Maribel Quezada Smith: What are you willing to do in the name of beauty?

Valentina Agosti: Botox.

Christie Lazo: Surgery.

Katia Reguero Lindor: Wake up at like 4:00 AM to go work out.

Maribel Quezada Smith: If I interviewed every Latina about this, I truly believe this list could be endless. Maybe the question isn’t what we’re willing to do in the name of beauty, but why? Why have I, Maribel, a woman who’s never been a fan of med spas and the body modifications offered at these places, been spending so much time researching natural serums to combat aging, and the seemingly magical body contouring results of fat freezing, which by the way, I’ve been told is very painful. This is the second episode in our Latina Beauty standard series where we explore the complex topic of la belleza in our culture. In episode one, Liz helped us understand where these standards come from and how they show up in our lives. In this episode, we’re exploring the things we’re willing to do to feel beautiful and why. You’re listening to The Pulso Podcast. We’ll be right back.

As a millennial woman who grew up watching telenovelas, I did not escape the message that beauty is important, and keeping it is the key to long-term happiness. Just ask anyone who’s ever watched Maria Del Barrio, Muchachitas, or Betty La Fea. Cliche storyline aside, many of the shows we, Latina millennials grew up watching, also always had something in common that made them ” beautiful” by society standards and let’s be real, outside of the telenovela life, we had few other Latinas to look up to when we were growing up.

Christie Lazo: Jennifer Lopez was my vibe, like she was like the thing in the media that I related myself to.

Maribel Quezada Smith: This is Christie Lazo, an Indigenous Peruvian millennial Latina, focused on decolonizing motherhood and breaking intergenerational cycles. I asked her what she thought the women that she often looked up to had in common.

Christie Lazo: They’re white passing, they’re obviously like in shape, thin. I recognize that, you know, as an Indigenous woman, I’m never gonna have this very thin body, right? But back then I wanted to be a Victoria’s Secret model.

Maribel Quezada Smith: Christie and I are not exactly telenovela or Victoria’s Secret material, so I wanted to hear from someone who, in my humble opinion, checks all of these conventional attractive Latina boxes.

Katia Reguero Lindor: My full name is Katia Reguero Lindor.

Maribel Quezada Smith: Katia is a Latina, Boricua to be exact, who is currently balancing parenting, marriage, and social activism. I asked her to share what experiencing these cultural standards of belleza has been like for her.

Katia Reguero Lindor: I’m Puerto Rican and I had in this ongoing joke that you don’t go to supermarket without having your hair and makeup done. But something that was like a more subtle, unspoken innuendo was body image. My mom has always been fit. AS an impressionable young child, that meant to me, I gotta look fit, I gotta look good. Having a nice, toned body was really important. And so I would find myself really frustrated with my body because I wouldn’t get skinny and ripped, because I have a bigger butt and bigger hips, and I’m naturally thicker than my mom is. And so I was never achieving that beauty ideal that I would see in like Victoria’s Secret magazines that my mom would receive. 

Maribel Quezada Smith: Hold up, thin, white, passing in-shape, gorgeous women like Katia have body image issues? I am so screwed. Is that what you were thinking? Because that’s what I was thinking.

Would you say that these are some of the people, like these models in the magazines were some of the people that you remember looking up to?

Katia Reguero Lindor: So me being a, white passing Latina, I was like, I guess we’re the same skin type. I still didn’t feel identified with a lot of them because it just seemed like they were the same kind of blonde, blue-eyed, you know, straight hair, skinny. And it just seemed like that was the standard of beauty to look up to.

Maribel Quezada Smith: Given that many of us have grown up surrounded by messages that portray whiteness as beauty, it’s no surprise that for Latinas like myself and Katia, comparing ourselves to that standard is almost inescapable. And as Liz mentioned in the first episode of this series, for many Latinas, the way we look is sometimes the only thing we can control. A recent study conducted between vital findings and Televisa Univision determined that 75% of Latinas agree that beauty is an important part of their culture compared to 56% of non-Hispanics.

Katia Reguero Lindor: My body was the biggest source of insecurity for me growing up. That started pretty much around 13. I started working out way earlier than most of my other friends. I did a lot of things for my physique, you know, like I was really, I didn’t go out on the weekends so that I could stick to like a meal plan and so that I could work out and not like veer off from my routine., I would like freak out if one day something got in the way of me being able to work out or do whatever physical activity I had planned for that day. I would spiral. I would be like, oh no, I’m gonna get fat because one day I didn’t go to the gym or I didn’t run. It was a lot of just kind of mixed signals that I had for myself. Like, I’m doing this to look good and if I don’t do it, I’m not worth anything, kind of thing.

Maribel Quezada Smith: What’s like the craziest thing that you’ve ever done to stay in shape?

Katia Reguero Lindor: I’d wake up at like 4:00 AM to go work out so that I would work out before class and then I would work out after class.

