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.

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.

images (17)

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.

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.


Why Your Instagram Feed Shouldn’t Cause Fear of Relapse


Article originally published on Feminspire: http://feminspire.com/why-your-instagram-feed-shouldnt-cause-fear-of-relapse/

Trigger warning for discussion of eating disorders

#selfie #smile #picoftheday

Instagram has taken over my life.

You wouldn’t know that if you followed me, as I rarely add any new images, and I haven’t used its embedded video feature.

But any chance I get between my internships and freelance work I’ve been spending on Instagram.

It has sort of replaced my teenage obsession with celebrity magazines.

Now, instead of flipping through glossy pages of Photoshop-manipulated images of J.Lo, I tap through photos and videos of “real-life” women who meet what I’ve always considered the ideal body type: super curvy, but still slim.

But similar to the way corporate media aided my eating disorder as a middle-schooler, photo-sharing social media like Instagram are making relapse an arduous feat to beat.

I’m starting to wake up with what my partner calls “powerpuff” eyes, caused by tears that dropped till 2 a.m., 3 a.m. or even 4 a.m.

I love the term, but there’s really nothing powerful about the way I feel. Those familiar voices screeching, “you’re inadequate,” “you’re a joke,” “look how disgusting you are” are making a comeback, and it’s been really difficult trying to quell the thoughts of purging.

After choosing recovery three years ago, I, like all of us, have had tough days. But lately my anxiety has been rushing over me like a tidal wave.

Brushing my teeth has become a war. “It’s so simple. You’ll feel better. Just do it” battles “You’ve come so far. That person has no power over you anymore. Stop.” So far, the latter has been able to block the jabs, but it’s no easy fight.

Then there’s my other adversary: over-exercising.

Because “working out” and “health” are almost always written side-by-side, I sometimes forget (or ignore) the dangers of obsessive fitness.

But four days ago, when I was lying on the bathroom floor after my knees, moist and trembling, finally gave out, I was reminded of all the times I had awoken to different tile patterns.

Passing out from over-exercising had – at one time – become the norm. A week without at least one blackout meant I didn’t push myself far enough.

But I’m a feminist and body positivity advocate now. I’ve read the literature. I’ve seen the stats. I know what’s up.

Still, social media, like all forms of media, is powerful.

And although mediated images don’t cause eating disorders, they can, and often do, negatively affect body image, which can lead to disordered eating.

The same is true for the images posted on social networking sites like Instagram.

Studies show that 93 percent of teens are on the Internet, with 11 percent of them on Instagram. Young adults make up the social networking site’s largest user base, with 28 percent actively taking and sharing pictures on the app.

Women, as with most photo-sharing platforms, are more likely than men to use Instagram.

As they gape at images of the Internet’s young, cyber celebrities, it’s likely that they don’t know that, though not as extreme as the Photoshopped-photos of mainstream celebs in magazines, these “real-time” photos are often altered too.

As digital natives, numerous teens and young adults have and use photo-altering apps and filters and have even mastered the “art” of posing for a camera. But even if it takes 20 snaps to get the perfect picture, all users see once it’s published is another flawless face or kick-ass body on their feeds.

Although it still stings like hell when you can’t “measure up” to a celebrity who has a team of makeup, hair and digital experts perfecting their look, you sometimes do feel a little better after seeing their original, unaltered photos. These images show that celebrities often do look a lot like we do.

But in the world of social media, where everything is supposed to already be real, the self-hatred and body-shame that spurs for not measuring up to “real-life” people can almost seem validated.

If hundreds of teen girls and young women around the nation naturally look like Hollywood’s beauties IRL, then what’s wrong with me?”

If this is you, then I’m here to tell you that there’s nothing wrong with the way you look. And considering that 90 percent of girls between the ages of 15 and 17 are unhappy with their bodies, it’s likely that those you hold up as an ideal are spending the same amount of time gawking at your images as you do theirs.

But this doesn’t make it OK. Spending hours flicking through images can still be damaging.

Last year, multiple public surveys commissioned via Facebook took place in an effort to understand how social media affects body image. The results showed that just looking at photos on social media made users more conscious about their bodies and also illustrated that young girls who use social networking sites have higher rates of depression.

Social networking sites like Instagram have definitely been contributing to my fear of relapse, and they’re definitely causing body image anxiety among countless other users.

A social media detox could do anyone good from time to time. But as a digital media professional (and a total social media nerd), just giving up social media is not reasonable.

Luckily, other photo-sharing forums like Tumblr and Pinterest are homes to a host of body image coaches and body positivity activists who counter #thinspo, #fitspo and all body and self-esteem issues with hourly, sometimes up-to-the-minute, posts of images, articles and videos of body love and self-acceptance.

Whenever I’m feeling low, I turn to blogs like Recovery is Beautiful or vlogs like Actively Arielle: A Voice with a Commitment for digital support.

Some days it works, while other days I wake up with “powerpuffs.” But for the past year, I haven’t made myself hurl – and that alone is a reason to both celebrate and remain ED-free.

Whitewashed Journalism: Why Do Only White-Passing Latinas Make it To Our Screens?

