Welcome to the week-long celebration of feminism! This series, which began its life as “About The Girls,” has expanded this year to highlight broader issues of feminism and social justice. Guest writers are sharing their insights into their own life and writing experiences with feminism.
Today, we welcome Lilliam Rivera, author of the recently-released YA title The Education of Margot Sanchez, to talk about clothing, the Latina body, and more.
Lilliam Rivera is an award-winning writer and author of The Education of Margot Sanchez, a contemporary young adult novel available now from Simon & Schuster. Recently named a “2017 Face to Watch” by the Los Angeles Times, Lilliam’s work has appeared in Tin House, Los Angeles Times, and Latina, to name a few. She lives in Los Angeles with her family where she’s completing her second novel.
“They say I’m a beast.
And feast on it. When all along
I thought that’s what a woman was.”
“Loose Woman” by Sandra Cisneros
Mami tells me to cover up. The oversized t-shirt I wear reaches just above my knees. It’s early Saturday morning and I’m ready to sink in to some Saturday morning cartoons but apparently that’s not going to be the case.
“Put something decent on,” she says.
I glance over to the kitchen. My younger brother sits at our kitchen table, loudly slurping the milk from his bowl of cereal. He wears a t-shirt and boxers, his regular pajamas. I look down at what I’m wearing. We’re dressed fairly similar. I can’t find a difference.
“But I’m not going anywhere right now,” I say. “I’m having breakfast.”
Mami shakes her head.
I reluctantly go to my bedroom and put on jogging pants and a bra. The message my mother was sending was clear: My body is meant to be hidden. Exposing my legs and not wearing bra, even to my own family, was considered wrong. Even in an innocent shirt, I was projecting some sort of sexual overture. I’m twelve years old.
Mami is a very soft-spoken person. She rarely yells. When she tells me to do something I usually do as she says. At that time, I didn’t have the words to form a valid argument on why I should be allowed to relax in my home like my brother. Instead I was left with this deep feeling that somehow my body was dangerous and dirty.
According to a study conducted by Brandon L. Velez, Irma D. Campos, and Bonnie Moradi in regards to the relations of sexual objectification and racist discrimination with Latina’s body image, “greater internalization may lead women to self objectify by focusing on how their body appears to others rather than on how it feels or what it can do.” The study continues to state, “Self-objectification manifests behaviorally as body surveillance, or habitual monitoring of one’s appearance.”
Throughout my teenage years, I wore oversized clothing that never showed off my curves. There are very few pictures of me as a teenager. Constant voices in my head told me that I was ugly. My parents never said those words to me. Still, the subtle signs from my mother helped contribute to this low self-esteem. I struggled to understand why my body needed to be policed, why it was so important to wear a certain outfit, to cover up my growing chest, for my body to be controlled by my parents.
It would take many years, and therapy, to finally overcome this distorted view of myself. I know I look good and I love to dress up accentuating what I like about myself. But even as I sit to type those words there is a slight strangeness that creeps in, reminding me that I need to cover up. I push that voice down.
My daughter is twelve years old. I try to teach her to have a better understanding of her body and to cultivate a more positive body image. It’s not an easy task. She still suffers from the many ailments that I did. We live in Los Angeles where celebrities are worshipped. She notices how certain classmates are “popular” and why she isn’t. Television and movies continue to perpetuate the same aspirational messages that thin and white is the only beauty allowed. But unlike my upbringing, I try not to shy away from the uncomfortable conversations that my mother would never allow us to have. I don’t blame my mother for this. This low self-esteem spiral was passed down from her mother and so on. I just hope to stop the cycle.
“Relations of Sexual Objectification and Racist Discrimination with Latina Women’s Body Image and Mental Health”