What I Learned About Beauty From My Hispanic Family

Updated 07/13/17
The Flipside
Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis

Here at Byrdie, we know that beauty is way more than braid tutorials and mascara reviews. Beauty is identity. Our hair, our facial features, our bodies: They can reflect culture, sexuality, race, even politics. We needed somewhere on Byrdie to talk about this stuff, so... welcome to The Flipside (as in the flipside of beauty, of course!), a dedicated place for unique, personal, and unexpected stories that challenge our society's definition of "beauty." Here, you'll find cool interviews with LGBTQ+ celebrities, vulnerable essays about beauty standards and cultural identity, feminist meditations on everything from thigh brows to eyebrows, and more. The ideas our writers are exploring here are new, so we'd love for you, our savvy readers, to participate in the conversation, too. Be sure to comment your thoughts (and share them on social media with the hashtag #TheFlipsideOfBeauty). Because here, on The Flipside, everybody gets to be heard.

One of the beautiful parts about growing up is learning from the women in your family—cousins, aunts, grandma—who have come before you and serve as powerful role models. Especially in a Latina family where the female component is strong, we come of age with extended mother figures in the form of our many aunts (and great-aunts), who teach us lifelong lessons even without realizing it just by being themselves. I love my inspiring tias who taught me things about beauty that are integral to the person I am, and helped form and shape my entire outlook on personal grooming and both outer and inner beauty from a very young age.

Ahead, the lessons I learned. 

My earliest memories of visiting my Cuban aunts in Miami involve sneaking into their bathrooms to marvel at their products. Regardless of size, each of my aunts took tremendous pride in curating their bathrooms, styling them to serve as mini retreats from the world. It was almost as if each space was transformed into a mini museum and spa of sorts. Collected soaps from their travels were organized and displayed on view, little towels were rolled up in baskets and drawers, perfumes stood pretty on surfaces, and under-the-sink cabinets were treasure troves of body products.

The bathrooms were less dedicated to makeup than spa-like skin and body indulgence: creams, lotions, and oils galore, with makeup reserved for the even more intimate space of the bedroom (see next slide). I learned early on that bathrooms aren’t about utility; they’re about elegance and luxury, which you can create no matter how small the space is. Their bathrooms were always like a portal, to escape and elevate. 

Perhaps my absolute favorite lesson that infiltrated my very soul (or perhaps was written in my DNA to begin with) is the ritual of getting ready as a long, leisurely, feminine act. Hispanic people are notorious for “being late,” which can basically be attributed to the meticulous and intentional beauty routines of Hispanic women. We don’t rush getting ready, because getting ready is so much more than “something to do.” It’s fun, for ourselves personally, whether we’re doing it alone or with someone else like a friend, roommate, or family member.

When you get out of the shower, you take your time. You hang out in your towel, with another towel wrapped around your hair, for hours. You slather on lotion, listen to music, and sip a cocktail or café con leche. You sit in front of the mirror in your bedroom as a makeshift dressing area and apply your foundation, then get up to try on some outfits. You paint your nails (these days, you also probably take selfie or two, though that wasn’t around when I was growing up), and maybe even watch a TV show in your towel before getting back to eye makeup, and so on.

It’s how I have gotten ready since middle school, and honestly my favorite part about getting ready for anything—truly taking my time with makeup, hanging out, playing music, and doing things at a non-rushed pace. In college, at different times I had a Cuban and a Puerto Rican roommate, and with each of them we shared the same mindset about getting ready sometimes being even more fun than the event itself. 

Certain cultures have associated styles when it comes to beauty—the French, for example, being more known for minimal, less-is-more makeup. Within Hispanic culture, in general, our look, like our personalities, is all about the bigger the better. Big, loud, bold beauty—big hair, full lashes, everything to the max. I learned to use beauty, and the individual assets you’re born with, to make a statement. The way I style my hair and the super thick cat-eye I like to wear daily is my expression of that lesson: Why downplay and minimize features?

Who wants to be a wallflower? Enhance, play up, and maximize your lips, eyes, and hair. As Jennifer Lopez famously put it in her song of the same name, “Let’s get loud.”

Culturally, Latins tend to be very extroverted, social, friendly-leaning people. My family always treated people like instant friends (which they in turn became), and, well, family members. In that spirit, going to the salon—a place where you regularly go and spend a great deal of time at over the years—always felt like a family reunion of sorts, and an extension of home. You bring home-cooked meals and presents; you hug the heck out of your hairdresser (who is treated and respected like a patriarch/matriarch) and everyone who works there, you mutually know each other’s life stories, and you talk about everything from relationship drama to job developments.

Without even really realizing it, this became a fabric of my life. I have always formed an incredibly close bond with the people I see to cut, color, and blow-dry my hair, as they truly feel like family members. Going to see them comes with the same genuine joy and excitement as catching up with a close cousin on Christmas morning. The people who make us feel pretty play important roles in our lives! 

Another thing I learned from my aunts very early on was the importance of a signature scent. I never remember my aunts not smelling delicious, and that fact contributed to their overall aura as chic women with strong identities. It gave them a power and presence when they walked into a room. They also were students of scent. They used to take me to literal perfume emporiums, with more options than you could imagine, and would introduce me to scents that also supported our culture. My favorite perfume my aunt used to wear was a unique one by Romero Britto, the famous Hispanic pop artist so prominent and beloved in Miami, where he has lived and worked for 25 years.

Because of my aunts, I always have to be wearing perfume to feel fully pulled-together and feminine, and essentially feel naked when I am not wearing a scent. 

The one thing I remember my aunts explicitly teaching me, versus implicitly through their actions, was that your hands and nails are a message to the world. They would get on me so much about my nasty habit of picking, pulling, and biting my nails. They took, and still take, so much pride in the grooming of their hands and nails, and above all else—including makeup and hair—the one thing they would never be caught without is a manicure (salon or DIY). Though not ideal, they could stomach presenting themselves to the world with no makeup and undone hair, but they expressly taught me that chipped, scuffed, unsightly nails are a sign of disrespect and that if you do one thing before meeting with someone, it’s your nails.

Though I can’t say I have broken my habit, or always heed their advice, I can say I feel guilty about it when my nails aren’t top-form, as their words have stuck in my head since they first spoke them many years ago.

Click here to read the 30 beauty products that will change your life as a Latina, and Hispanic or not, tell me what beauty lessons YOU’VE learned from your family, below! If you are Latina, did these lessons resonate with you? 

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