My Colombian grandma grew up in a very looks-obsessed culture, which I'm pretty sure hasn't changed too much. Just as an example, my mom recently came back from Colombia and reported that the trendy gift for quinceaneras these days is a boob job or butt augmentation! I can't fault my grandma for being so focused on appearances since its how she grew up, but I wish there was a way I could tell her to stop constantly picking on my girl cousins and me about our skin, weight, hair, etc. Especially as someone who strongly believes this mentality is horrible for women's self-esteem and empowerment, I wish I could make it stop. If I hear her say "tienes la cara muy brotada" one more time I also might explode!
You should see the look on my face. WTF would be an accurate and concise description. I'm all for doing what makes us feel good about ourselves (as long as our heads are in the right place, claro) pero esto? Oh no, Mija. We need to fix this and we need to fix it now.
I'm first generation Mexican-American on both sides of my family and I grew up with plenty of bikinis and boob jobs bouncing their happy selves across the television screen during Sabado Gigante and many other shows I grew up watching, so I'm plenty familiar with the Latin cultural obsession with perceived beauty. In fact, I deal daily with my own body image issues and refer to myself as a life-long recovering bulimic.
But new chichis for girls on their quince just boggles the mind. (And no, I do not use the word "boggle" very often, but in this case amiga? Butt augmentation is not something I plan on offering my daughter when she turns 15 -- considering we will probably just be discussing makeup and why boys are evil at that point -- which explains why my jaw is still on the floor. )
You say you understand abuelitas mindset because this is how she grew up and I commend you for being objective enough to realize that she doesn't realize her words are having a negative effect. I also want you to know I admire you for realizing that negative comments regarding weight and related topics, especially from a loved one, can indeed lead to poor self-esteem, body image issues, and even eating disorders. According to NEDA, the National Eating Disorder Association, the effects of negative body image influence children and adolescents are exposed tomay not be obvious until early adulthood.
I've written about my own beliefs regarding the media and its effect on body image issues and eating disorders in women and young girls, and I've also discussed how my self-perception was shaped by the words I heard as a child. I was "big" because I was 5'6' at 8 years old and wearing my mother's jeans). My mother had no idea what was going on inside my head, nor did mytias. But because we are raised to never talk back to our elders and always show respect, I suffered through years of needless hell that I assure you my own daughter won't be dealing with. Why? Because while I may not have had the cojones to speak up back then for myself, you can bet I do now...because of (and for) my little girl. Maybe I wouldn't have been brave enough to buck cultural expectations and stay mum about my issues for myself, but that filter goes right out the window with the proper motivation.
Do me a favor. Reread your question to yourself. You say you can't stand the criticisms and wish your abuela would stop pointing out perceived flaws in not just you, but your primas as well. That, my dear, is the reason I believe you wrote me to begin with. And that's start. You also say you wish there was a way to ask your abuela to stop focusing on appearance. And there is. You need to tell her.
I can't promise she will listen or change her tune. And I can't promise that, no matter how respectful you are when you have your talk, someone somewhere is going to get pissed off or tell you to stop overreacting. Keep talking anyway. It's that important. -- Nothing changes if we don't speak up for ourselves.
Pauline Campos is Latina Magazine's #DIMELO advice columnist. Email her your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with her on her blog, www.aspiringmama.com , facebook,instagram, and follow her on twitter: @pauline_campos.
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