Jalene

Growing up, nobody ever told me this, but I just knew it was society’s influence because there was so much sameness that couldn’t stem from an individual but something much bigger. I hated everything that made me feel different. I hated my hairy arms, not because anyone pointed and laughed, but because no one else had them. I hated my lips because nobody else had them. The white woman beauty standard was thrown in my face. The only representation I had of my own people was JLo, so if I didn’t look like her, than I wasn’t beautiful. My nose wasn’t thin enough, my waist wasn’t small enough, and my butt wasn’t big enough. Meanwhile, I’m a child. You see one glimpse of you, and you grab on and you don’t let go that’s what you have and you don’t let go. It starts with what you see. Your standard for what is beautiful is determined by what is thrown in your face repeatedly. Take Instagram for example, having particular images repeatedly thrown in your face. It results in you having a different standard of beauty.

The white woman beauty standard was thrown in my face. The only representation I had of my own people was JLo, so if I didn’t look like her, than I wasn’t beautiful.

I believe most Hispanic women/families/cultures emphasize a lot of curves on women’s bodies, and I remember growing up what makes a woman beautiful in that context. I said one day, I’ll be a curvy woman with a big butt, big boobs, small waist. I was always waiting for that day to come, and it never came. Accepting that was hard. I felt less womanly because of it, but immediately disconnected from my culture cause I didn’t look like a Puerto Rican woman. I spent a lot of time hating myself for being very thin. That’s how I got into the fitness world, because I told myself I rather be the fit one in the family, then the thick one in the family. It was about getting more of an objective response to the muscular body type than to the thick or thin body type with a subjective negative/positive comment. I wanted to be in the neutral zone.

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What I’ve always loved about myself though, are my birthmarks. A birthmark is the one thing that stands the test of time throughout your life. For me, love for everything else evolves, but I didn’t have any strong feelings about them bad or good. They are just what they are, and they’re random but perfectly placed. Perfect imperfections.

Going to the gym makes me feel beautiful, and I know it seems corny, but I think the mind is awesome in that it works in metaphors. When you’re physically caring for yourself, your body is telling your mind that it is of value. There are days when I will wake up hating my reflection, go to the gym, come back, and though physically nothing has changed, my reflection looks like a completely different person. It helps with sanity. Beauty is based on state of mind in addition to physicality, maybe even more importantly.

But truthfully, that is when I feel most beautiful, after the gym when my hair is in a ponytail. When your hair is away form your face you’re throwing all you imperfections, and all of yourself out there for everyone to see. It’s a display that exhibits a sense of acceptance, and though I don’t go to the gym to feel beautiful, it is one great motivator. When I’m sweaty, I have a natural blush. Sweat makes your eyelashes look amazing too, and I just have a moment of oh my god, am I cute?

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Birthmark is the one thing that stands the test of time throughout your life. For me, love for everything else evolves, but I didn’t have any strong feelings about them bad or good. They are just what they are, and they’re random but perfectly placed. Perfect imperfections.

I remember growing up there was a lot of emphasis on the drug addict thin look on models. That’s what characters were admired. But Hispanics, in my household, we never valued that, we’d sing along to songs and rap songs that rejected those ideas od beauty. When I was coming to accept my body type, when I made the decision to accept my skinny body because of that idea of beauty, they started skinny shaming. That was a fun rollercoaster. I feel like America is coming closer to the right standards of beauty, but America is having problems still with multiple types of beauty. They say, well if you don’t like skinny, here’s fat! You don’t like white, here are a lot of dark people!  Well why can’t the media, commercial, television portray the reality. Our society is not all one of anything. We are a blend. So when you film your next commercial, represent that blend. The more I aged, the more I found beauty in everyone. I constantly find myself in awe of features on women that will look completely different from one another. I’m aware of the various types of beautiful, I see beauty in many different types of eyes, lips, and bodies. I find myself jealous of different body parts that are nothing alike and realize that I don’t have a particular type, that two very different things that can even be considered opposites can be beautiful at the same time, in the same place.

I feel more confident with makeup. I think people who don’t wear a lot of makeup, people who aren’t familiar, only see makeup as an alteration of your face. They don’t see that makeup can be used to simply highlight your features. I learned to love my face through makeup that’s when I realized my cupid bow is very prominent, and that I had a jawline and cheekbones. I realized my “droopy” eyes were really almond eyes. Putting time into my face also made me feel like I was caring about it. I look at my reflection always, nonstop. It is a downfall of being in the physical world. I was so often following the changes of my body that it created, not an obsession, but more so a habit or a curiosity for what my body looks like. However if I’m somewhere like vacation, I avoid the mirror, so that I can enjoy myself without worrying about what I look like.

When I was competing in a body building competition, it was interesting. It was a moment where I felt beautiful, and it had nothing to do with the way I looked. I wasn’t a fan of how thin I was, the tan, or the pounds of makeup they applied, but there was something about being there surrounded by so much support from other women that I did not expect. I love women. Being around women who are physically strong made me feel a part of the crowd. I too embodied mental strength dedication and stability. I woke up and put that bikini on in a room full of women trying to be individuals competing. It was the idea that all them gathered to unapologetically flaunt themselves and all the work and dedication that went into themselves to be there. I never felt more confident than I did that day. Physically, I didn’t feel cute, but I felt beautiful and strong. I worked so hard to get there. It inspired me to ask myself the question of what separates a woman from a girl. Before that day, I felt in limbo between the two. I felt like a woman that day, and I never really felt that way about myself.