Maribel Quezada Smith: That’s a lot, especially at that age to like, be that rigorous.

Katia Reguero Lindor: I think intrinsically, I associate my body with my worth, and that’s what really needs to be, healed at a deeper level, which I now know, but just takes years of undoing and unlearning and relearning.

Maribel Quezada Smith: Katia is right. It does take years of unlearning and relearning. Sometimes we do things to our bodies in pursuit of this ideal standard that can be severely self damaging and even dangerous. How do I know? Because I’m almost 40 and I still struggle with body dysmorphia, meaning when I look in the mirror sometimes I only see the flaws. There’s always something that seems like I could fine tune or fix. But is it really just our inner voice that makes us feel this way, or is it someone else? This ties in with Christie’s research for her Master’s in Social Justice education, where she focuses on decolonization and breaking intergenerational cycles.

Christie Lazo: We are very much taught to be obedient, to have our family’s approval, right? So I feel like particularly that stat around making our families happy, making them feel good about us because we constantly have this sense of judgment from them.

Maribel Quezada Smith: Remember that study I quoted earlier? Well, they also found that 66% of Latinas say they were taught at an early age that maintaining their appearance is important, and it’s not just about looking good for themselves. Latinas are more likely to say that they want to look good so their family will be proud of them. That 67% versus 48% of non-Hispanics. Even though I’m fully grown, I still feel enormous joy when my mom compliments me. There’s also a general sense of pride that I get when I show up as my best self no matter where I’m going. Like dressing up to sit in las a joke, but kind of a standard in many Latino families. Raise your hand if you get dolled up to spend the evening at home with your family on Noche Buena.

Christie Lazo: I get dolled up for me, 100% for me. However, I gotta admit there’s this voice in the back of my head that says I have to be the best one looking in the room. So I feel like, you know, this competition kind of thing in the back of my head of like, be the best dressed, have the best makeup, because I feel like that’s just a message that I somehow got growing up. I think, will I ever get to a day where that little voice in the back of my head is absolutely silenced? Probably not.

Maribel Quezada Smith: Feeling like you have to be the best looking one in the group is a familiar experience for people like Valentina Agosti, who grew up between two very beauty centered cultures, Venezuela and Miami.

Valentina Agosti: If you’re Venezuelan and here in Miami, if we’re walking down the street or in a mall, I could point out who are the Venezuelan women. There’s just a look. there’s a body shape, you know, the perky breasts and the tiny waist and the big hips. So you stood out if you don’t look like that, you know, so you have to have a big, strong personality to be like, I don’t wanna look like that.

Maribel Quezada Smith: What’s the craziest thing or the strangest thing you’ve ever done in the name of.

Valentina Agosti: In Venezuela there’s a saying that goes para ser bella hay que ver estrellas which literally translates to, to be beautiful. You have to see stars. meaning that you have to suffer to be beautiful. So like Botox, Botox is like you freeze your nerves. So that’s pretty crazy. But I still do it and I’m part of it and I love it.

Maribel Quezada Smith: Why are you proud?

Valentina Agosti: Why not do it if it’s gonna make you feel better?

Maribel Quezada Smith: I don’t like needles, so I could never do that .

Valentina Agosti: I sweat and I get nervous, you know? But it’s momentary. It goes away.

Maribel Quezada Smith: So would you say it’s worth it? The pain?

Valentina Agosti: Oh for sure. No pain, no game, baby!

Maribel Quezada Smith: Valentina’s expression reminds me of every time I had hair waxed off my body, or the first time I had laser hair removal. Ouch. Did I do all of this for myself? I could argue that I love how smooth my underarms are now, and I want to believe that external factors have nothing to do with my desire to fit into a standard, improve my physical appearance, or even completely redesign it. But if I’m being totally honest, I personally have a hard time believing that as Latinas we are truly “doing all of this beauty stuff for ourselves”. And as far as I can tell, we don’t yet have the research that shows us otherwise because since the existence of mass media, we’ve been subjected to specific standards of beauty. As a woman living in the United States, it is nearly impossible to escape this message.

Do you think that there’s anything in there related to society, beauty standards that you’re trying to appease or relate to?

Valentina Agosti: I mean, yeah, maybe in a small degree I am appeasing. The way you dress and the way you look, says a lot about, about you, and it’s a form of expression. So it just depends how you want the world to see you or what you want to say about yourself. In Venezuela there’s a saying that goes, “para ser bella hay que ver estrellas” which literally translates to, “to be beautiful you have to see stars”, meaning that you have to suffer to be beautiful. I remember my mom had her breasts done and then after I had my first born I got a lift and then I put in silicones. My aunt also has done, you know, surgical procedures. It’s just, it’s not a big deal. I feel like here in the United States it’s a much bigger deal.