Whitewashed Journalism: Why Do Only White-Passing Latinas Make it To Our Screens?


Article originally published on Feminspire: http://feminspire.com/whitewashed-journalism-why-do-only-white-passing-latinas-make-it-to-our-screens/

The embarrassingly low number of Latinas hosting shows on English-language news networks or leading mainstream cable news programs can intimidate any Latina hoping to make a career in news media. But realizing that the bulk of these women could pass as white can deter interested and talented Afro-Latinas from even pursuing a job in the field.

Chicana scholar Gloria Anzaldúa regularly reminded readers that Latinas are mestiza, a mixture of races and cultures. But the diverse range of features that Latinas posses because of their mixed ancestry is repeatedly ignored, with only light-skinned Latinas “graced” with strong European genes capturing the media’s attention.

Colorism, a form of discrimination where one group is treated more favorably based on the color of their skin, is often discussed in its relation to dark-skinned African-American women in the media.

It’s rarely mentioned, however, that this same problem plagues Black Latinas.

Although there’s a dearth of Afro-Latinas in television (Hey, La La!), film (Thanks, Zoe, Christina and Rosario) and advertising (Yay, Joan!), it’s the whitewashing of Latinas in the news media that’s most prevalent.

Last year, the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) announced that Hispanics make up 7.8 percent of the television news force, while the American Society of News Editors’ (ASNE) records showed that the group makes up just 4.1 percent of staff members at daily newspapers.

While representations of Latinas in the news media have increased over the past decade, the images viewers see when they flip to their favorite local or cable news stations are often the same: white.

Although the Latino culture and identity is a mix of its Spanish, indigenous and African roots, the Latina anchors are typically lighter skinned with more European phenotypes.

Does this just mean that Black Latinas aren’t really interested in broadcast journalism?

Gwen Ifill

Gwen Ifill, an Afro-Latina of Barbadian and Panamanian descent, is a moderator and managing editor of “Washington Week” and senior correspondent for The PBS NewsHour.

I don’t think so.

And there are several Afro-Latina bloggers and citizen journalists on my Tumblr dashboard who could confirm that.

So why is it so difficult to find dark-skinned Latinas in the news media?

My theory: colonial ideas of power and beauty.

In the U.S., Latinos in power are rarely dark-skinned. In fact, studies and articles repeatedly show that skin tones and racial features frequently determine who gets ahead and who doesn’t.

Cristina Saralegui, one of the most influential Latina talk-show hosts, and Jennifer Lopez, one of the highest-paid actresses in the world, were both able to break barriers that Black Latinas have not even been close to shattering.

Also worth noting is the fact that lighter-skinned Latinos in the United States make $5,000 more on average than darker-skinned Latinos.

From media, to business, to politics, Latinos in positions of power are predominately light-skinned. The phenotype of these women, and men, resemble the most powerful, revealing that whiteness still prevails.

The mainstream beauty ideal, which is almost exclusively white, I believe, also inhibits Afro-Latinas from making strides in broadcast news media.

In a 2001 study done by the University of Florida, researchers found that the greatest barrier facing women anchors was the “overemphasis of their physical appearance.”

In other words, writing and editing abilities, ethics, journalistic content and newsgathering skills are all, according to the 246 local news anchors surveyed, second to image and beauty.

We inhabit a society that idealizes light skin tones, straight hair, thin bodies and European facial features, meaning that Black women – including Afro-Latinas – with their dark skin, kinky hair and African phenotypes, don’t fit the dominant idea of beauty that news directors are looking for.

Feeling the pressure to fit this unattainable, colonial idea of beauty, more and more Afro-Latinas are resorting to dangerous measures like using daily skin bleaching creams and chemically straightening their hair.

But the white ideal even affects Latinas in the journalism field who are closest to the standard. Light-skinned Latina journalists like Cecilia Vega, Natalie Morales and numerous others regularly straighten and lighten their hair, making them appear almost indistinguishable from their white female colleagues.

Highlighting these Latina journalists is not an attempt on my end to pit dark-skinned Latinas and light-skinned Latinas against each other. In fact, I’m a light-skinned Latina with naturally straight, light hair and relatively European features trying to make it into news media.

My point is to spotlight the unearned privileges afforded to women with more European aesthetics and to remind media critics that Black Latinas, like all Black women, are impacted by colorism, too.

Latinos are the largest ethnic minority group in the United States. It would seem that now, more than ever, we’d have diverse newsrooms with writers, anchors and news directors reflecting the country’s racial and ethnic makeup.

As a Latina and young multimedia journalist, I am overjoyed each time I see Latina journalists like Cecilia Vega, Natalie Morales and Michelle Caruso-Cabrera make strides in news media. But knowing that Afro-Latina Soledad O’Brien’s major cable news show was recently kicked off of CNN while the network’s new white, male hire Jake Tapper became “the face of the new CNN” reminds me of how much more needs to be done for all Latinas trying to make their mark in journalism.

I want to see more Latinas like Elizabeth Vargas, as well as Mimi Valdes and Gwen Ifill writing and presenting the news.

