By Carmen Pelaez

NEW YORK, NY -- Recently I was mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed when a post was so shocking all I could do was shake my head and utter, “No, no, no, no, no, NO!” Apparently, female armpit hair is trending and it is somehow considered an advancement for women everywhere.

I prefer equal pay, but starlets are taking to their Instagram and are hoisting their elbows in the air defiantly. I’m a "live-and-let-live" kind of person and very little fazes me, but the thought of having to embrace my underarm hair was simply unacceptable. Looking like Dust Bowl Prarie Mom is its own vanity and it's just something Latinas don’t do.

American media fawns over Sofia Vergara like she’s an anomaly. They analyze her beauty and gawk at her self-confidence as though it were otherworldly.

But if you’ve ever been to Miami, throw a rock and you will hit a ‘Sofia Vergara’. Yes, she’s stunning, but what makes her so isn’t unique, it’s about upholding The Latina Standard which dictates two things: 1. There is never an excuse to not work with what you’ve got and 2. Less is not only less but worse, it’s boring.

Regardless of shape or size, every Latina knows how to ‘arreglarse’, how to ‘fix herself’. As soon as we take our first breath, our ears are pierced. We have all gotten the “You’re not really going to go out like that are you?” and “Niña! For the love of God—at least put on some lipstick! You look sick!”

None of us have ever seen our grandmother’s hair ‘mussed’ or the natural color of their nails. What would be the point of that? Every social invitation discussion is kicked off by “What are you going to wear?” and at the end of Latino weddings, all the women are still wearing their heels. Going barefoot is akin to the armpit hair thing. Unthinkable. By the time you’re an adult ‘fixing yourself’ is a reflex.

But I had started to slip.

One thing I learned from my mother, abuelas and the other women in my life, is that caring about your appearance is not a superficial endeavor...It's a sign of respect, not only for yourself but for every person you encounter.

Up north, I had fallen into the ease of not making an effort unless it was for an event. Opting for the jogging pants, fleece jacket and slip-on sneakers to go to the corner deli, I save my best ‘looks’ for special occasions.

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As I was preparing for my last trip home to Miami, a friend of mine noticed I was pulling out all sorts of bangles and earrings and dresses. A little suprised, she asked “Where did all this come from?”

“Oh, I’ve had all this forever, I just never wear it up here.”

Ayoka, a fashion guru by trade, stared me down and and replied, “Ah, ya should.”

“I know, but up here it doesn’t matter,” I shot back, a little embarrassed she was calling me out.

Unimpressed, Ayoka crossed her arms and shot back, “Oh, ok. So up here nobody’s looking? Aren’t you looking?”

Her comment hit me like a lawn dart.

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Lately I’d noticed I was becoming more and more invisible and I wasn’t sure why. I wasn’t ‘fixing myself’ because I assumed nobody was watching - missing the point of my upbringing completely. I had let my own standards down because I had stopped looking at me.

One thing I learned from my mother, abuelas and the other women in my life, is that caring about your appearance is not a superficial endeavor. Perfectly ironed linen blouses, the scent of Guerlain and Coco Chanel in the air and the crispness of a well-groomed room makes an ordinary afternoon something special. It makes a random Tuesday an event, and can make somebody that feels invisible feel seen. It's a sign of respect, not only for yourself but for every person you encounter.

Upon my return from Miami, I ended up giving away a lot of my old casual clothes and got a few new things for myself. I now keep my accesories in plain sight and make sure I take a good look in the mirror before I leave my house. For a minute I had forgotten The Latina Standard I was born into. But I'm happy to report my pearls are firmly in place and the red lipstick is flowing. After many months, I can finally see me again.

Carmen Pelaez is a Cuban American Miami-born and Brooklyn-based filmmaker, writer and performer.

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