July 27 2016 01:21 PM

One Chicana writer’s personal and cultural struggles with body image

    The '90s were hard.

    I lost my religion, my virginity and my eyebrows. I was stoked to lose my religion. My parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses and I wasn’t too keen on living under His wrathful gaze. Losing my virginity was disappointing. I’d been primed by years of secretly reading erotica and I felt cheated; where were my glistening petals and mewling gasps? As for my eyebrows, that was all me. One of the little controls I had over my own body. I, like many Latina women with a plethora of ’80s chola aunts, overdid it.

    I was insecure in all things body-related during my adolescence. I wished my skin wasn’t so dark, and my nose so prominent. I wished my periods didn’t remind me of the river of blood in the Book of Exodus. I wore makeup the pale white shade I wanted my skin to be. I sat in front of the mirror, tweezers in hand, trying to make my face into what I thought was beautiful. I wanted Marlene Dietrich eyebrows. I plucked and wailed along to Tori Amos. I ended up with razor thin eyebrows. My chola aunts approved.

    Then the ’90s ended. I explored different spiritual practices and found my mewling gasps. I fell in love with my body’s nuances and quirks. I reveled in my hips, my crooked teeth and the muffin top I now lovingly refer to as my indigenous fat fanny pack of genocidal survival. My ancestors whose bodies held on to belly fat survived starvation, my panza is proof of resilience.

    But my eyebrows still bothered me. I’ve dyed them, filled them in with gels, powders and pencils but still, I’ve never been satisfied. Eyebrows are the frame to the eye, the emotional gauge of a good side-eye or grimace. My brows in their natural state look like scrawny black caterpillars trying to force their sad bodies into downward dog. I had to do something.

    I contacted local psychologist Dr. Aleksandra Drecun, to ask her about adolescent body obsessions and minor body modifications.

    “It is common for obsessions regarding appearance to continue into adulthood. Discontinuing the obsessions will depend upon the severity of the obsession and how much it impacts the individual,” said Dr. Drecun, a founder of the Association for Compassionate Transformation. “If it is truly an obsession and not fleeting thoughts about one’s appearance, then the individual may need professional help. In terms of modifications, there is a great amount of gray area.” She says there is a spectrum of modifications that individuals can engage in that vary from very mild to more extensive.

    “Naturally, the more mild a modification is, the less risky it is, the less change it creates in one’s appearance and more likely that it is reversible,” she said. “Generally in the field, small modifications, such as using makeup, are seen as an acceptable modification.”

    I decided I wanted a mild modification.

    Enter Sonya Godwin, a high school buddy of mine. Last month as she airbrushed my face on for my sister’s wedding, I lamented to her the sad state of my brows.

    “I can microblade them, I’m certified,” she replied. I raised my scrawny caterpillars…as visions of Sonya attacking my face with tiny swords immediately piqued my interest.

    She explained that micro-blading is a semi-permanent make-up technique used to individually draw on each hair to create the illusion of thicker, fuller eyebrows. The artist (I say artist instead of technician because if someone is inking semi-permanent hair onto my face-plane they damn well better be an artist) uses a tool made of tiny pins to etch lines around the brows, filling them in with ink. The result is surprisingly natural-looking brows.

    “Your eyebrows should be sisters, but not twins,” Sonya said as she drew my brows on pre-procedure. “I’m following the shape of your face. It’ll be like the ’90s never happened.” She handed me the mirror and I wiggled my drawn-on brows, pleased.

    “Do it,” I said.

    It hurt more than it probably should have, but to be fair, I had been lax with my prep. I shouldn’t have had so many drinks the days before. The strangest part for me was the sound of the tiny blades tearing through the layers of my epidermis. In a little less than an hour, Sonya again handed me the mirror.

    Before and after: Lizz Huerta's eyebrow transformation
    Photos by Lizz Huerta

    Holy shit. I had Latina brows again. Not like Frida or the villainess from a telenovela, but brows that were full and natural. Here in my late thirties my face has started to soften. I found that I looked more like the elders in my family. There was a little more wisdom and peace in my eyes. And now my brows have caught up and are the brows of a grown-ass woman instead of the brows of a perpetually surprised adolescent. I immediately texted pictures of my new, adult brows to my favorite chola aunt.

    Send me her number, was her immediate response.

    I was surprised at the immediate confidence boost this small procedure gave me. I threw out the brow pencils, gels and stencils. I spent way more time in the mirror than I’d like to admit, wiggling my new brows, trying out facial expressions.

    My new brows ultimately made me think about the other young women, especially Latina women, who struggle with body dysmorphic disorders and how American culture often perpetuates unobtainable standards of beauty.

    I contacted Dr. Sarah Nunnink, a psychologist who has worked with women regarding body image. I asked her if living in a looks-focused locale like Southern California exacerbates negative self-image.

    “I think places such as California, especially L.A. and Vegas from my experience, perpetuate this myth of external outcomes to fill one up inside,” Dr. Nunnink said. “The obsession with beauty, looks or body is similar to any kind of external fix, or, a temporary way to avoid pain or feel full, whole, or worthy. It might work in the short run but will usually crop up again in the same or different form at some point in the future.”

    It’s been two weeks since I had my face bladed and my thrill has softened, but I am still damn happy with the results. The 10 minutes every day when I’m usually obsessing over drawing tiny hairs onto my brow is mine again. It was a small modification but it has made my mornings easier and my face happier.

    It’s like the ’90s never happened.


    See all events on Tuesday, Oct 25