Growing up in a household with several women, beauty and body image was constantly discussed. Even if I didn’t ask for anyone’s opinion, they made sure to share it. From the way I styled my hair to the clothes that I wore, everything was up for debate and criticism. While white beauty standards have always been a thing, back then, there were also beauty standards within the community that were constantly being pushed on Latina women, like having an hourglass figure — big boobs, big butt, and an itty-bitty waist.
Everything I learned about bodies came from Latinas.
Everything I learned about bodies came from Latinas. Comments flew out of their mouths left and right, like “damn look at your butt, it’s so big” or “those jeans fit you nice, pero, ponte la faja para la grasa.” Hearing all that over the years began to convince me that I would never fit the criteria of what a Latina body was supposed to look like. I was told that an attractive Latina has an hourglass shape, hips, a big butt, and a small waist, and yet, I barely had hips, a butt, or breasts.
By the time I hit high school, my cuerpo began to fill up. I had perky breasts and a small but shapely bottom — I was finally developing an hourglass body. This was also around the time I started developing acne. I took a page out of my sister’s book, and the beauty trends of the 90s and 00s, and decided to cut my own bangs to hide away my forehead acne. Between the bangs and my curvy but slim body, you couldn’t tell me I wasn’t the sh*t back in high school, walking around with a body that bounced back after stuffing my face with fast food like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s.
I swallowed those words when I experienced my “freshman fifteen” during my first semester of college that I spent living on campus. I went from 115 pounds, the slim flaca of the family, to 130 real quick. At the time, it was the most I’d ever weighed, and of course I started to freak out. I began wearing compression leggings to hold in the extra fat around my belly and lower back. My tetas went from B cups to Cs, and I told myself that I was still good.
I was convinced that my body was just starting to fill out like all of the other women in my family. In fact, having more pounds made me feel better about my body. I was eager for my hourglass shape to add more curves to my hips. I no longer had issues with my pointy hip bones, because they were rounder, more full, and less protruding. I didn’t feel so anxious about working out to keep the weight off; instead, I embraced and fell in love with my body all over again.
That was all until I ended up becoming pregnant with my first kid. At first, the nutritionist encouraged me to eat. She said, “You’re eating for two now,” and advised me to enjoy generous food portions. Before I knew it, I was in my last trimester and my doctor quickly informed me that I was overweight. I was 5’5″ and went from 130 pounds to 167 pounds. I obsessed over everything because I didn’t want to put my baby at risk.
It was my first kid and my first time being told I was overweight by a medical professional. I was filled with so much shame and vowed that I would burn the fat off right after I had the baby. Immediately following the birth of my son, I was set on dropping all the weight. I wore a faja while I breastfed, even though I felt like it was suffocating me. I checked the scale frequently, and no matter what I did, the 150 pounds lingered for what felt like forever.
Fajas and bodysuits with compression and spandex became my go-to’s. Years went by, and I was forced to face the reality that this was my new normal. I needed to find a way to love myself, so instead of working out to burn fat, instead of trying out diets, I decided to focus on things that would bring me peace and joy.
It took a while, but I finally found two workouts that worked for me: shadowboxing and yoga. I found there was nothing like pounding the bag and leaving all the self-hatred, anger, and stress on the bag. I did yoga to help calm my mind and because it was the best conditioning workout to soothe my aching muscles from all the boxing. It took years, but I finally got my weight back down to 130 pounds. I was content with my body, though it looked different. I was no longer wearing a size two like in high school and college. I had finally graduated to a size four and six like my primas and hermanas. But I loved the way denim hugged my hips and thighs and how bodycon dresses hugged me in all the right places.
When my son turned 2, I found myself single again along with the pressure to look a certain way in order to attract a new potential partner. I found myself trapped between being a single parent and dating. It was exhausting, constantly worrying about my appearance, posing for photos for my online dating profile, and making sure I looked extra nice for dates. I nearly gave up, but after six years and several situationships, I found a guy who accepted me for who I am. It wasn’t easy, but we fell in love, and a few years into our relationship I got pregnant. I was so ready to have another child, and I knew that I would do things differently this time.
