One of the layers of stereotypes imposed on Latinos has always been that of beauty. From the Venezuelan hegemony in beauty pageants to the stunning Brazilian models on Victoria’s Secret runways, Latino “beauty” has always been a given.
However, this stereotype is sedimented on standards far from the true and authentic Latin American beauty.
We are no longer talking about Christy Turlington Burns, Helena Christensen, Caroline Trentini, Cintia Dicker, or Raquel Zimmermann — all of Latin descent — but about women who break the mold imposed by the white heteropatriarchal gaze and throw off the chains of white beauty, one runway at a time.
Women like Joan Smalls (Puerto Rico), Lineisy Montero, Dilone, Manuela Sanchez (Dominican Republic), Mica Argañaraz (Argentina), Devyn Garcia (Cuban-American), Paloma Elsesser (Chilean-American), and Denise Bidot (Puerto Rican)have not only brought color to a runway with little Latina representation but have also shown that beauty comes in all sizes.
As Bidot told ELLE columnist Jessica Chia, today’s diversity, while laudable, is not synonymous with progress. The plus-size fashion model recounts how stereotypes continue to be perpetuated even when there is greater representation of women in the big modeling agencies.
“There was a client who always found a way to put me in the red dress or the animal print,” Bidot says. “I had to be like, ‘You know, there’s a fundamental problem with why you think that out of the four girls here, I’m the one who always looks best in [these outfits]. That’s pre-programming [stemming] from your misconception of what the Latin woman wants to wear.'”
Changing the structure from within
As with any other art form, structural change in the modeling world has come about through a profound change of vision, including directors, modeling agencies, scouting, etc.
“As soon as a successful model comes from a certain country, others will follow. If you don’t have anyone to use as a reference, it’s really hard for that to develop,” explains Luis Domingo, an associate director of scouting at IMG Models’ London office, who recruits from both Latin American and Spanish-speaking countries to ELLE.
IMG, for example, is leaning heavily into We Love Your Genes, an online scouting tool that aims to break down barriers to entry by allowing would-be models to gain exposure to the elite agency via social media. “Through the platform, we can ensure that we have models from every corner of the globe,” Domingo says. “That’s really helped our scouting in Latin America.”
Likewise, inclusivity has started to become evident in design classrooms.
A McKinsey & Company field study found that young people of color with a talent for fashion design have a harder time breaking into the industry.
According to the report released by the firm, in collaboration with PVH Corp. and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), underrepresentation of diverse talent begins in fashion schools and internships and continues at all levels all the way up to the highest spheres of influence and leadership.
“It gets really frustrating because it’s only when the White elder gods of fashion say, ‘We’re going to listen to your story, and that’s important now,’ is it important,” said one Black designer surveyed.
It is not surprising, then, that pioneers like Adolfo, Oscar de la Renta, and Carolina Herrera managed to make their way in an industry copying the Eurocentric view of beauty.
As ELLE explains in another article, where they state that up-and-coming designers bring “fresh perspectives, tells personal stories, and champions social issues;” therefore, it is precisely the new generation of Latino designers who are breaking the structures from the ground up.
The following are some of the designers defining one of the new standards of fashion.
Gabriela Hearst (Uruguay)
Lazaro Hernandez (Cuban-American)
Narciso Rodriguez (Cuban-American)
Maria Cornejo (Chile)
The designs of these talented creators have been worn by the likes of Michelle Obama and have been inspired by the multicolored and diverse beauty that truly exists in Latin America. Their legacy will undoubtedly be a revaluation of standards, and a reversal of vision, now purer, more genuine, and more real.