Maribel Quezada Smith: But there was never a question for you, like you never questioned why so many 

Valentina Agosti: I think that I didn’t question it until you leave, right? If you’re removed from your bubble, then you see like, oh, snap look there’s like different ways that people can dress and there’s different ways that women can look and that is okay and that is normal. So I think that when you’re in that bubble, you don’t see anything else. But also again, coming back to like, I am a good, in a good place with my body and my mental health regarding my body. So I think it’s controlled. I think the trauma, the trauma’s not coming through, right? Like it’s, it’s good.

Maribel Quezada Smith: I admire Valentina’s relaxed outlook on beauty and self-love. I also can’t say, I’ve never thought about turning the clock back on my postpartum Maita body. Raise your hand if you’ve had a baby or two and know exactly why Valentina had her breast done. That’s another thing that we have society standards to thank for the snapback body. Why is there this crazy expectation that your body will go back to looking exactly as you did before giving birth? What a load of crap. And there’s a whole industry dedicated to this magical illusion. Yesterday I tried shape word for the first time, and let me tell you, I wasn’t wearing it just to sit in the salad. I made sure my husband saw me make a few laps around the house before I changed back into real people clothes. This makes me wonder, has our devotion to beauty become an obsession? Here’s Christie Lazo again.

Christie Lazo: When I say my body, my rules, and I teach that to my daughter, and I feel that everybody should have that. If you, for example, wanna get a surgical procedure to look a certain way and that’s gonna make you feel better about your life and feel better about yourself, I’m not gonna judge you for that because that’s your body. It’s not my business. However, I do see a systemic issue and a cultural issue with how we are taught not to love ourselves. We need to remember that we are under a very colonial, Eurocentric beauty standard space through and through. So we’re gonna always have pressure to look a certain way, be a certain way, and especially when we live in a society where trends are constantly changing, like how do you keep up? It is more powerful and it is more empowering and it is more outstanding to love you for everything you are then try to be something that maybe is not meant for you.

Maribel Quezada Smith: Christie is referring to trends in body shapes, which is impossible to emulate, yet the plastic surgery industry isn’t exactly going broke from helping people achieve certain standards. So I went back to Katia Lindor with this question.

People are paying thousands of dollars to have the body you have. What do you say to them?

Katia Reguero Lindor: We’re never satisfied with what we have, you know? I’m not gonna throw shade on them for that. I just know that no matter how I looked at the end of the day. If I didn’t feel good in my own skin, it really had nothing to do with what other people were saying about me, cuz I got complimented very often. And that made no difference because I didn’t see it. I didn’t see what they saw. And I don’t even know that if any amount of surgery I could do would change the way I feel about myself. That’s ultimately it. I’m trying to heal the underlying cause so that no matter how I look, I still love myself and love the way I look. I’ve been in therapy for many years, and I’m working on just kind of loving every stage of me. Trying to really know maybe what my mom has always tried to tell me, but really believe that my beauty is not tied to my physical beauty.

Maribel Quezada Smith: But when it’s all said and done, there is one thing that I think every Latina I know can agree on. We show up looking our damn best. And Valentina, our friend form Miami, agrees.

Valentina Agosti: Absolutely like you’re not gonna show up to a party wearing flip flops and shorts and a t-shirt. I do think that there is value in presenting yourself in a certain type of way because at the end of the day, we do live in a society that cares about that.

Maribel Quezada Smith: I don’t know what it is about flip flops that Americans love, but in my house growing up, those were called chanclas and they were not to be worn to any formal location. To quote Liz in the previous episode, “Antes muerta que sencilla”. Am I right?

Leslie Valdivia: There is research that says Latinas and Black women are the top consumers of beauty, not just in makeup, but perfume, body care, hair care. For bad or for good, a culture expectation to show up ready. Right? And when you show up to the parties de la familia, de quinces, whatever, right?

Maribel Quezada Smith: That’s Leslie Valdivia, founder of Vive Cosmetics, one of the few Latina owned makeup brands out there. I talked with Leslie and her co-founder, Joanna Rosario, to find out what kind of impact Latinas have on the modern cosmetics industry.

Joanna Rosario: We come in all shapes. We have so many different cultures. There’s so much nuance in our Latina community that it wasn’t represented and that’s what we noticed and we realized. And that’s one of the reasons why we decided, well, let’s take it upon ourselves to create something where we feel seen ourselves and others can feel seen as well.

Maribel Quezada Smith: Do you think the beauty industry helps our people, our community, or do you think it hurts us?

Leslie Valdivia: The beauty industry is still a toxic place. Companies are launching more products than ever. There’s new launches every single week, profiting off millions of dollars you know, people could say off people’s insecurities.

