The recent case of 17-year-old Dominique Ramirez brought to light of how Latinas experience sexist sizeism in ways that are similar to yet differ from white women. Dominique won the Miss San Antonio Beauty Pageant that could lead her to the crowns of Miss Texas and even Miss America. She was later stripped of her title, because she supposedly gained weight and showed up late to Pageant-ordered appearances. After a court battle, Dominique was awarded her crown back yesterday! However, this was no typical story of a pristine beauty queen going bad, such as Carrie Prejean or Tara Connor.
Ms. Linda Woods—who is in charge of the San Antonia Pageant—admitted on radio that she told Dominque to lose weight and “get off the tacos.” What is even more ironic about the comment is not only that Dominique is a size 2, but this was said to a Latina by a white woman in a role that controls the Pageant winner’s fate. I seriously doubt that the eloquent Ms. Woods would have told a white girl to lay off the tacos. I also pondered if Ms. Woods had the stereotype of the “gordita” Latina despite the reality that Dominique is a size 2
The case illuminates that Latinas are not immune from pressures to be thin. It is a myth—definitely a cultural meme—that “thickness” and obesity are more accepted amongst Latinas than with whites. In fact, Argentina has one of the highest rates of anorexia in the world. According to the Minority Women: The Untold Story by Marian Fitzgibbon and Melinda Stolley, the number of U.S. Latinas with anorexia is now similar to the rate of white women. Research with Latinas in the US indicates that they too are not happy with their bodies. Latinas report similar—or even higher degree of body dissatisfaction— than that of white women.
Latinas are asked to meet certain weight ideals that are definitely expected of white women too. However, Latinas are expected to have their “big butts” and hourglass figures, even if some of us are naturally more apple- or pear-shaped.
Latinas even impose these impossible standards upon themselves and will even risk plastic surgery complications to achieve so. A recent NY Times article explained how “butt lifts” were the most demanded procedure by women in the Dominican-dominant Washington Heights Area of Manhattan. However, white women’s most demanded procedure is breast implants.
Attention is particularly paid to Latina stars’ “parts” instead of their whole body and face. For example, there was a media obsession over Jennifer Lopez’s butt, yet we did not see the same level of media obsession over Angelina Jolie’s butt. Sofia Verga’s, Shakira’s, and Salma Hayek’s hourglass shapes are heeded far more attention than their minds. For example, Shakira has a high IQ, but media consumers would never know it since attention is mostly given to her shape. Let’s compare her to Natalie Portman who is seen as having both celebrity beauty and Harvard brains.
However, when certain young Latina stars do not fit the Latina body ideal, they are desexualized. For example, we did not see media obsession over any part of America Ferrera who ranges between a size 6-8. She is rarely considered a sex symbol by the mainstream media, even though many males find her to be incredibly sexy.
What the Dominque Ramirez case illuminates is that Latinas experience sizeism and sexism like white women, but their bodies are reduced to their parts. Latinas experience the pressure to be thin and to be thin in a PARTICULAR way (that is, with a big butt) in order to continue to be perceived as sexually desirable. They will develop anorexia or even undergo the knife to fulfill these body ideals. As far as Latinas have come in education and the workplace despite racism and sexism, Latinas are still reduced to their “parts” and a number on the scale and are not seen as full people with both minds and sexualities. The sad part is that Latinas have internalized such sexist and racist body ideals for themselves.