Monday, July 22, 2024

I’m Healing My Relationship With Aging as a Latina Mom

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In February 2020, I had the privilege of witnessing two formidable Latinas — Jennifer Lopez and Shakira — take the stage at the Super Bowl halftime show. Two Latina mothers headlining such a high-profile event? It was truly remarkable. Sharing this moment with my nearly 6-year-old daughter, both of us dancing to the music, filled me with immense pride in my Latina heritage. However, the next day, the headlines focused not just on the electrifying performance but also on the ages of the performers: “Jennifer Lopez at 50 and Shakira at 43.” I couldn’t help but question the significance of including their ages. I couldn’t recall a time when male performers had their ages highlighted in headlines in the same way. Why was it necessary?

Then it hit me — we still need reminders that women can continue to shine in their 40s and 50s. The headlines emphasized phrases like “J LO still got it!” and “Their ages don’t lie!” What began as a moment of celebration and pride turned into a sense of dismay and, frankly, embarrassment. It made me realize how ingrained these age-related narratives are and how often I’ve echoed similar sentiments over the years.

I was on the brink of turning 38 that year, just two years away from 40. Why did reaching that milestone feel like an expiration date? How had I allowed society to convince me of such a notion? In our mid-30s, we’re bombarded with messages about our biological clocks ticking away, about time slipping through our fingers. We’re told our window to have kids is rapidly closing. We’re advised to start using retinol in our 20s to ward off wrinkles and saggy skin. But what struck me the most about my reaction to the Super Bowl coverage was the realization that Jennifer Lopez wasn’t supposed to age. She was our quintessential Latina icon — youthful, with a flawless body, the epitome of what society deemed a Latina should look like. It was an unattainable, unrealistic ideal we’d been chasing for years, a delusion we’d allowed ourselves to believe in.

“¡Ay, se ta poniendo tan vieja!” — oh, she’s getting so old — was a phrase I frequently heard growing up. Whether it was directed at a telenovela star or a relative, women in my family seemed to be in a perpetual state of distress about aging. They would point out wrinkles or gray hairs and mourn the passage of youth. And it’s no wonder — everywhere you looked, Latinas were made up, lifted, voluptuous, and stunning, with no wrinkle or gray hair in sight.

My mom had a full-fledged beauty routine before Korean Beauty trends made it popular. Even my grandmother had a vanity filled with jars to keep her skin youthful and supple. At 13, I was introduced to Clinique at Macy’s and began my multi-step beauty regimen. Wash, treat, moisturize, and don’t forget the brightening cream to fade away those post-acne manchas or age spots. I enjoyed having my own beauty routine while watching my mom engage in her own. My mom also introduced me to diets and exercise tapes in my early teens. Little did I realize then that I was being molded and conditioned just like my mom and grandmother before me.

This fixation on youthfulness is deeply ingrained in our patriarchal history. Traditionally, Latinas have been confined to cultural expectations and stereotypical gender roles centered around household duties and motherhood. Our culture dictates that women must remain young and beautiful to keep their husbands happy. Staying youthful, slender, and compliant is the trifecta for a successful marriage. At least, that’s the narrative we’ve been sold — by family, the media, and Latina icons.

During my teenage years, my cousins often compared me to Selena Quintanilla because of my hourglass figure. At the time, I didn’t quite grasp the comparison or appreciate it because I always felt larger than I actually was. Now, this body type has become a trend — a coveted combination of large breasts, a tiny waist, and a prominent bottom. It’s a body type that women are putting themselves at risk to obtain. The unrealistic body image and the notion pushed on us that Latinas age slowly — whether true or not — leaves us in a state of limbo, unsure of how we are actually supposed to look. That’s what I was conditioned to believe as I started my Clinique skincare regimen. I was trained and taught to conform to the Latina beauty standard: thin, beautiful, and agreeable — those were the qualities I felt pressured to embody.

Now, at 41, I find myself a little above average in size, with wrinkles and white hairs. I am not very agreeable either. Despite the efforts to conform to the “yes woman” role from my mother, I’ve become more of a “why woman.” When I had my second child at 31 — a girl — I experienced a mix of joy and apprehension. Would she face the same insecurities as me? Would the world be kind to her? It quickly became apparent that she was a fighter, especially with an older brother with whom she held her own. She doesn’t accept “no” for an answer, and her favorite word is “why.” She’s definitely my daughter.

During the 2020 stay-at-home orders, my daughter began to gain weight — much like many of us did. She didn’t notice until a classmate called her fat. When she came home upset, I asked her why it bothered her. Her response was, “Well, I don’t care that I am; this is me — but why would she call me that as if it’s a bad thing?” It made me realize that my inclusive, body-positive bubble had burst.

My daughter was now navigating a world where fat-shaming was normalized, surrounded by peers whose parents perpetuated harmful beauty standards and who were influenced by social media. It was then that memories of my own struggles with diets and being labeled the “big one” in my family came flooding back. I cried myself to sleep that night. My fear had become real, and I was brought back to dressing rooms with my mom telling me to lose weight because she wasn’t going to buy me a larger size or being scolded for having a second helping of rice with my sancocho. Just because I chose to be mindful of how I spoke in front of my kids didn’t mean the legacy of this pain wasn’t there. I would still stand in front of the mirror sometimes and pick myself apart when no one was looking; I still had bad body image days.

But every time I look at my daughter, I don’t want that for her. So, I tell her that all bodies are beautiful. I put a sticker on our mirror that reads: “Objects in the mirror are much prettier than they appear.” I’ve decided not to dye my hair and embrace my grays. I don’t know if it’ll be forever, but it’s definitely for the foreseeable future. I’m also forgoing Botox and fillers, not because there’s anything inherently wrong with them, but because I want to show my daughter that it’s okay to age. It’s a privilege. Like the silver lines on my body show the stories of my body changing its shape to fit the season of that time, my wrinkles tell a story, too.

Jennifer Lopez is aging beautifully. Her wrinkles are beautiful. The media may try to undermine her or exploit her, just as they do with Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz, but they are aging, and it’s beautiful. To say they would become irrelevant because of their aging is cruel and patriarchal. Who determines when a woman becomes less relevant?

The sooner we realize that these societal expectations are designed to disempower us, the sooner we can reclaim our power. I can’t say for certain that my daughter won’t face the same struggles, picking herself apart in the mirror or desiring surgery or hair dye to cover her grays. But I know one thing for sure — there will be a voice, my voice, telling her she’s perfect. She will have a mother who allowed herself to age gracefully and embrace everything society told her was wrong.

Liza Almodovar is a contributing writer for PS. Balancing her passion for writing and social media with a career in the medical profession, she is committed to helping others and sharing her experiences to inspire and connect with readers. .

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