Joanna Rosario: I do feel that the beauty industry is very toxic as well. In their campaigns, in their photos, like it, there’s so much Photoshop and there’s so much that at the end of the day, is showing our community that, you know, you can’t have texture, you have to look a certain way in order to be accepted. And one of the things that Laslie and I do is we do not Photoshop our photos. That’s one of the things where it hurts our community and people who don’t feel seen, um, in these campaigns, feel that they need to change who they are in order to fit in.

Maribel Quezada Smith: I’m definitely one of those people that Leslie and Joanna are talking about. I had to stop following accounts on Instagram that didn’t care about people like me being represented. Between us, I unfollowed some people I used to really like before Instagram existed because I realized that I was watching idealized versions of their appearances. And watching them was making me hate myself. Yet I also don’t think wanting to look good is something to be ashamed of, but I do wonder if sometimes we give our own beauty standards too much power. Are we crossing a line and going too far? Here’s what Katia and Valentina had to say about that.

Katia Reguero Lindor: When you’re trying to change your appearance, when you looked completely fine before and there was really nothing major that you had to like fix, I say within quotes, um, then yeah, that’s really, I feel like you’re trying to adhere to the beauty standards that is being thrown at us every day. Like the lip injections. That’s like such a fad nowadays where I feel like I can’t even differentiate anymore between women who had it naturally and women who don’t. Cuz it’s like everyone has it.

Valentina Agosti: There’s some people who eat and they feel bad, who like walk down a car and see their reflection and it gives them like, bad thoughts. It’s like overcoming your day, like overpowering your day. That is not healthy when you’re spending ridiculous amounts of money in all these procedures and Botox, cuz all of this things, these are expensive and some people spend like a very large percentage of their income on that.

Maribel Quezada Smith: How are you raising your kids in regards to these beauty standards the ones that you were raised with?

Valentina Agosti: I think, again, it goes back to language. It goes back to example, so if your children, it could be boys and girls, see you always weighing yourself, always worried and like asking like, do I look good? Does this look good? Oh, I feel fat. Like it’s just, you have to be very conscious of what you say and how you act around those little people that are just sponges and learning from you.

Maribel Quezada Smith: I agree with Valentina. Language is powerful and we can impact the way all genders see beauty with how we talk about it in the home. And more specifically, to learn how we can help future generations of women feel more empowered about their beauty, I asked Christia and Katia about how they’re handling it.

You have a daughter, so what kind of physical expectations you want her to have for herself?

Christie Lazo: I want her to love herself and I want her to have autonomy over her body.

Katia Reguero Lindor: I just hope that she knows that my expectation would never be for her to like look any type of way, you know, as long as she feels beautiful and confident in her own skin.

Maribel Quezada Smith: Do you think that we can decide what our own standards of beauty are?

Valentina Agosti: Absolutely, I really want to believe so. 10 years ago you couldn’t. I think now standards are definitely changing

Leslie Valdivia: Beauty shouldn’t be gendered. Any gender, any people can wear makeup and lipstick to feel good. For our last shoot, we had models of literally all ages, and all genders and all of that. So we were really excited to move more in that direction. We hope that we’re not promoting. people changing how they look, but more embracing how they already are. And if that’s just a little lip color that makes you feel good, then our job is done.

Maribel Quezada Smith: Wow. That was a lot. I think we just learned so much and I know that I’m definitely gonna be looking at beauty standards in a different way.

Liz AlarcĂłn: It was a lot, and we tried to cover so many things in two episodes.

Maribel Quezada Smith: I have to say that I was a little nervous going into my episode because I was worried about the things that it would bring up in me. And as you all have heard, it definitely brought up some things and some insecurities and things that I’m not sure are really gonna go away anytime soon because the truth is we don’t have the answers, we don’t have the resolution.

Liz AlarcĂłn: It shows that this conversation is really complex, that we’re not gonna find a solution and that that’s not our job, right? We just really wanna open up the conversation so that our listeners feel identified and know that you, Maribel and me we’re grappling with the same questions and we’re curious about how to come out of this more empowered, more empathetic, and more understanding of what beauty means to all of us and how to move forward in a positive way.

Maribel Quezada Smith: And I really like that about what we discussed. I like the idea of defining beauty for ourselves. Like can we take the narrative back and put ownership on that and decide what that is for us? And I think that this new generation is doing that better. I am hopeful for that.

Liz AlarcĂłn: And it makes me really excited to see my daughter, Eva, grow up in a world where she is not gonna have the same insecurities that I had, the same pressures that I grew up with, or the same expectations that you and I are still, trying to do away with and redefine what we wanna keep and what we wanna leave back. So the future is right for all of the Latinas, Latines who are going to be up and coming in our society to own it for themselves.

Maribel Quezada Smith: This episode was written and produced by me, Maribel Quezada Smith. Editorial oversight by Jackie Noack. Audio engineering and mixing by Charlie Garcia. Sound design by Julian Blackmore.