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Mi Cultura, Mi Belleza

·24-min read

Jenna Brillhart, HelloGiggles

With the Latinx diaspora expanding over 20 countries, “Hispanic” isn’t a one-size-fits-all term—especially when it comes to beauty and style. As Hispanic womxn, we’re challenging these narratives by embracing all aspects of our culture and choosing which ones are right for us. This Hispanic Heritage Month, HelloGiggles will be taking a deep dive into the beauty of our culture through Mi Cultura, Mi Belleza. We’ll be featuring essays about hair and identity, giving beauty tips from our abuelitas, highlighting the unique style of the Afro-Latina community, and more.

Yes, Abuelitas Know a Thing or Two About Beauty—Here Are the 17 Products They Swear By

Beauty = power for these Hispanic women.

By Raven Ishak

When I was younger, one of my favorite places in the world was my grandmother's vanity. As she made arroz con pollo or watched her novelas, I'd find myself running my fingers over every perfume bottle, hairbrush, and delicate beauty product she had carefully placed next to one another in her bedroom. Each item was precious to her—and that little corner of her home became precious to me.

For my Puerto Rican grandma, beauty was synonymous with her culture. The ritual of filling in her eyebrows with a colored pencil and curling her hair with hair rollers while dancing to Marc Anthony music made her connect to the life she once had in Puerto Rico. It made her feel alive and youthful, even when she was just planning to stay at home—and I'd often watch this transformation in amazement.

Now at 31, I have a better understanding of why my grandmother and other Hispanic abuelitas across the world so strongly connect to their cultures through beauty. Through subtle yet meaningful beauty practices, they pass their traditions onto their children and their children's children to continue the lineage of what it means to be a powerful Hispanic womxn. This, in turn, allows us to connect with our roots in profound ways while simultaneously celebrating the women who helped build our confidence, outlooks on beauty, and relationships with ourselves.

To honor these figures, I connected with six other Hispanic women from all different cultures to learn about their abuelitas' beauty routines, the beauty practices they adapted into their own, and the lessons their abuelitas taught them on beauty and self-confidence.

Naydeline Mejia, 21

Jenna Brillhart, Naydeline, HelloGiggles

Location: New York

Nationality: Dominican

HelloGiggles (HG): What's your relationship like with your abuelita, and how did her views on beauty influence yours?

Naydeline Mejia: My relationship with my abuelita is so warm and playful. She doesn’t take herself too seriously, and so she’s always reminding me to take everything with a grain of salt. My mom can be very serious as her primary caretaker and the head of the household, so my abuelita and I love to joke around and banter about all the things my mom is constantly scolding her about––every time she makes a silly face about something my mom says, I can’t help, but laugh. It sounds mean, but it’s all in good fun.

My abuelita’s views on beauty have influenced me tremendously. She doesn’t wear a lot of makeup, but whenever there’s a special occasion, like a family gathering or party, you’ll always find her sporting a bold lip. That’s a beauty trick that my mom seems to have adopted as well––she also rarely wears makeup, but when she does, she always has her signature bold lip. I personally do not wear lipstick very often, but when I do, I love a bold red or deep purple––I guess I am like my abuelita and mami in that regard.

Another beauty influence that I have taken from my abuelita is her love for jewelry. We’re not a rich family, but my abuelita will not be caught dead wearing costume jewelry or as she calls it, fantasía. My abuela loves her gold jewelry and wears her gold earrings and necklace everywhere, all the time––even in the house. My grandmother’s love for gold has taught me the importance of adorning oneself. I have yet to invest in a nice piece of authentic gold jewelry, but I know when that day comes, I will treasure that piece forever and pass it down to my own children one day.

HG: What tricks and products does your abuelita use in her beauty routine?

NM: I can’t tell you what brand of lipstick my grandmother uses, but it’s probably a lipstick she’s had for a couple of years now because the women in my family do not like to throw away makeup products; I am pretty sure my mom has the same e.l.f powdered foundation she’s had for the past 20 years.

As for her gold necklaces and earrings, my grandmother gets all of her jewelry from the Dominican Republic. Whenever she takes a trip to the island, which is almost every year, you can expect her to come back with a new piece.

Jenna Brillhart, HelloGiggles

HG: What are some beauty tricks and products she uses that you've adapted into your own routine?

NM: On the day-to-day, I don’t wear anything on my lips other than a balm or sometimes clear lip gloss, but I would be remiss if I didn’t pull out the bold lip for a holiday gathering or dinner party. I also absolutely love jewelry and feel completely naked if I don’t have earrings on or some sort of necklace. I can’t afford 100% gold jewelry, but I love a good gold vermeil piece or any funky costume jewelry. I have these grape-shaped earrings that my abuela thinks are ridiculous, but funky jewelry is how I choose to adorn myself and they are my favorite at the moment.