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My beauty regimen is going to the gym, and practicing yoga. I try to keep it as simple as that. I don’t like to go crazy over something that’s not promised to me forever. I’m a nervous wreck. I don’t want to put so much time in my hair and nails because what if I wake up bald one day or get my fingers chopped off. I want to feel beauty inside, because that will always be there, versus things that I can possibly lose. I was trying to do morning worship while being sensitive to the fact that things are always changing. Which is another life lesson I got from competing because the entire time you’re prepping for your competition, you’re watching your body change constantly. My body became my Buddhist garden, but like those very gardens, I creating something with it that I knew wouldn’t be there for long after I was done with the final product. It taught me sensitivity to the mutability of my body. It taught me loving my body for what it can do rather than for what it looks like. It is one of the great reasons I love yoga.

I don’t think physical things define what’s in a person’s character but I’m still a product of society, and I’m aware of my biases. Therefore, I try to constantly change them as I become aware of them. Hourglass figures sometimes make you think, she’s a bitch, everyone must want to approach her. You think they’re boy crazy, or their goals are male oriented, etc. A girl that doesn’t smile a lot, ill keep my conversations with them short or ill stay away from them. Why? I don’t know but I am also aware that expecting women to be happy and joyous all the time is diminishing their humanity and their capacity to be susceptible to a spectrum of human emotion. Feminism is a process. Feminism, like yoga, is practice. But, because of those very preconceived notions often time, people’s appearances determine their success. Their success, way of life, everything.

I wouldn’t say that there is more pressure on women to be beautiful in this way. I just think that the female beauty standards are much harder to accomplish, and we as a society are much more accepting of men when they don’t meet those standards. When we see images of beautiful men, we see them as just images. But I think that when men see images of beautiful women, they tend to see that as an actual representation of the female populace. And it becomes projected on us as an expectation. I have rarely heard men talk about the way they look, but I constantly hear women talk about the way they look, so I think that says something. The images and the bar set by images, don’t light a fire under them to reach it. Men, gender-wide have a stronger sense of confidence. Their sense of self isn’t as rocked, though that isn’t true for all men. But they have a stronger sense of confidence and a different sense of uniqueness that allows them to be more complacent with the way they look.

I don’t think physical things define what’s in a person’s character but I’m still a product of society, and I’m aware of my biases. Therefore, I try to constantly change them as I become aware of them.

I think that we as women do break each other down, but the younger generation is working on it because we’re aware. I didn’t think we put each other down as much. Living in my own house, I saw my mom as a feminist, but becoming a feminist, I realized there’s a lot of misogyny in my own house. Hip hop and rap culture, music culture has so much misogyny and its poetry people relate to so even women listening to songs about…. Bitches and hoes, they’re reiterating those ideas. Publicly shaming one another whether it be for our sex lives or our appearance and being shamed. We’re so willing to be more man like, we feel, in order to increase our proximity to the man, we are adopting his perception of ourselves. You’re growing up and good at basketball for a while and feel cool because men play basketball. Then those ideas take more harmful shapes, and begin to put other women down to get that acceptance via shared perception.

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I’d like to think that I’m evolved enough to say high school was when my own perception of beauty took  shift,  but I think it was college. Actually, it was ighschool because that was when I was introduced to the Egyptian race/ethnicity. Growing up you hear stereotypes about the women being ugly hairy and smelly, all these negative stereotypes but I met so many Egyptian women wearing their hijabs that stunned me with their beauty. No one was ever told to go on a screen in a hijab because they were beautiful, but being in close proximity with women in a hijab who was as beautiful, whose population I was told were a certain way, that didn’t hold beauty, I kept finding myself in situations where I was meeting their beautiful women.  It altered my perception of a lot of things. I see women as beautiful. As adults we make our own decisions. But when we support all women, we don’t necessarily support their life choices. We instead support their capacity to make the choice, their abilities.  I don’t like every woman, but I support every woman.  I don’t like certain women, but I want them to have equal rights. I still admire a woman who makes decision that makes her unlikeable and don’t care if everyone likes her. Its admirable to a certain degree.

I think we’re going about showing solidarity to the girls/women of the world the right way. There should be more conversation with young people. Were raised to think our opinions and voice aren’t as strong as males so we internalize. We open our mouths for brief comments. We’re showing more diversity in dolls and on the Tv screen. I looked for a gift for my little cousin once and I remember getting emotional. I used to walk down the aisle with a choice of the white doll or the black doll, and the black doll was hard to find. This time, I saw a white one, a black one, a tan one an Asian one. So many looks. It’s nice that we’re taking the steps and they should continue. I think we should be more vocal about our ideas about having a general sense of beauty and acceptance of diversity. Schools should also provide buildup activity, “support your fellow girl,” written in the halls on brightly colored posters.

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