Recasting the Latin American Standard of Beauty

We’ve come a long way when it comes to how beauty is viewed within Latin American culture, as we haven’t always been kind. Terms like “Black girl magic” and “Melanin poppin” have become popular in social media to express the beauty and diversity in skin tone among women of African descent.  However, despite this movement, Latin America seems to be lagging behind in representing the color spectrum that is indigenous throughout all Latin territories.  

There is global consensus that some of the most beautiful women come from Latin America, however the standards by which beauty is measured within the Latin community often seems to speak in opposition. The most commercialized face in Latin America matches that of European origin. The Miss Universe pageant is one that, in previous years, was dominated by Latin America with Venezuela winning the most titles. However, post Trump election, Latin America has lost its luster for support of this contest. Primarily due to political attack against people of Latin background by our current POTUS.

Although the Latin American representation of beauty has typically leaned toward the Eurocentric, which is rooted in a long history of British colonization, change has ensued with the rise of the Afro Latina super models and entertainers. They are proud of their Latin lineage, which they represent fearlessly and set new standards of what it means by asserting their convictions and forcing the world to take notice despite rhetoric from naysayers. It is clear that the pageant world could use a dose of introspection in considering the face of Latin beauty, as these tenacious women are involved in the crème de la crème of the beauty and fashion elite, collaborating with heavy hitters such as Victoria’s Secret, Essence Magazine and Vogue Italia, to name a few. So, why hasn’t the pageant world followed suit in changing the imagery of beauty? Some of the requirements of a beauty queen according to the Miss Universe Organization (MUO) are to “cultivate their personal career goals, advocate for humanitarian issues and be a voice to affect positive change in the world.” Women such as Joan Smalls, Sessilee Lopez, and Amara La Negra certainly have these characteristics in their own right and lead the charge in showing us that the face of beautiful black women does sell. Let’s examine the profile of these Latin standouts to see what the pageant world could learn from women who’ve had a successful impact within the domain of the beauty industry.


Hailing from Puerto Rico, Joan Smalls has been one of the most prolific fashion models in the last few years. She’s graced the cover of U.S., British and French Vogue, with her most notable score being the Estee Lauder million-dollar contract in 2011. As the first Latin American face of Estee’s global campaign, she represented the Afro-Latina community with grace, as she does in all her assignments. She was a reject in many Latin beauty pageants yet became a world renowned representation of beauty. Her breakthrough moment that moved her from catalog model to catwalk queen was the request from Fashion House Givenchy in 2010 to walk the couture show. She now has the platform to change the perception of beauty, especially in Latin America. Her complexion and features were her downfall in the pageant circuit, yet those very attributes catapulted her to stardom. Many other A-list design houses such as Chanel, Jason Wu, Louis Vuitton, and Victoria’s Secret clamored to have her walk in their show, with demand for her increasing faster than she could blink. Joan also has the intelligence to match that striking face, graduating “magna cum laude from the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico, with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Beauty and brains makes her an unstoppable force, so it’s no wonder she has made the Forbes list for “Highest paid model” many years running. The pageant world missed the opportunity to redirect the standards of beauty with a woman that embodied poise, beauty and intellect; the chance to show young girls of color a role model for achieving your dreams, regardless of your African features.


Born in Philadelphia, her creamy chocolate skin epitomizes her Portuguese and Dominican lineage, which made her a sought-after muse to many designer. Like Joan Smalls, Sessilee Lopez appeared on several Vogue covers after signing with Major Model Management in 2007.  Her standout features inspired Vogue Italia to include her as one of four covers in their  2008 All Black Italian Vogue Issue”.  This was a pivotal moment in fashion history and highlighted the recurring problem to which women of color are subjected: lack of representation. This was the first time the magazine sold out within a few days, and a reprint had to be initialized. Her beauty is undeniable to industry stakeholders whose buy in solidified her spot as a Supermodel. Brazil and Dominican Republic could use a trail blazer like this in the pageant world. It would certainly bring the right attention to the beauty of Latin heritage.


Amara grew up in Hialeah, Florida with her mother who instilled strong values and a sense of pride by reinforcing that she is beautiful. There’s no doubt that she is talented, but an Afro-Latina of striking beauty had not be celebrated in the Latin community until she burst on the scene. She set her sights on the music world because of her inspiration Celia Cruz, a Cuban Afro-Latina who dominated Latin music. After Celia died in 2003, Amara continued to pursue her dreams of becoming a singer. She became famous for her stint on Love and Hip Hop Miami a VH1 reality show where she asserted herself as Afro-Latina musician with an afro-centric look. A local music producer questioned her curly afro image and asked her to change her hair to be more “elegant.” This insinuation — that she was not acceptable within the Latin culture — was insulting, which only drove her to emphatically defend her Dominican roots. She refused to suppress her African side that contributes to her illuminating presence and proceeded to pursue her music career embracing all facets of her heritage, a point of view she shares in an Essence Magazine exclusive. It was important to her to stay strong in her stance of representing dark-skinned Latina queens with undeniable beauty and talent. This kind of steadfast conviction, despite criticism is a characteristic the pageant world should embrace, especially when it’s presented in this beautiful package.  

The pageant world is meant to elevate women as role models to their younger impressionable counterparts and give them a platform to support causes in which they believe. Causes that advocate for equality in education, health care, and hunger eradication impact mankind on a global scale, despite color or creed. This means we all are affected when improvements are achieved.

Showing diversity in these pageants will inspire little girls who see themselves in these women to participate in extraordinary ways. Not being represented in an arena where beauty, intelligence and ambition are celebrated is a disservice to the Afro-Latina community. Women of remarkable strength and foresight need to be cultivated and the pageant world appears oblivious to the influence they inherently possess. Now, more than ever, is their chance to show the world that beauty comes in many shades. Recasting beauty standards through their platform by becoming the Change-makers would be a catalyst for reforming the perception of beauty across the globe. Joan, Sessilee and Amara are three Latinas that would not submit to the status quo. They represent a new face of beauty that is undeniable and, frankly, impossible to ignore.

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