But the universe had other plans for me, I had a miscarriage in 2019, four months before the baby was due. I soon learned how common miscarriages are. According to March of Dimes, approximately 30 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. I was still devastated. I tried my hardest to not hate myself or my body, but it was too hard. In Black and brown communities, women tend to have to just sweep things under the rug and not fully process what we go through for various reasons. In my case, I had another kid to care for and I didn’t want my partner, family, or friends to take pity on me. So, I sheltered on, hoping to not be swallowed whole by the experience. After the miscarriage, I was reminded every day for weeks that my body had been forming a life that was no longer present. On average it takes 80 percent of women longer than three months to lose pregnancy weight, so you can imagine how I felt walking around still looking like I was five months pregnant still.
I remember coming home from the supermarket, putting away groceries, and sitting on the sofa to find my breasts leaking milk through my shirt. I sat immobile, with tears streaming down my face. It was as if my body wouldn’t let me forget that I was supposed to be nurturing life, not sitting crying. I still looked pregnant, and strangers would ask me how far along I was. It broke me to tell them that I wasn’t pregnant.
I moped around for months and went on unexpected leave at work. I spent the next two months processing and trying desperately to understand what happened to my body. The doctors ran tests on me and the fetus, but nothing irregular was discovered. A nurse told me that there’s so much that goes on with our bodies and that the next time I plan to get pregnant I should take folic acid and a few other things beforehand. I couldn’t think about any of that, I was just depressed, and it showed in my appearance over those months.
In 2021, my partner and I got married during the height of the pandemic. We knew we wanted to try to have a kid again, and I was so ready for the journey. My son was 2, as he waited patiently for a sibling. We got pregnant in the early summer and I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl in March 2022.
During the pregnancy, I was in constant communication with my doctor about every little thing. She listened to me and offered the best birth plan based on my needs and wants. I wanted to just have a healthy pregnancy and baby. I embraced all the weight I gained and reminded myself that my body is capable of powerful things. Women are powerful beings: we give life, we endure so much, and our body carries us through it all. I decided to have a natural birth and had my placenta encapsulated to help with post-pregnancy hormones, hair loss, milk production, and more. Once again I found myself overweight; this time, I went up to 180 pounds. I felt the weight in my joints and even had severe carpal tunnel. But I gave birth to a beautiful healthy, baby girl at nine pounds.
I’m the one that has to live in this skin, so why not celebrate it? After all, it’s gotten me through life thus far.
Following the birth of my baby girl, I knew that I needed to lose weight for health reasons, but I decided I would give myself grace and just admire and celebrate my body for carrying life full term. I basked in the healing process after pushing out a nine-pound baby, and to this day, I am still in awe of myself for having done that. I did it without any painkillers. I took her to the beach for the first time, and I wore a two-piece bathing suit. I didn’t give a damn if people stared at my stretch marks or my round belly. One year later and it’s still the same for me: I’ve lost 10 pounds and currently weigh 170 pounds, but that has not stopped me from wearing crop tops, from ditching my fajas and letting my body roam freely. I’m the one that has to live in this skin, so why not celebrate it? After all, it’s gotten me through life thus far.
I’ve decided to stop trying to focus on the body that once existed and instead focus on the one that has carried me through loss, grief, trauma, and the birth of my precious baby girl.
I’ve decided to stop trying to focus on the body that once existed and instead focus on the one that has carried me through loss, grief, trauma, and the birth of my precious baby girl. My body has healed itself even while I was grieving. Our bodies are miraculous and deserve to be celebrated. I no longer want to force a body image on myself that doesn’t serve me. We need to disarm the notion of the “bounce back” after pregnancy. Instead, we should be focused on relearning ourselves, giving ourselves the grace to celebrate the triumph of pregnancy. And real talk: it’s OK to mourn the body you used to have before pregnancy; just remember that’s a stepping stone in healing and finding your way on your journey to self-love.
Image Source: Courtesy of Saraciea J. Fennell