If we believed in beauty contests and television, we would think that all Latinas were born from the mud of paradise; curvaceous, impeccably dressed, docile, friendly, with big hair, boobs, and asses, always sexy. And yes, Latinas can be that, but they are also much more.
These definitions of being Latino are not the only representations women are exposed to.
Our community is made of human beings with countless experiences, desires, and complex identities. From the sexy Sofia Vergara in Modern Family to the lovable but reactionary Dasha Polanco in Orange Is the New Black. The problem is that staying still in this typology of Latino woman tends to stigmatization and hypersexuality.
Hypersexuality is defined as a dysfunctional preoccupation with sexual fantasy, meaning that Latinas are only recreated in those specters, in the intimacy of the mind, or through the pursuit of those fantasies with those stereotypes of women. They don’t exist outside of that box, almost synonymous with being dead if you’re not sexy, with big breasts, and a spectacular ass.
The indiscriminate use of hypersexuality in the film or television industry in the United States has created a hegemonic narrative about Latinas, with the male gaze perpetuating this illusion. As the film critic and feminist Laura Mulvey explains, the male gaze depicts women on two levels: as an erotic object for the characters within the film and as an erotic object for the viewer.
For Hollywood, the market is in middle-class heterosexual men who are satisfied with that perception.
This idea of objectifying women with a white male gaze shows how racism and patriarchy are deeply rooted in the industry.
Several feminist theorists, such as Laura Mulvey and Bell Hooks, have observed the male gaze’s effects on white and African women in film. However, what is still left out is the impact of the white man’s look on Hispanic women in movies.
The Latino sex symbol, like the image of the criminal or the migrant, is commonly “assigned” to Latino characters in film and television. Although this image can take a male or female form, it is more widely seen in characters played by women.
Hypersexualization of a female character in the media is much more common than of a male character, independently of the ethnicity, according to a study that found 28.6% of the women in the cinema “are shown with sexually revealing clothes.” In comparison, 27.5% of the women “are shown with partial or total nudity.”
The male gaze’s impact can be seen in films played by Latinas or Hispanics in the 21st century. Frida (2002), Casa de mi Padre (2012), Woman on Top (2000), Maid in Manhattan (2002), or Spanglish (2004) are some of the most notable examples. On television, we can see Sofia Vergara’s clear object in Modern Family (2009).
Casa de mi Padre presents women more clearly as “sexual objects.” However, Maid in Manhattan or Spanglish have female characters that are shown as women who, although they attract men’s attention —possibly unintentionally— recognize themselves as possessing other redeeming qualities.
The film that might do the most damage to the establishment of the stereotype and the image of the real story of the character narrated is Frida.
Salma Hayek embodies the iconic artist in the biopic, where her body is used to represent a sexualized young figure and the image of an idealized and exotic Latina. In the film, Frida’s body goes through a series of changes that show the Latina body going from idealized to disabled.
The painter’s true story involves a streetcar accident in Mexico City. The film recreates the scene using Hayek’s body by showing it contorted and artistic by splashing gold flakes on it. According to the researcher Hannah Lipman, the scene reveals the entire accident and turns a tragic moment into a sexualized one.
Hayek’s body’s hypersexualization through the racialized articulation of Latino identity in the Hollywood narrative is not surprising. The female body is widely used as a product and, in Frida’s case, exoticism.
Hypersexuality: how does it affect us psychologically?
The psychological impact of hypersexuality is to see the other as opposition, with energy that imposes but at the same time, generates a bias: Latinas are either sexual or submissive.
For example, in Frida’s case, the other women show opposition to the vibrant painter and her particular sexual lifestyle. Another important case is that of the late Lupe Ontiveros, who was only given submissive maid roles and was always left in the background.
The body of Latinas is not only presented as another to white women but also white men. This also affects how white women view Latinas as rivals driven by the same resentment of stereotyping, while white men see Latinas not only for their fantasies in the movies but on the streets.
The male gaze’s impact doesn’t just stop at movie theaters or television; it becomes intertwined with the everyday lifestyle of American society.
Just as men look at Hayek’s body, Latino women who wander the streets are observed as sexual objects. This has a devastating effect on the way women are treated.
Jeremy Hawthorn, the author of Theories of the gaze, explains it as “the idea of the camera as a metaphor for rape.” The author states that there is an association in a man’s voyeuristic gaze on a woman: “it is not just an initial metaphor for physical violence such as rape; in the real world, it is often directly related and may even be a prelude to such violence.”
However, think of Sofia Vergara’s statements in the face of being sexually objectified. For her, it is not a problem. Ratifying Latino stereotypes may not accelerate change or help change bias, but it is a view that many Latinas who assume they are voluptuous and sexual may adopt.
Sadly, and as Lupe Ontiveros once said to NPR, it might be the only way to have a shot at Hollywood.
The risk of hypersexuality, viewed as an antagonist of the sexual empowerment you could find in reggaeton singers, is the psychological consequences in childhood.
Experts assure that false maturity and living surrounded by sexual messages affect self-esteem. For certain anthropologists, the projected image is visible in the youngest, where relationships are structured and become a success measure.
For scholars from the Open University of Catalonia, talking about a hypersexualized society is not meant to be prudish. It is understanding that sexuality is freedom, as long as it comes with the right education.
Hypersexuality or sexualization can not only destroy self-esteem, but it also damages beauty standards by not seeing human differences and considering Latinas should all wear a sexy body as a uniform.