I want to see blonde, faired-skinned women like my cousins, olive-skinned, straight-haired women like me, and dark-skinned, thick-haired women like my mother representing the spectrum of Latinas in all areas of the media, especially in the influential and inspiring field of news media.

Are you an Afro-Latina journalist or journalism student? If so, what do you think about colorism in journalism?


Why Aren’t We Talking About the Curvy Latina Stereotype?

Everyday Feminism

Article originally published on Everyday Feminism: http://everydayfeminism.com/2013/06/curvy-latina-stereotype/

(TRIGGER WARNING: Eating disorders.)

The year is 1998.

Big Pun’s “Still Not a Player” music video is playing from my 13-inch TV. I’m only eight years old, but I know that one day my “baby fat” will vanish, and I’ll go from“la gordita” to one of the “chula” Boricuas that Pun is rapping about.

To prepare for this day, I put on some stretchy floral leggings, the ones that make my behind look the roundest, and move my hips like the girls in the video.

Who knew that I’d still only wear jeans that “help” me fit that curvy Latina ideal at age 22?

You know which one I’m talking about. It’s the only body type Latinas in the media are allowed to have.

Big breasts, toned arms, small waists, thick hips, and thighs that touch.

Think Sofía Vergara. On second thought, think of any Latina actress, singer, or video vixen you’ve ever seen.

Although I technically pass Pun’s “fat ass and breast” test, I still don’t exactly look like the chicas in his video. I still don’t measure up to this curvy Latina stereotype.

As a teenager, it never mattered how many hours a day I’d spent exercising, my belly would never be as ripped as J-Lo’s. Regardless of all the meals I’d skip and the times I’d waste over a toilet bowl, throwing up the salad I wasn’t “strong” enough to resist, I was never able to get rid of my arm fat.

And now there’s cellulite. Ay, Dios. ¿Por qué yo?

I’ll be honest, I love not having a thigh gap. Pero Jennifer Lopez no tiene celulitis.

Or, at least, she and all of my other thick sisters don’t in their Photoshop-manipulated images and edited videos.

Oh, snap. Did you just catch that?

Curvy women of color are Photoshopped, too.

Here’s a thought. You know how the mainstream media is suddenly concerned with how manipulated images of size-0 models (you know, the ones that they’re publishing) are affecting our young girls (“our young girls” being synonymous with “white young girls”)?

Well, I think other young girls and women of color are experiencing something similar.

Except, they’re not starving themselves in an attempt to look like Kate Moss (though many girls and women of color are affected by that white beauty ideal, too, and do go to extreme measures to meet that ideal).

But rather, they’re adopting unhealthy exercise regimens and going on extreme diets to look like Salma Hayek and Kim Kardashian.

Still, regardless if the goal is to lose your butt or lift it, the desire to fit an ideal is the same – just with a different pant size.

They’re both problematic. They’re both unattainable.

In fact, the women we look up to as thinspiration, whose images are retouched and sometimes composed of body parts from different photographs (seriously – read this), often don’t meet the ideal either.

But unless you’re trying to meet the white ideal, you don’t really know that. Latinas are often left out of the body image conversation because it’s assumed that curvy bodies are healthier and more easily attained.

But that’s not true.

And ignoring body image issues among Latinas forces us to think disordered eating is okay.

After all, we’re not trying to look emaciated. No, we just want to lose our bellies and our arm fat while somehow hoping our beloved breasts and backsides swell – which is not exactly possible, naturally, that is.

But if we don’t know that, we end up thinking there’s something wrong with us if this doesn’t magically occur.

If we truly believe the only photos being edited are those of white women and that the images we see of curvy Latinas on TV are real and untouched, then we think that’s obviously an attainable body type and that there’s something wrong with us for not fitting it.

But that’s not true.

So, I have some things to tell you, hermanas.

Photos of our favorite Latina celebrities are Photoshopped, too.

Latinas of all shapes, sizes, and ages suffer from disordered eating.

Latinas are not immune from messages in the media telling us how to look.

We may not be subjects in the mainstream body positivity conversation, but we’re certainly being told how we should look – and I bet we’ve all formed the same mental image.

And, finally, regardless of how the media tells us we should look, Latina bodies – like all bodies – come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors.

Surprise, surprise, America. The bodies of Jenny, Chelsy, Kristina, and Stephanie can all be found on the block.

We’re sharing this message with young white girls across the nation. We’re teaching them to become media literate, which is great.

But it’s time we do the same for Latinas.

Pues, esto es para ti.

1. Surround Yourself with Positive People

Our friends, peers, and, in the Latino community, our familias can all have a big influence on how we feel about our bodies, so it’s important 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 you better recognize what real bodies look like all around and the wide variety of bodies that are considered attractive and desirable in your own life.

You’ll notice that it looks a lot like yours, and not so much like our Latina pop stars.

3. Be Critical of the Media, Not Yourselves or Others

Next time you’re 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.)

Are 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?

And remember: If you’re a fan of hip-hop music or Big Pun, he also talked about “intelligent bachelorettes.”

So, question it all, chicas.


* Note: All of the original research in this article came from a piece by the author for Latinitas magazine.