other girls’ and women’s bodies. At the same time, do your best to stop saying negative things about your body out loud. When a friend or family member makes a negative comment about her body, remind her that she’s beautiful. Set a goal with her to recognize when you’re saying negative things, and stop yourself by replacing it with a compliment for yourself or someone else.

2. Go on a media fast: Choose a day, a week, a month or longer to steer clear of as much media as you can. That way, you can see how your life is different without all of those messages and images; and when you return to viewing and reading popular media, you will be more sensitive to the messages that hurt you and those that are unrealistic. Tuning out of media will help girls better recognize what real bodies look like all around them and the wide variety of bodies that are considered attractive and desirable in their own lives.

3. Be critical of the media, not yourselves or others: We need to feel an obligation to put media under closer inspection for the influence it has in our lives. Next time you are flipping through a magazine or watching a movie, train yourself to ask important questions about what you see. If you don’t like the answers you find, remember you can turn away from the messages that hurt you. Ask yourself:

  • Do you feel better or worse about yourself when viewing or hearing this media? Do you believe the females in your life would feel better or worse about themselves after viewing or hearing this media?
  • Who is advertising in these pages or on this screen? (Look for ads and commercials, and you’ll see who is paying the bills for your favorite media messages)
  • Who owns the TV show, movie, magazine, video game or website you are viewing? (Research the company and its owners and you’ll find out who the powerful decision-makers are behind the scenes of your media of choice)
  • Is the media you read and view promoting real health or impossible ideals meant to make you spend money and time? Who are those messages promoting impossible ideals usually speaking to?
  • How are women and girls presented here? Are they valued for their talents and personality? Do they look like the females in your life? Which body types are presented as beautiful or desirable?

5 Spicy Latina Stereotypes & Why They Need to Stop


Article originally published on Feminspire: http://feminspire.com/5-spicy-latina-stereotypes-why-they-need-to-stop/

Instead of conjuring up thoughts of a heavily seasoned casserole, terms like “spicy” “hot” “exotic” and “juicy” evoke images of sexy Latinas donning skin-tight dresses that accentuate their large breasts and bodacious behinds. Full, cherry lips popping from their olive skin replaces thoughts of a thick, raw T-bone steak spilling red juices.

The words used to describe Latina bodies figuratively reduce Latinas to food that’s craved, salivated over, attained, devoured and then flushed away.

This is not exactly surprising considering that women of color have historically been exoticized and sexualized but never really valued.

Although on the surface being considered desirable seems like a positive thing, scholars like Isabel Molina-Guzmán and Angharad N. Valdivia argue that Latina bodies are desired because of their “otherness,meaning it’s their marginalization that leads to their sexualization.

They are still not considered equal.

Thus, no matter how much the stereotypical curvy and sexy Latina body is yearned for, the human walking in the body is robbed of their agency and seen as nothing more than something to be looked at and conquered.

And although there’s a wide spectrum of Latina aesthetics and characteristics, trite stereotypes stemming from racist, sexist images by Chiquita Banana are continuously perpetuated through all areas of the mainstream media today.

It’s time to recognize these images and discuss why they’re problematic.

1. Film

Since the days of vaudeville, Latinas have been hypersexualized and exoticized. Entertainers like the“Brazilian Bombshell” Carmen Miranda, with her vibrant costumes, accented English and sensual dances, quickly became fetishized. Her exotic sex appeal steered her into Hollywood but also allowed for only one, repeated role: The sexy, lustful, Latina “other.”

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Today, widely recognized Latina actresses are still filling these stereotypical roles. Eva Mendes plays into the sexually manipulative, promiscuous, sexy and fierce-tempered role in “The Women,” and Roselyn Sanchez, Sofía Vergara and Jaci Velasquez take on hypersexualized, man-crazed, spitfire characters in “Chasing Papi.”


There’s nothing inherently wrong with playing an ultra sexy, feisty Latina. The problem with this role is that it seems to be the only one available for talented Latina actresses, unless of course there’s a maid needed. Well-established Latina actresses who have become household names are still cast as sexy, vindictive dead loverssexy, hot-blooded ex-wives or sexy, badass girlfriends.

