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#HealthyChica Hopes to Get Austin Talking About Latina Body Image

Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for Yahoo News

What do Latina women see when they see themselves represented in the media?

Austin-based nonprofit Latinitas and Univision Austin took to Twitter yesterday to sound off on the media’s portrayal of Latinas.

Latinitas co-founder Laura Donnelly-Gonzalez says the image of Latin American women presented in television and film is often that of a beautiful but petulant woman with little education.

“Most of the time [a Latina] is overly sexualized, she has a heavy accent and she’s put in these very dated roles,” Donnelly-Gonzalez says – an archetype not unlike Colombian actress Sofia Vergara’s character in ABC’s “Modern Family.”

“Vergara is one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood right now, yet she’s still relegated to that role of feisty, sexy, angry and there’s not a lot of depth there,” Donnelly-Gonzalez says. In 2014, Forbes Magazine named Vergara one of the world’s most powerful women.

Dr. Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, an instructor at UT’s Center for Mexican American Studies, says the media represents white women as having a wider range of body types.

“What we see is a more forgiving view of bodies, a more realistic view of bodies,” DeFrancesco Soto says. The media, she says, often buys into the idea that Mexican and Mexican-American culture values curves in a woman’s body. “The Latina epitome of beauty is a little bit more Sofia Vergara than Kate Moss.”

But for a population who the Department of Health and Human Services says is more likely to battle obesity, a conversation about body image also needs to include discussions of health.

“Even though we do have some unrealistic views of the body, there’s also the issues of trying to be healthy and having a healthy lifestyle,” DeFrancesco Soto says.

The turnout on Twitter last night was small – about a dozen Twitter posted quotes by poets and celebrities about beauty and to share their personal experiences as Latin American women in the media.

Donnelly-Gonzalez says conversations about the image of Latin American women are ones that Austin – a city whose residents are more than one-third Hispanic and Latino – needs to be having more often.

“We have a national lens that highlights our festivals, our barbecue, our celebrity culture – and then there’s this whole other world,” Donnelly-Gonzalez says. “The assumption is that the Latino population in Austin just speaks Spanish and that it is not assimilated and that it is not transgenerational and transcultural. I do believe that Austin is still getting to know its Latinidad.”

Correction: This post initially misspelled Dr. Victoria DeFrancesco Soto's name. It has since been corrected.

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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