Latinas Explain How Comments Like ‘Negrita’ And ‘Mejorar La Raza’ Affected Their Body Image

Words can stick with you.  Of course, not everything that a someone says or does can be directly tied to how we see ourselves. Impractical body ideals, societal norms, and genetics can have a huge hand in the ways we see ourselves as women and ultimately view and appreciate our bodies. Still, when it comes to our satisfaction with our physical appearances, studies have shown time and again that the greatest factor in how we see ourselves, even more influential than Barbie’s body proportions or the impractical images of Victoria Secret models, comes straight out of our mother’s mouths.

For Latinas, messages tied to our mothers own experiences and cultures, ones that come in the form of comments like “eat it because when I was growing up I didn’t have it” and nicknames like “flaca” or “gordita” can affect the way we diet and love our bodies. For a closer look at both the positive and negative ways our mother’s comments affect us, FIERCE talked to six Latinas about the ways in which their personal views of their bodies were impacted by their mothers.

Wandy, New York City

“Interestingly enough, my mother and I are about the same height, five feet tall, and we’ve pretty much always been around the same size. For most of our lives, we’ve been trading out our wardrobe with each other and circulating the same pieces between us—some even that she had when she was younger that I now wear. Because of this, whenever my mom feels like she might not be in the best shape, or that there’s something about her body she wants to change, those questions always go right back to me and my own body. If she’s upset that she’s in a size 12 instead of a 6 should I be upset too if I fit into everything she owns? On top of that, we have the same name and we look almost identical, so a lot of the time it’s like looking in a living breathing mirror of body-doubting and wondering ‘if she hates her body, should I hate mine right now too?'” – Wandy

Taylor, San Antonio

“I’m Black, the darkest amongst my family, and from an interracial Latinx family so I grew up around a lot of old school Hispanics who’d try to tell me to ‘mejorar la raza’ and call me negrita and shit. My mom would have none of it and I really appreciate that. She would stand up for me but also tell me how beautiful my skin was. I think a lot of people think that because I’m Afro-Latina I grew up with all kinds of insecurities about my skin, but growing up I literally thought I could be a model one day and that had everything to do with how my mom would talk to me and constantly call my skin beautiful.” – Taylor

Victoria, Los Angeles

“Growing up I’ve always struggled with my weight. Being a plus size Latina never seemed out of place but being constantly reminded to focus on whether or not I was losing or gaining weight ultimately turned into a constant internal battle in myself. My mom’s words were never hurtful but the constant reminders certainly stuck with me in high school and throughout college. One thing I can thank her for is my confidence, however, I wish I could have had those similar lessons by having her educate me on how to take care of my body and think about food a little more intentionally.” – Victoria

Irina, Miami

“I love my mom, but I realized through therapy a few years ago that I have serious body issues because of her. In particular, with my thighs. I can’t remember when it first happened, but I remember my mom telling me when I was very young that I had “large thighs.” They were called fat, big, thick, large, etc, throughout my entire childhood and it’s definitely affected me in a negative way. Even today, after I lost 100 pounds years ago, I still hate my thighs. I am trying to learn to love them, but it’s really difficult. My mom still tells me that my thighs are fat, but then tells me that I’ve gotten too skinny. To be honest, I’ve never been at a good enough weight for her. I’ve only either been too fat or too thin. It’s really painful sometimes.” – Irina

Monica, Los Angeles

“I’ve always had hips and an ass. Since I was literally like eleven I’ve just been shaped curvier than my friends, who were tiny. So when we’d all go shopping, we’d end up buying the same type of stuff, and from places that were popular like Hollister but made sizes for straight figures. So I’d come home with the same stuff my friends bought, cute shorts, mini skirts and my mom would always want to tell me the same shorts that looked normal on my friends looked super sexual and revealing on me. So from the time I was super young like middle school even through my early twenties, I’d put certain things on and my mom would say ‘you can’t wear the same type of clothes your friends wear because your body is different” and it looks ‘more sexual or revealing on you.’ Of course, my mom would always tell me that I was beautiful and that my body was beautiful, so it’s not like she necessarily shamed me for it, but it definitely made me very aware of my curviness and the fact that my thighs and butt were bigger than most of the friends I had, so it kind of made me self-conscious, as if it was my body’s fault that others would perceive something I was just wearing as sexual when that’s not what I was going for. It made me extremely hyper-aware of how men perceived me and how they’d act around me.” – Monica

Emmy, New York City

“I come from divorced parents, my dad is black and Jamaican my mom is a white Latina from El Salvador. I think there were a lot of things related to their separation and resentment that kind of fed into the things my mom would say about my body. To her, everything about it was ‘hard’ to keep up with. My hair was hard, my dark ashy legs were hard. They were all things I got from my father and she constantly reminded me of how much she hated that. She and my abuela did a lot of telling me not to be out in the sun for too long as well. Of course, that stuff sticks with me. I still struggle with relaxing my hair while a lot of my black friends are doing big chops and letting their natural hair grow out and I dread it when I get a sunburn in the summer.” – Emmy

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Read: I Didn’t Believe My Mami When She Told Me I’d Regret Not Going To Prom — But It’s 10 Years Later And She Was Right

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