2. T.V.

From mature sitcoms, to teen shows, to reality T.V., Latinas are almost always cast as the spicy Latina. The most obvious example of the stereotype in T.V. today is Sofía Vergara’s sexy, loud and boisterous role as Gloria in the show “Modern Family.”

But in youth media, Naya Rivera’s role as Santana Lopez in the hit show “Glee” also plays into the stereotype. Santana, the hot-headed Latina who saunters around in mini skirts and form-fitting dresses, dances sensually to provocative tunes and has no problem telling people off.

Producers even carefully choose everyday women who fit the stereotype for reality T.V. shows. Love and Hip Hop’s Joseline Hernandez’s feisty personality, voluptuous body and eroticized images mirror those of Basketball Wives’ Evelyn Lozada, who Latina magazine described as “one Boricua you do not want to mess with.” It’s almost as if there are casting calls specifically for hot-blooded, passionate, sexy, Latinas. Oh wait, there are.

Another problem that develops from the spicy Latina stereotype is that it’s the only version of Latinas we ever see on our screens. Not all Latinas are curvy, not all care to be sexy, and not all Latinas exhibit the sass of Santana Lopez. The perpetuating stereotype of the spicy Latina has created a sole, homeogenzied Latina identity that can leave any Latina outside of this Western patriarchal Latina ideal feeling short of their Latinidad. It completely erases the group’s diversity.

3. Music

From English-language performances by Latina singers to sexy video vixens, Latinas in music are usually “hot tamales.” Concerts by Jennifer Lopez are summed up through a snapshot of her derrière, while seconds-long videos of Shakira moving her hips sensually are the only clips of her onstage performances to gain airtime.

The bodies of popular Latina singers are almost always eroticized. So much so that even Lopez said, “People equate sexy with promiscuous. They think that because I’m shaped this way, I must be scandalous … But it’s just the opposite.”


Lopez shouldn’t have to make such comments, but because her body, exoticized and sexualized, is seen as “other,” it’s thought to be public sexual property, leaving it open for discussion and criticism. This is another problem with the spicy Latina stereotype. It robs Latinas of their sexual agency, and turns them into sexualized female bodies, or body parts, for male erotic desires. Latina bodies don’t belong to them but, instead, to a public that’s ready to scrutinize and shame them or add them to a sexual fantasy.

4. Advertising

The hypersexualization of Latinas, to me, seems to be most extreme in advertising.

L’Oréal Paris advertises its Volume Million Lashes Excess mascara with a commercial featuring an attractive Latina celebrity, Eva Longoria, wearing a sexy red dress. Longoria even falls into a bed of roses and accentuates the word “drama” when describing the mascara.


In a Bud Light commercial, actress Zoe Saldana dons a sultry, short, laced, black dress and seductively whispers, “I’ll do it.” With red lips, big-hooped earrings and a cleavage-baring dress, Sofía Vergara passionately dances her way to a Diet Pepsi while “whatever Lola wants, Lola gets” is sung in the background of a Pepsi commercial.

The same hackneyed stereotypes of sexy, promiscuous and devious Latinas come up in each of these commercials. And, like lots of advertisements, they promote a disconnect between women of this flawless and desirable dream world and real-life Latinas who don’t gussy themselves up to sit on a beat-up recliner or sensually dance there way to soft drinks.

5. News

Latinas are also sexualized in the news media, with the most overt images being broadcast in Spanish-language media outlets. “Weather girls” can almost always be seen wearing curve-hugging dresses with plunging necklines or even midriff-baring crop tops with skinny jeans. But even news anchors on more “serious” programs like “Primer Impacto,” though dressed more “professionally,” are much more sexualized than female anchors of English-language outlets.

In a Google search of “Latina news anchors,” three out of the first five results are about “hot” or “sexy” anchors. This, again, shows that the spicy Latina stereotype is problematic, as it reduces smart, talented and dedicated professionals to body parts, outfits and hairstyles. It sends the message that the way you look is far more important than who you are and all that you can do.

It’s true that some Latinas are sexy, but words like “spicy” “hot” “exotic” and “juicy” are constantly being used to fetishize Latinas, marginalize them and create an impossible standard for young women and girls to live up to. Recognizing how Latinas are sexualized and exotized in all areas of the media provides the opportunity for discussion and can inspire a movement to counter these stereotyped images.