HG: What's one thing about beauty and self-confidence your abuelita taught you that you'll take with you always?

NM: Don’t be afraid to be bold. Also, beauty is less about what makeup you choose to wear and more about how you carry yourself.

HG: How has your culture influenced you and your abuelita's beauty routines, and how has it brought you closer?

NM: As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has constantly stated in her many explanations as to why she wears her signature red lip and big hoops, these beauty aspects are widespread in Latinx culture and are commonly adorned by powerful Latina women. For Latina women, a bold lip and big hoops represent power and confidence. Whenever I wear a red lip and some bold earrings, I always feel like a boss b-word. There’s just something about this look that represents power and influence––from AOC to Sonia Sotomayor to Selena to Celia Cruz––which is why I think it has been passed down from generation to generation.

Yanelle Cruz Bonilla, 25

Jenna Brillhart, Yanelle Cruz Bonilla, HelloGiggles

Location: Washington D.C.

Nationality: Honduran

HG: What was your relationship like with your abuelita, and what lessons did she teach you that you've kept after she passed away?

Yanelle Cruz Bonilla: Ela (the nickname I gave her when I was a toddler) and I were extremely close. I was raised by my mother and my grandparents, so my relationship with her was the best of both worlds because I had an incredibly loving abuela and a wonderful second mother. She was always there to listen to me, give me advice, joke around with me, lecture me when needed, and also advocate for me whenever my mother would be upset. She was also the glue that kept me and my grandfather together, and in many ways, she facilitated the special bond that I had with both of them growing up. My abuelos were always my entire world and I am forever thankful to have had such special relationships with them.

Losing Ela was the worst experience of my life, but the past three years without her have been a bittersweet journey of discovering how much of her continues to live within me. She taught me so many life lessons and her views on beauty are no exception.

She believed in having a simple routine, she rarely wore heavy makeup but always had a signature lip color, which is certainly something I’ve adopted in my own routine. She also emphasized the importance of skincare and nourishing one’s skin and I learned a lot of skincare tips from her. Something she was big on was cultivating beauty from within, both by nourishing her body (she constantly talked about the benefits of certain items and always pushed me to eat certain foods) and also by cultivating self-love and encouragement without relying on others to do so.

HG: What were some of your abuelita's go-to beauty rituals?

YCB: So many to describe! She was a big fan of hair oils and leaving them on overnight. She believed this would boost your hair growth and nourish your hair so it would be softer. She taught me how to do overnight hair oil masks and then wrap my hair so that the oil would not transfer to my bedsheets.

She also taught me this trick to straighten your hair overnight by wrapping your hair around your head with bobby pins, because I went through a phase where I was obsessed with using a hair straightener and I was killing my hair. She also taught me ways to curl my hair without heat and I’ll always be thankful she did, otherwise my hair would have probably fallen off by now.

Ela loved a good DIY beauty trick, so she made her own face masks with honey and oatmeal, and hair masks with avocado, and was constantly talking about the health benefits of certain food items and how they could potentially be used in one’s beauty routine.

If her lipstick broke or it seemed like it was fragile, she would store it in the fridge. She was convinced that "fixed" it and would also bring out the color.

She was always advocating for the use of rose water and she’d use it in the morning and evening as an extra step in her routine. She always used a moisturizing cream to remove her makeup, because she also placed a lot of importance in skincare, so once her makeup was off, she focused on following a skincare routine that was hydrating and addressed her skin concerns.

HG: Were there any beauty rituals you adapted into your own routine?

YCB: I’ve made rose water a permanent fixture in my routine because [my grandmother] taught me how to use it. Oddly enough, the smell makes me think of her, so it’s not only great for my skin, but it brings back memories. I’m also obsessed with skincare and I’d say that I place more emphasis on that than makeup. My grandmother taught me one can achieve a gorgeous look without having to overdo it, so I reserve the heavy makeup looks for very special occasions.

I think the only beauty trick of hers I did not adopt is the DIY beauty, mainly because I have less time to prepare my own masks, so I use store-bought face and hair masks. However, she taught me about ingredients so when purchasing masks, I lean toward ingredients I can recognize like oats, manuka honey, aloe, etc.

I believe I decided to use these tricks in part out of habit, because I grew up watching my abuela do all these things, and once I was old enough to partake we’d do many of them together. So it’s just something I’ve continued doing. Since her passing, continuing to do these feels even more important because it is a way to continue to feel connected to her and the things she’s passed down to me, like her beauty tricks, her cooking, and many of her outlooks on life.

HG: What did your abuelita teach you about beauty and self-confidence?

