HOUSTON, TX -- When you think of the stereotype of the beautiful, curvaceous, voluptuous Latina woman, two names come to mind: Sofia and Jennifer – as in Sofia Vergara and Jennifer Lopez.
This stereotype has been with us for a long time. Remember Charo? I never understood what her famous phrase "Cuchi-Cuchi" had to do with anything or that she was considered a Flamenco guitar virtuoso. But one thing was clear; her physical attributes were impressive. In all of her television appearances I saw throughout my childhood, she never touched a guitar. Prior to Charo, other Latinas adorned the television and silver screens – Rita Hayworth (the original vavavoom) and "Wonder Woman" Linda Carter (fierce vavavoom). Interestingly, neither one of them were identified as Latina at the time though they had Hispanic ancestry - I guess being Latina wasn’t a career building factor at the time.
Things have changed though. In many U.S. cities, Latinos have become a majority, and they continue to grow in numbers. Being Latino has become more mainstream and hip; people with Hispanic last names in the entertainment world are not limited to working for Spanish-speaking networks or to playing stereotypes on television or movies like the drug dealer, gardener or maid.
In fact, actresses like Sofia and Jennifer now command vast empires. And it's not just because of their sultry looks; a massive amount of their success is the result of talent, perseverance, and intelligence. I take my hats off to both of these ladies who seem to juggle so much while maintaining their balance in 6-inch heels and impeccable hair and make-up.
Nevertheless, for those of us Latinas who lack the vavavoom factor, one can only wonder if the images of Sofia or Jennifer - which have been seared in the collective consciousness - have had an effect on the rest of Latinas. Yes I am talking to you or rather, to those of us without the traditional vavavoom factor. And I'm not just talking about physical attributes but the confidence and "attitude" to bring them out and show them off proudly.
So do the vavavoom stereotypes help or hurt Latina women like us who are more modest in our personal appearance?
My colleague Ariana Montelongo, a Latina professional, has strong opinions on this.
“I think It is bad because it pegs us all in one category and we come in an array of formats," says Montelongo. "It kind of handicaps in terms of how people will perceive Latinas and their capabilities because we are so much more than that. Latinas come in many shapes sizes and colors. “
Personally, I don’t think the images of Jennifer and Sofia have created the false characterization that Latinas aspire to be sexy. Thanks to the value that society, at least in this country, places on diversity, I believe most people now know that Hispanic women come in all shapes, sizes and colors.
Truth be told, most of us are not willing to flaunt, show or enhance our physical attributes, especially at the workplace. Our inner voice would recall our mom or aunt saying, “se ve muy vulgar.” ("it looks too vulgar.")
Beside the fact that appearance is a matter of taste, it’s also a matter of goals.
I don’t know if when they started their careers, Sofia and Jennifer suspected that they would become household names and industries in themselves. But what I do know is that they had a goal, and that was to succeed in the entertainment industry.
In fact, it's Sofia and Jennifer’s confidence and ambition that every Latina should adopt and emulate. Regardless of appearance, those two things may be the most important part of the vavavoom factor and ones we could all benefit from. Let’s call it our inner vavavoom.