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What My Abuela Taught Me About Beauty

22 Sep 2020

September 15 to October 15 marks National Hispanic Heritage Month, a moment dedicated to celebrating the cultures and contributions of Hispanic and Latinx Americans. It’s been around since 1988, when President Ronald Reagan extended the original weeklong celebration, which began in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson, into an entire month. 

You might be wondering, “Why September 15 to October 15?” It’s significant because during this particular period of time, seven Latin American countries celebrate their independence, including El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Chile. While NHHM has been commemorated for more than three decades, in recent years, the celebration has faced criticism; some Latinx Americans are advocating for it to be renamed to Latinx Heritage Month because the term “Hispanic” is widely considered passé and too connected to Spanish colonization. Plus, “Latinx” is a more inclusive term that people are using more frequently. 

As a multicultural Latina myself, I’m keenly aware of the nuances of identity and just how personal this conversation can get. I don’t have all the answers, but what I do know is that I will take any and every opportunity to celebrate my cultura. And an integral part of that is recognizing our ancestors and the wisdom they passed down. For many Latinas, our abuelas were especially instrumental in shaping our views on beauty and wellness. 

“My grandmothers both had amazing skin, so I take skincare very seriously,” says Gabriela Garcia, a Chicago-based writer and founder of Modern Brown Girl. “I’m in my 40s and I’m mistaken for 25-30 quite often.” 

Garcia has used mostly the same products for more than 20 years. One of her go-tos? Aloe vera, a plant her abuelas swore by for scars, burns, and other blemishes. 

“I truly believe less is more,” Garcia says. “My grandmothers were both incredibly beautiful and seeing them age with grace has made me prioritize aging with less vanity and more gentleness as I get older.”

For Angie Jaime, a journalist and audience strategist in Brooklyn, getting creative with your beauty routine is a philosophy she learned from her abuela. 

“The magic of making your own beauty supplies out of what you have is something I carry with me to this day,” Jaime says. “Out of blush? Take some red lipstick and tap it onto your cheeks and blend. Need a quick moisturizer? Snip a bit of aloe vera from the garden.”

Although Jaime’s abuela never left the house without a “presentable, polished look,” she still favored minimalist beauty, an approach Jaime practices as well. 

“It’s about the richness of natural beauty,” Jaime shares. “She insisted on not tweezing eyebrows, leaving skin alone for the most part, and loved treating ailments with yerba buena or skin blemishes with agua maravilla.” 

The idea of bare-bones beauty was a recurring theme for the women I spoke to, including Lauren Bryant, a substance use counselor in Austin, Texas. She spent most of her childhood with her “Guela” because her parents were divorced and her mom had a busy work schedule. 

“My Guela really encouraged me to embrace my natural beauty,” Bryant says. “But she emphasized the importance of looking put together. She will never leave the house without curling her hair, and she wouldn’t be caught dead in pajamas in public.”

Makeup wasn’t something she really wore, Bryant explains, but there was one part of the face she prioritized no matter what. 

“She believes in doing your eyebrows if you can,” Bryant says. “These days her hands shake and she isn’t able to do her eyebrows anymore, but I remember her saying she wished she could continue to upkeep on her own. I really focus on my eyebrows whenever I’m having a ‘no makeup makeup day’ because I believe they can completely change your appearance, and wake up the face.”

Yasmine Duran, a digital marketing specialist and talent coordinator in Chicago, used to believe a full face of makeup was the key to looking “presentable.” But that’s changed in recent years, and she’s spent more time focusing on skincare versus makeup. 

“My abuela believes in healthy glowy skin being the base of beauty,” Duran says. “Growing up, I would watch her complete her skincare routine religiously and notice which products she remained loyal to. She’s a big believer in ‘less is more’ and ‘no makeup makeup,’ and I believe that’s where I got my preference for a lighter, natural glam look.” 

Duran’s abuela also taught her the timeless importance of hydration and SPF. “She always encouraged me to drink a ton of water throughout the day and to exfoliate with coffee grounds,” Duran says. “And to wear SPF even on the cloudiest days.”

Written by Mekita Rivas for Youth To The People

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