YCB: I think one of the main things she taught me is to love myself and honor my beauty regardless of what others say. She’d always say beauty is subjective, so one person’s negative opinion was not a hard truth. Growing up in a culture that is not exempt from anti-Blackness, I struggled to love my brown skin and dark hair, because the beauty ideals society celebrated were so far from how I looked. I got called names in school and was mocked because of my looks, so self-confidence was a foreign concept for me.

I spent years trying to change myself, straightening my hair every day rather than embracing my wavy hair, and I do regret not realizing this earlier. However, my abuela taught me how to get through that and grow to love myself, and now I can say I truly do and I owe it all to her. Not only was she always encouraging, but also she’d be honest when she needed to be. She was not afraid to call me out when I was too much in my head, and she made me challenge those negative thoughts and feelings. Because of her, I navigate the world with confidence, and that’s impacted me in ways that extend beyond beauty. Feeling confident in my skin and who I am has pushed me to pursue opportunities, take bets on myself, and to embark on a journey of self-discovery and self-love that I continue to be on today. I would not be content with myself and where I am if it wasn’t for my abuela, so her teachings and advice were one of the greatest gifts she left me.

Alicia Ramírez, 27

Jenna Brillhart, Alicia Ramírez, HelloGiggles

Location: New York

Nationality: Puerto Rican

HG: What was your abuelita's relationship to beauty? And how do you think it influenced your own?

Alicia Ramírez: My paternal grandmother dressed to the nines to water the plants. The way you looked was always a point of conversation because no one was as regal or as elegant as my grandmother. She influenced me in subtle ways, like making sure I had something new to wear on special occasions and that my nails are always filed.

HG: What are some beauty products your abuelita used?

AR: She used Coty’s Airspun loose face powder and a red-coral lipstick. She kept her skin makeup-free and moisturized at night with Pond’s Cold Cream Cleanser. Always Pond’s.

HG: Are there any products you continue to use from her beauty routine?

AR: Carolina Herrera was my grandmother’s signature scent, and I would smell the lingering traces of her in different places of her home, and eventually, that’s what the room at her nursing home smelled like. I chose my signature scent from Herrera’s collection because of her fragrances’ lasting power. My grandmother only spritzed her neck and rubbed her wrists against each other, and I have followed suit. I gravitated towards 212 Sexy because it wasn’t overly floral, and it made me feel confident and sophisticated (it still does).

HG: What beauty lesson did your abuelita teach you that you continue to use?

AR: She taught me to carry any look with effort and purpose, which has influenced my minimal, yet elegant style.

Pia Velasco, 29

Jenna Brillhart, Pia Velasco, HelloGiggles

Location: New York

Nationality: Mexican

HG: What's one of your favorite memories when it comes to your abuelita and her beauty routine?

Pia Velasco: My grandmother is my best friend. We’ve always been really close and our bond has only grown stronger over the years. As a kid, I was always fascinated with my grandmother’s style—she’s so sophisticated and effortlessly beautiful. I’d admire her silk scarves and her perpetually red lipstick that she’d reapply throughout the day as if it were second nature. Watching her get ready for an event was in a way aspirational—I wanted (and want) to be just like her.

HG: What are a few things your abuelita would always do during her beauty ritual?

PV: It’s always been the hair rollers for her hair and red lipstick for her face. Her hair always looks impeccable, and for her face, she basically only uses lipstick. She’s such a natural beauty that she doesn’t need to use anything at all, but she loves a strong red lip.

HG: What are some ways you've adapted your beauty routine to feel connected with your abuelita?

PV: A deep love for red lipstick—I probably own 20. I used to shy away from bright colors or anything that would draw too much attention to my face, but as I grew older, I became more confident in my skin and started using the colors I had always been drawn to. Wearing it makes me feel beautiful and sophisticated, just like my grandma.

Jenna Brillhart, HelloGiggles

HG: What's one lesson on beauty and self-confidence your abuelita has taught you?

PV: It boils down to kindness. The love and warmth you give will radiate more than any highlighter ever could. I know it sounds cheesy, but beauty really stems from within. She’s taught me the value of kindness, both to yourself and others.

HG: How would you say your Mexican culture has influenced your beauty rituals?

PV: My grandmother was in beauty pageants (and even won the equivalent of Miss Mexico back in the day) and for her, Mexican women are really something—there’s a reason for the bombshell stereotype. We’re very vain in the best way possible. For us, there’s a certain power that can come from a red lipstick and a voluminous blowout—choosing to present yourself a certain way is about owning your beauty and being confident about it. I think that’s what I’ve gotten from my culture—the confidence.

