OK. I can’t avoid this one any longer. I’ve tried to be decente, because I am all for killing the “kill-the-crab-syndrome,” that is, the tendency notoriously common among Latinos to pull down other Latinos who find success of any kind. But on this, I can no longer hold back.
I hereby declare that this Latina-oriented site is J-Lo™-Free.
Yes, I realize that simply by mentioning J-LO I am defying my own rule. So, allow me to explain.
I am referring not to Miss Lopez herself, per se. For all I know, the woman is completely cool. I don’t actually know her at all. What I am declaring war on is the brand that she has created – the J-Lo™ image.
She’s arguably the most recognizable Latina in the United States. The woman is credited as being a media empire in her own right, acclaimed as a singer, dancer, actress and businesswoman. But, ironically, when I see her featured on Yahoo, Fox News Latino or some other news site, the attention is never for skills or talent in any of these fields. The coverage usually comes with headlines such as “J-Lo gets Steamy in New Video,” or “J-Lo Aims to Make Ex Jealous with Outrageously Sexy Performance,” or “J-Lo Wows Red Carpet with Barely-There Dress!” or, this one taken verbatim from a site today: “Jennifer Lopez Buys Caspar Smart a Birthday Truck,” with the accompanying photo an image of a domanitrix-styled J-Lo™ shrink-wrapped around her blindfolded boy toy.
May I please see the day when the headline instead reads “J-Lo’s Powerful Voice Steals Show!,” or “New J-Lo Show Raises the Bar for Latinos,” or “J-Lo Uses Brand to Set Dreams in Motion for Young Latinas.”
Look, I know that sexy sells. I’m not saying we should all convert to Sandra Sotomayor worshipers. Sexy is fun. Sexy is entertaining. Sexy is womanly. Embracing one’s sexuality is empowering. I’m all for it. But the J-Lo™ brand is built entirely on one over-the-top sexual display after the other, each trying to out-outrageous the one before. Recall, for a moment, that the performance that burst Miss Lopez onto the mainstream stage was her 2000 Grammys walk, when her torso was barely concealed in a deep-dive green gown by Versace. (Even for Versace, it was tacky.) That “look at me!” moment is what made her a household name, not the actually good performance she delivered on screen three years earlier when she portrayed Mexican-American singer Selena.
How I wish we could have seen what Selena might have become. Selena was not quite 24 when she was gunned down by a fellow Latina, the head of her own fan club. She was a charismatic pop-singer who was on the verge of bursting onto the American mainstream. I was living in Mexico when I first saw her videos and I remember being so excited and moved to see a Latina performer who, in a roundabout way, looked like me: A rather typical Mexican-American girl with our signature curvy build, dark hair worn loose and long, and an affection for enhancing our plump lips with dramatic lipstick. Not only could the girl sing, she shone with a warmth that is familiar in our culture, one that embraces joy and exudes feminine light. (Clip here of the first Selena video I saw, “Amor Prohibido“)
That’s one of the things I do not find in the J-Lo™ brand. As time has moved on from her role in “Selena,” Lopez has hammered her image into an immovable look, a monotone gaze that exemplifies one word – fierce. Sure, she does “fierce” really well. It’s her thing, obviously, since every photo that I see has her working that same expression over and over. Her look has about as much range as her actual voice.
This look has so far carried the J-Lo™ brand pretty far, farther than nearly any other Latina. But, there’s competition coming up, chica, and I hope we begin to see some diversity of representation out there.
Eva Longoria is a talented actress who makes news for her charity work. Salma Hayek has changed television with her backing of “Ugly Betty.” Disney sitcom star Selena Gomez is a so-far wholesome icon for teens and tweens. Super hot Shakira is not only an outrageously gifted singer and dancer, she’s becomer a super ambassador for education. And, my new Latina icon is now Sofia Vergara, whose host appearance on “Saturday Night Live” is generating even more buzz for this funny and sexy actress. (See the clip here: SNL monologue)
I’ve never seen “Modern Family,” so I can’t speak for Vergara’s performances personally. All I know is the coverage that filters up through Yahoo and other sites. But, as with J-Lo™, this filtered view gives me a good idea of the perception that is being spread to a wide audience. And from what I see of Vergara, she’s acclaimed as a talented comedic actress who uses her Colombian accent to its full charm and works her curves with the sort of coy awareness that made Marilyn Monroe so appealing to both men and women.
Yes, there are dozens of other women out there who are crazy-loaded with talent, whether as performers, writers, political leaders or businesswomen. In fact, I’ve taken a pledge to post a link to a talented Latina performer on my Twitter and FB accounts any time Yahoo posts a story about J-Lo™. I’m a bit excited about the idea of spreading the gospel about the wealth of talented women out there. But, at the same time, may the day come when Yahoo figures out that J-Lo™ isn’t the only girl on the block.