Antes muerta que sencilla. This Spanish phrase is a mantra that Latinas have uttered in one iteration or another for generations. Yes, you read correctly. We would rather be dead than basic. It might be a bit shocking for some, but this lament prayer rings in our heads all the time, even during this pandemic dystopian reality. Looking basic — no lipstick, rouge, eyeshadow or mascara, hair asunder, and clothes to match — is a capital offense in our culture.
COVID-19 has given this phrase, immortalized by Spanish singer Maria Isabel at a Junior Eurovision song contest, a new twist for a new normal.
Video conferencing is at the heart of this nascent normality and for the most part, it’s great. It’s a lifeline, a way to maintain a semblance of social sanity. Our calendars now sport a scheduled brunch with family, a multi-chat for work, or a Zoom happy hour with friends.
The first couple of days weren’t too bad. We felt we were cheating death with messy hair, furry legs, and a bare face. “Virtual” experts (seemingly appearing from thin air) urged everyone to continue their routine, despite the world falling apart around them. Many people, including myself, tried to make the best of it.
I continued slapping on a full face of Kabuki make-up, wearing fancy tops reserved for important events, and even underwear was still a thing. All of this for a video call, or rather, for the sake of showing my best side even as uncertainty perfumed my day to day.
Everything was fine — until it wasn’t.
Sound familiar? I’m willing to bet on Donald Trump’s superlative intelligence — or rather, lack thereof — that it does. This is because video chats are doing a fantastic job surfacing the destructive side of beauty in the Latinx community.
Let’s take a moment to look at how we introduce ourselves at one of these video chats. Here are some introductions I’ve heard, and some I have used myself.
“Sorry about my hair.”
“Excuse my tired look.”
“I don’t look my best today.”
“I really do NOT look like this in real life. Honest.”
“Is it okay if I leave my camera off today. Please?”
Video conferences are so much more than just unpredictable and maddening. It invites people to witness your space, as you shove your face onto their screen. Suddenly, your vulnerability is being scrutinized by some stranger on the other side of your mess and fragile layers of your appearance are peeled off.
Latinas are raised to uphold a set of unrealistic expectations of what is beautiful and our constant apologies for not hitting the mark reveal the core of our insecurities. As you’ve surely grasped from the aforementioned phrase, looking less than perfect is a crime not tolerated by our mothers, aunts, and grandmothers. How many of us still freeze remembering under-the-breath comments as we ran for the door? Let’s take a walk down Nostalgia Boulevard, shall we, but be careful with the pointed barbs — they slash like cat claws.
“¿Vas a salir así?” (Are you really going out like THAT?)
“¿Pero y usted que tiene puesto? No me vaya a salir así.” (But, what do you have on? You are not going out like that!)
“¡Pareces una gamina!” (You look like an urchin!)
“A la verdad que sin lápiz de labio pareces una loca.” (Without lipstick you really look like a crazy woman.)
“Vestida asi, jamas te vas a casar.” (Dressed like that, you will never get married.)
Suffering a Zoom meeting looking like what the cat dragged in, we feel like a Judas to our Latinx roots. Our vanity is one of our greatest badges of honor and our subconscious submission to the standards determined by a generalized machismo has only perpetuated society’s fetishism with Latinas.
We are used to living in a world where Hispanic women are objectified and we, myself included, have legitimized many of these stereotypes. The idealization of a Latina is harmful, though. It’s unreasonable and inhumane. The good news is that we have the power to change this narrative.
So from now on let’s log into our video meetings and take control of them. Some days we control it by logging in with uncombed hair and a make-up free face, going totally braless and commando. Other days, we can show up wearing a carefully contoured visage and an outfit to die for. All that matters is that these decisions are made on our terms and not for anyone else.
Let’s stop apologizing for not looking our best — whatever that may mean. Embrace your pandemic look. Name it. It’s the least we can do. Enjoy the fact that you get to see another day. Besides, we can always blame the internet connection on the days we don’t want to bother with anyone. Use this bit of information at your discretion. No judgment here.
These feelings are not only reserved for Latinas; they’ve been expressed by individuals of all cultural backgrounds, and genders as well. We must work together to overcome the anxiety that this new normal is creating. Remember, your beauty shines brighter than what a camera displays.