Growing up as a Brown Girl: Aesthetics

09/11/2015 12:10 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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My body is political. You see, I am not pretty. I have hairy knuckles. I have a wider-set nose. I have hairy toes. My elbows are a darker shade of brown. I have hair on my nipples and around my bellybutton. I have a happy trail. My ears are not small, because I have flappy earlobes. My eyebrows have their own personality and thicker than any one I know, besides my dad. My leg hairs are so thick that when I first shaved my legs, I discovered large birthmarks that were once covered entirely by hair. I have had armpit fat ever since I can remember. I cackle; I do not giggle. I have a flat face, and high cheekbones -- passed down to me by my indigenous ancestors. In general, my face has very traditional indigenous features. I have thick legs and even thicker calves. My feet sweat, so that means my feet often smell when I wear closed-toed shoes. I have a greasy face. All these things have been pointed out to me, throughout my life, to accent the fact that I was not pretty. Or more importantly to remind me that European features were the epitome of beauty and I had none of the features nor the fragility of upper middle class performance.

Growing up, Telemundo and Univision had actresses and news anchors who all spoke my language -- but they never looked like me. I remember realizing that La India Maria looked the most like me, but she was the joke of most of the movies she starred in. She was kind, but presented as stupid and inferior... As a young brown, third-world little girl, I understood too well what was the message behind La India Maria.

Coming to the USA, it became more obvious to me that I was not pretty -- like having the realization that all the Disney princesses were white. Jasmine came into the picture when I was 7 and Pocahontas I was 9 -- but by then I already knew that I was not pretty. And while Pocahontas was the Disney princess I identified with the most, she did not look like me -- she resembled me, the prettier version: thin, tall, long-haired, brown perfection.

In turn, I internalized a lot of self-hatred and subconsciously even began to reject other women who looked like me, other women who were not traditionally (white thus) pretty, because somehow that made me feel better about myself. However, now I have come to the realization that my body and my features are representative of a people who were almost entirely erased by colonialism.

So yes, I have hairy knuckles. I have a wider-set nose. I have hairy toes. My elbows are a darker shade of brown, etc. All these things have been pointed out to me, throughout my life, to accent the fact that I was not pretty. Or more importantly to remind me that European features were the epitome of beauty, and I had none of the features nor the fragility of upper middle class performance. But all of those things make me beautiful, all of those things.

My brownness is beautiful, and not like those Latina actresses I saw on TV who were pretty and brown. I am beautiful because I am brown.

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