Dress: Thrift find, Blazer: Chicago Boutique, Hat: Yard Sale find, Chained Necklace: F21, Boots: H&M, Lipstick: MAC
Shawl: Thrift find, Crop Top: F21, Skirt: American Apparel, Headband: Thrift find, Oxfords: Thrift find, Belt: Vintage gift, Bracelet: Self made, Gold Lipstick: MAC
When I was growing up I can’t remember anything I was more ashamed of than the color of my skin and the shape of my body. I was about 7 years old when I became aware of the fact that I had a body I was capable of feeling poorly about. I was had just started kindergarten when I realized I didn’t speak like all the other children around me and that being brown had something to do with that. I cursed the God that made me that way. I wanted to assimilate, to be something I was not because I was too naïve to understand that being different didn’t mean exile. Although, society played a superb role in making me feel that way. Then, and even now in my taste for significant others I idealize fair skin, thinness, and colored eyes. I’m ashamed to admit it but my environment conditioned me that way. As a child I wanted to be just that more than I wanted a brand new doll. So by the time I was 9 years old I was self mutilating because I “deserved” to be punished for being something I couldn’t help. A couple of years later I developed a full blown eating disorder because my body was an abomination, so I believed. At the time I was also only speaking English even to my only Spanish-speaking mother because I could no longer bear holding on to any part of my culture. It made me feel ashamed and I thought loosing touch with my culture would rid me of that feeling. I mean all the images and reinforcements around me validated these negative and absurd feelings that grew to be one of my core beliefs. I thought I was made wrong and my life’s purpose was to change that. Never was I told it was ok, even beautiful, to be just the way I was. That in reality my purpose was to come to terms with just that. It wasn’t until over a decade’s worth of self-sabotage and abuse that I realized there was a discrepancy with the system I was living under, not me.
Of coarse now I also realize it’s not just my society’s ideals that are wrong but so is the black and white way of thinking that I innately fall into. Everything is so much more complex than right and wrong, good or bad, beautiful or ugly. There are grey areas that encompass an imaginable amount of possibilities and perspectives. So after coming to terms with that I am now more capable of stopping myself from punishing me for not being whatever preconceived notion I’m not fulfilling. I do also acknowledge that it will take time for me to change the view I have about right and wrong considering they are so deeply rooted in me.
I figured I wasn’t alone in this internal struggle. I must not be the only colored woman that felt shame and fear of being myself. That’s why for this photo session I asked my model, Karina, who also happens to be a Hispanic woman, to give me an account of her experience of being a woman in our society.
The black and white thinking I’m accustomed to turning to also lead me to a monochromatic theme for our session’s ensembles. Karina represented the dark, the bad, and evil and I represented the light, the good, and pure. Both polar extremes I’m slowly learning to avoid.
American Horror Story Coven, season 3, was the inspiration for Karina’s outfit. For a while now I’ve been longing to own a black, Amish man inspired hat, and finally I scored one for only five dollars at a yard sale. It was just the perfect finishing detail on top of an all black, lace, Maxi dress with a black blazer over it for a more modest and fall weather outfit. A dab of cyber purple lipstick and some combat boots and BAM you have yourself a chic witch’s look going for you.
My outfit had lots of movement and flow going for it with a draped to the floor, long sleeved, sheer, chiffon shawl over a lace crop top. On bottom I went with a pleated, silk skirt. My outfit spoke of movement, texture, and purity. The ensemble felt light and soft over my skin. I wanted to twirl infinitely like a ballerina in a music box in it. I kept it simple with only a thin gold-chained belt, a pearl white headband, gold lipstick, and predominately white and black oxfords. I don’t seem to have too much pearl or white in my wardrobe, so I played with what I did have.
“Juanna asked me to answer what it means to be a women in our society. I had to think about it and it was a little hard to answer because I am not just a woman, but I am a woman of color and my experience in our society is much different than a Caucasian woman’s. At one point in my life I was ashamed to be a Latina. I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, and I didn’t know how to speak English until I was seven, so you bet I stuck out like a sore thumb. Growing up I also found myself struggling to fit in because I could never fully identify with my peers. I always felt like I was walking along a fence with one foot emerged in American culture and the other foot emerged in my Mexican roots…I always felt lost in identifying myself because I never felt American enough or Mexican enough. I also come from a culture that thrives on Machismo. I was taught by the man in my family to be second to men, to be silent, to take care of the kitchen, and to be proper. Before I knew it I found myself not knowing who I was, what I stood for, and the worst part was that I lost my voice and confidence. It was taken away from the men in my family, the society that told me if I wasn’t fair skinned, blond, blue-eyed, and rail thin then I had no worth. It was not until I got to college that I joined a group of women of color, LUCES, were I was allowed to explore my identity. Joining LUCES was the best thing that happened to me because for the first time I was able to make sense of things. I began to form my own definition of what it means to be a woman of color. I began to feel empowered and celebrate my Latina roots, rather than feel shame. To me being a woman of color is being resilient and being strong and having a community of other women of color whom you can find support and solidarity with because you share similar experiences. Society has created a lot of ideas of what beauty should be, and most would say I don’t fit the mold…at one point in my life I became obsessed in trying to make myself into the ideal women society said I should be and I was miserable. I now realize that there is no such ideal, and even if there was I should not bind myself and let others measure my self-worth. I am a strong, beautiful, Latina who is worth so much more than the labels and stereotypes society places on me.”