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Prominent Latinas Discuss Body Image, Perceptions and Acceptance

Secaucus, NJ – Even succcesful Latinas like Orange is the New Black actress Dascha Polanco or 'The Real's host and singer-songwriter Adri
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Secaucus, NJ – Even succcesful Latinas like Orange is the New Black actress Dascha Polanco or 'The Real's host and singer-songwriter Adrienne Bailon say they feel the scrutiny about their bodies on a regular basis.

“What does my body have to do with me being able to portray a role? I don’t think I’m fat. I think I’m curvy, mujerona," said Polanco at a recent discussion on the issue. "But Hollywood looks at you like that girl needs to lose weight. There’s still a challenge.”

Polanco and Bailon were part of a panel discussion at the first Latina Beauty, Hair, & Wellness Expo in Secaucus, New Jersey, sponsored by Latina Media Ventures. The panel moderated by Shirley Velasquez, the director of content at Latina Media Ventures, and it also featured Massiel Arias, a certified personal trainer; Denise Bidot, a plus-size model and Lenny Santiago, VP of A&R at Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella, along with Bailon and Polanco.

Increasing diversity and perceptions of beauty have fueled the need for a conversation on the scrutiny Latinas face across all industries regarding their bodies and appearance, said those in attendance.

The entertainment and modeling industries have only recently begun conforming to a more modern and realistic perspective of beauty. According to a feature in PLUS Model Magazine, most runway models still meet the Body Mass Index physical criteria for Anorexia. However, slim and fully toned models are now walking down runways alongside plus-size models, as natural beauty slowly rises as the new standard in media. Denise Bidot, a Latina plus-size model, reflected on this recent shift in society and what it means for other Latinas.

“It’s crazy not to be scrutinized for your physical appearance in my industry. But I think it's just about reprogramming the way people think. For so long what was out there in the media was just one-sided," said Bidot, who said that with the advent of social media, more people get to say how they feel about certain images.

“Now in media, there’s so many more curvier women being incorporated into line ups of fashion, that I think we’re seeing a real big change in the way that women are going to see themselves and feel about themselves. It’s really special,” said Bidot.

Actress Dascha Polanco said she is familiar with Hollywood’s unrealistic perspective of beauty and the lack of Latinas at the helm of the industry. But she also said at the panel other Latinas have to be supportive of each other, not only in terms of appearance but in terms of career choices.

“I’ve come across Latinas in the industry that I’m filming next to and instead of embracing the diverse Latinas in "Orange is the New Black", they feel uncomfortable that there’s Latinas portraying a role in jail and that’s what they’re focused on. I think they should be focused on that there’s five different Latinas in an Emmy nominated winning SAG award show and that when we’re approaching you as support that you embrace us as opposed to judging our choices and careers,” said Polanco to applause.

“The main goal should be to not only open doors for other Latinas but to be able to embrace Latinas that are coming or looking up to me or being influenced by me,” said the Dominican-American actress.

A study by the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race shows that between the years of 2010-2013, Latinas did not play any television leads and only accounted for 4.6% of all female film lead appearances and 9.5% of all TV supporting female appearances.

In terms of expectations of appearance and beauty, many Latinas have looked in admiration at the women in the Miss Universe pageant every year. Latinas have dominated Miss Universe, with 23 Latina winners since the pageant’s inception in 1952.

The panel discussed how some Latinas turn to plastic surgery in order to enhance themselves and model themselves after beauty contestants and others in the public eye. According to the 2014 Plastic Surgery Statistics Report, Hispanics were the second largest demographic to receive plastic surgery accounting for 10% of all plastic surgeries.

Adrienne Bailon shared some insight into her choice to get plastic surgery to enlarge her breasts. Later in life she realized she had made a mistake and opted for a more natural look. Though she does not fully reject plastic surgery, she praises advocates for a more natural beauty. In an exclusive interview with NBC Latino, Bailon expressed what she believes true beauty.

"There isn't one type of Latina body. There isn't one type of beautiful,” Bailon said. “I think we need to learn that Latinas come in all different shapes, sizes, heights and I think that's what we should be celebrating."

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