An Ode To The Celebrity Who Helped Me See Myself As Beautiful: Selena

While my peers aspired to look like their favorite blonde-haired, blue-eyed celebrities, Selena Quintanilla served as an affirmation of my brownness not just being tolerable, but celebrated.
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While my peers aspired to look like their favorite blonde-haired, blue-eyed celebrities, Selena Quintanilla served as an affirmation of my brownness not just being tolerable, but celebrated.

It’s an old story, but growing up, I wasn’t exposed to very many images in music and television of women who looked like me. And when I say “looked” I’m talking about ethnicity.

Body type to me wasn’t really an issue yet. I was pretty innocent and could only identify either drastically overweight or underweight bodies, and everything in between seemed just fine. Around seventh grade, when I started to become more aware of my appearance, the cool girls of the day were Paris Hilton, the Olsen twins, and Britney Spears.

Oh, and Jessica Simpson. At Jenny Alvarez’s 13th birthday sleepover, all of us were discussing which celebrity we thought was the prettiest, when Lauren Johnston said, “Definitely Jessica Simpson. She’s perfect,” and everyone agreed. In that moment I remember thinking, almost empirically, “Well, if she’s perfect, then I’m definitely hideous.”

And I believed that in one form or another all throughout middle school and high school, and even into the beginning of college.

Ninth grade.

Ninth grade.

By high school, actually, I didn’t feel hideous so much as I did invisible. (I went to high school in a conservative, Christian suburb just outside Los Angeles.) I know all girls are insecure in high school, even the ones deemed “pretty,” but since I didn’t have any of the features that fit my peer’s preferred aesthetic--essentially, whiteness--I just assumed I wasn’t even a part of the conversation. Like, maybe I don’t have any major deformities, but there’s nothing particularly enviable about me either.

I think when you grow up internalizing these racialized images as a standard of beauty and desirability, you develop a habit of measuring yourself in terms of all the things you’re not, even if you can’t necessarily identify what exactly is so wrong with all the things you are; hence, that icky feeling of being invisible.

A few years and a couple sociology classes later, I feel much better about my brownness. I have the vocabulary now to identify and reflect on how those racial dynamics influenced how I saw myself.

Enter: an explanation for my weird obsession with Selena Quintanilla all those years.

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Selena is one of those widely recognized Latina icons that most other Latina women adore, probably because there’s only, like, two. The other maybe being Frida Kahlo. Anyway, apart from her music being awesome (I’d describe her as a Mexican Taylor Swift) Selena represented all that I was craving so badly during those formative years, which was some example, some affirmation of my brownness not just being tolerable, but celebrated.

She was the closest example I had to a woman popular--or at least recognizable--in mainstream culture, who I kind of resembled. Trying to look like her didn’t require bleaching my hair or colored contacts. All I had to do was tease my hair a bit and put on some red lipstick.

Now, the older I get, the less I feel the need to look like anyone other than myself, but back then that was an AWESOME feeling. When I feel like emulating her look, I usually go the more modern Selena-inspired route. But for this tutorial, we’re going to go full-blown '90s Selena. Round-brush bangs and all.

THE MAKEUP

Any big earrings will do, but hoops are classic Selena.

Any big earrings will do, but hoops are classic Selena.

Selena had really, really full lips, and she loved to wear a classic red on them. Her favorite lipstick was by Chanel in the shade Brick. It’s since been discontinued, but any true or dark red will do.

Line your lips to get a really precise application (I used L'Oreal Colour Riche Lip Liner in Always Red).

Line just outside your natural lip line if you want to create a fuller, more Selena-esque look.

Line just outside your natural lip line if you want to create a fuller, more Selena-esque look.

Then, swipe on one coat of lipstick, blot with a tissue, and apply another coat.

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Line your top lashline with black liquid liner--I went with Urban Decay 24/7 Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner in Perversion--and apply lots of mascara. The rest of the face is neutral.

THE HAIR

Now for the fun part! If you have bangs like me (which I recently got and hate, so I always have them pinned back--but that’s a story for a different article), go ahead and blow dry them using a boar-bristle round brush. The bigger the better. If you dont have bangs, wear a deep side part and tease it for some volume.

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She wore what looks like her natural texture, which is pretty similar to mine. If your hair isn’t wavy, though, run some mousse through it and blow-dry with your head flipped over, focusing on the roots. In pictures, her hair was often pretty voluminous and wild. This doesn’t have to be precise or neat.

Slip on a bustier (or busti-caca, as her father would say), some high-waisted jeans, a pair of hoops, and bidi bidi bam bam, you’re done!

Eat your heart out, J.Lo.

Eat your heart out, J.Lo.

Is there a celebrity that helped you feel more confident about your appearance? Have you ever tried reenacting her beauty style?