Author’s note: Hi all! It’s been a while since I posted but I’m happy to say that I felt particularly inspired this evening and threw this entry together. Part of the reason I don’t post too often, is because I’m a terrible self-critic. I tend to edit as I write which really slows down the process and ends up feeling kind of crummy. However, this is something I’ve decided to push back against. I don’t want to continue ignoring or squelching moments when I feel moved to create, even if that creation is less than perfect. As a result, my posts may be less organized, more rambling, but hopefully also more raw, honest, vulnerable and frequent! That is, after all, what Mujer Sincera (Sincere Woman) is all about. Thanks for reading & Enjoy! – Daniela
I grew up reading Glamour magazines.
As a teen I’d leaf through the glossy pages, past the Marlboro Man ads to the perfumes samples that I’d tear out to rub on my wrists. Sweet smells permeated my nostrils as I discovered what “message my eyebrows were sending,” and what “games men played.” The entire experience was quite illuminating, but my favorite sections were always the fashion spreads. Mixed patterns! Oddball accessories! Mismatched pieces that only slightly seemed to “go,” made up the bulk of the pictorials and these images were GOLDEN, to a thrift store kid like me. They broke the rules, on purpose, and thus were the epitome of COOL. To a thrift store kid like me, who’s family couldn’t afford the Roxy & Hurley surfer style of the early 1990’s – these images were a saving grace. I was an eclectic kid, and Glamour encouraged me to have an eclectic style, one that I was able to achieve with just a few dollars and a trip to the Salvation Army. I became a fashion oddball, by necessity, and I owned it. I’d cut out the pictures of these models and collage them on my walls, next to Nirvana, Bush, and Marilyn Manson. These images brought me comfort, but what I didn’t realize at the time was that I wasn’t only emulating the style, but the women as well. The problem was, none of them looked like me.
Tall, thin, with light skin and light eyes – as I moved from page to page these were the women who met my gaze. They were in magazines, so they must be the epitome of beautiful, right? But if that was “beauty”…what was I? Short, stocky, with dark skin and black eyes…what did that make me? I could mimic clothes, but I would never be that type of “beauty…” so I eventually made the unconscious decision, that I was not.
What does one do, when they are led to believe that they are not beautiful?
Well, that answer varies, but I can assure you that my life was affected immensely. There are many stories, but I won’t get into them just yet, as they deserve space of their own and it is not their time.
So, I didn’t find myself particularly beautiful, but I was fortunate to have loving parents who stressed education, and though I acted out socially in my teens, my academics never faltered. I graduated at the top of my class, got into a highly competitive acting program at a great college, and made my way, to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting.
However, my struggles with self-image continued and were magnified. Doubt grew inside me. Towards the end of my undergraduate studies I developed a sizable crush on a co-worker. I can still remember in pretty vivid detail the moment when I first met him. How he looked at me, what he said, how my face grew hot, and how I smiled, before scurrying away to ask my friends who the “new guy” was. The “new guy” ended up being the object of many fantasies, and not just mine. Coincidentally, a few months later, I found myself becoming the object of HIS affections. We were together a few weeks past three years, but that is not the point of this story either. The reason I bring him up is because, even as we began spending more time, even after we were in a relationship and living together, I found it very difficult to understand why he had chosen ME, when his past girlfriends had looked much more like the women who had covered my bedroom walls. It was difficult for me to imagine, that the boy who had stolen all the hearts at the local Best Buy, was attracted to my shortness, to my softness, to my rounded cheeks, my dark eyes, and brown skin.
I couldn’t understand, but I tried to make sense of it. The only way I could, by controlling the factors for which I thought I had a choice. I spent much of my early twenties obsessed with my weight. I had to prove to myself that I was worthy, and I had to prove to everyone else that I could “make it” as an actress in an industry that exalted whiteness and thinness, and where my culture was exotified. Counting calories and vilifying foods became routine. At my worst I would stack caffeine-laden diet pills with ephedrine, to kick my body into energetic overdrive. On this high, I would ride my bike to school, exercise, ride back, run laps and do it all over again, like it was all that would keep me alive. I lost weight. In fact, I lost so much weight that during my first headshot session the pants I had brought for my photos no longer fit. I celebrated my “progress,” but this “accomplishment” meant absolutely nothing. I was still unhappy, because I still did not love or accept myself.
I mailed away my headshots to multiple agencies, and in the time it took for one of them to respond, I had gained the weight back. Nervously, I went in for a meeting, and sat in the lobby terrified of what they might say. I was told that they wanted to sign me, but only if I could lose weight. I can still remember the agent telling me, that I was “lucky,” that he hadn’t “flat out said no,” at “the moment” I walked through the door, because I no longer looked like my headshots. He said he appreciated my “look” but that he needed me to be exactly as I was in the photo. He extended his “generosity” by giving me a month to get back to my previous size. I thanked him, and never went back.
I wish I could say that I didn’t return because of his shitty behavior, or because I knew that I was more than just a number on a scale. But the truth is that I was afraid. I was not Salma Hayek, I didn’t want to be – and I was convinced that who I was, who I REALLY was, could not succeed in that business. Who I was at my core – I didn’t see on big screens, on TV, or in Glamour magazines. Who I was didn’t exist in those worlds.
These beliefs kept me from taking some of the biggest and most important risks of my entire life.
To be honest, at times they still do, but it will never be like it once was. The years have shown me so much truth, and I am forever changed. I treasure the moments in which I rediscover the beauty of my body, when I stare into my own deep brown eyes in the mirror, and whisper to myself “you are so beautiful.”
Today, Yalitza Aparicio was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Actress. It is a dream I will always have. As I scroll through her photos I am moved to tears, because she, more than any other nominee ever before, looks like me.
She is talented and she is beautiful. She has always been, like so many before her and so many to come – and though we don’t need the world to tell us so, it feels damn good to know that it is finally being recognized. It feels damn good to know, that young indigenous girls and young brown girls, can dream of winning an academy award, practice their acceptance speeches in the sanctity of their running showers, and have that notion be rooted in some realistic hope. I may not have had the opportunity to plaster my teenage bedroom walls with photos of Yalitza and women like her….
Women like me.
But I do now, and now is just as good as ever.