Morena Valdés, 28

Jenna Brillhart, Morena Valdés, HelloGiggles

Location: Mexico City

Nationality: Mexican

HG: What's your relationship like with your abuelita, and what has she taught you about beauty?

Morena Valdes: I’ve always had a great relationship with my abuela Amalia. I grew up having her around all the time and she still spends several days a week at my parents' house. I live by her view of beauty. She taught me beauty comes from within, an attitude I believe was instilled in her by my great-grandmother, Morena I.

HG: What are some beauty tricks and products your abuelita uses?

MV: I come from a line of strong working women; beauty routines had to be practical. Morena I. used simple house objects and turned them into beauty tools. And when I asked my abuela Amalia about her beauty routine, I was not surprised that she doesn't even wear face cream; she says it makes her face sticky whenever she does put it on before bed. She ends up getting up and wiping it off. She talked to me about this mixture of coconut oil, sodium bicarbonate, and lime she puts under her eyes to reduce her dark circles. When I asked her who gave her this recipe, she laughed and answered she made it up!

HG: Are there any products you've adapted into your own beauty routine?

MV: Like my great-grandmother and my abuela, I also enjoy using things you find around the house, or cooking ingredients, in my beauty routine. I often use mayo and egg yolks on my hair for hydration; my curls love it. Oh, and scrubs! Homemade scrubs are the best. A little sugar and olive oil can [do] wonders.

HG: How has your abuelita influenced your self-confidence?

MV: My abuela radiates strength. That, for me, is beauty. I know for a fact I carry myself the way I do because of the way the strong woman in my life brought me up.

HG: How has your Mexican culture influenced your view on beauty—and how has it brought you closer to your abuelita?

MV: Of course, culture influenced my abuela's view on beauty and her day-to-day routine. In the Mexican culture, especially 50 years ago, [gender] roles were very defined. The man was looked at as the provider. My great-grandmother, Morena, was widowed pretty young, [and] because of that, my grandmother had to move to the ranch with my grandfather and her mother-in-law. On a normal day of work, my grandmother had to be on the fields with the ranchers hopping on trucks and horses. She had to keep it simple and manage with what was around her. I think [her] experience at the ranch and being surrounded by other strong working women made her the way she is today. My abuela Amalia is the strongest woman I know, and I admire her so much. Her easy-going, simple loving ways have always kept us together. We have a very similar way of viewing life and beauty and I thank her for that. Te amo, tita!

Raven Ishak, 31

Jenna Brillhart, Raven Ishak, HelloGiggles

Location: New York

Nationality: Puerto Rican/Israeli

HG: What did your abuelita teach you about beauty and life before she passed away?

Raven Ishak: When I was younger, I lived with my grandma for five years. During that time, she not only taught me how to become a young woman, but she basically became a second mother to me. And I will forever be grateful for the moments we did have together.

She taught me so much about beauty and life (which I think are interchangeable). My grandmother always got complimented on how she didn't look her age—and I think this had a lot to do with how she viewed the world. When life became tough, she tried to focus on gratitude and religion. When she wasn't feeling well, she would often make jokes and be joyous rather than focusing on her pain. While I often tried to tell her it's okay to be vulnerable, I valued how she handled some of the toughest moments in her life—and I'm sure her outlook on life helped her cultivate beauty from within. She reminded me not to take life too seriously.

HG: What were some of your abuelita's favorite beauty products?

RI: My grandma lived and breathe baby oil. Every night before she would go to bed, she would drip some oil on a cotton ball and rub it all over her face to remove the makeup she wore that day. She often would say that's why she looked like a "young chick-a-dee." And, honestly, there was no argument there. On her birthday, we would often switch the candles to be the opposite age to reflect on how she really felt inside. When she turned 75, we would position the candles on the cake to be 57; and when she turned 80, we just said she was turning 21 all over again.

Aside from baby oil, I would often watch my grandma put heated rollers in her hair to define the perfect curls, do a complete skincare routine with Clinique products (which was the first beauty brand I ever bought), and spritz Chanel Number 5 all over her clothes before she would walk out the door. She always had her nails manicured with a bright pop of red and never—and I mean never—had her grey hair grown out. It just wasn't her thing. And when I was little, she would always take a daily papaya pill to—and I quote—"to keep me lookin' young." Beauty was my grandma's life and it was fun to watch her do her routine every chance I got.

Jenna Brillhart, HelloGiggles

HG: Are there any beauty rituals your abuelita did that you use today?

RI: Because of her love affair with baby oil, I, too, have a bottle of it on my beauty shelf. While I don't use it every night like her (I have to blame my love for micellar water and toner for that), I do use it to feel connected to her. The smell alone reminds me of how I would watch her take off her mascara and how I would try to mimic the movements with my own swab of baby oil when I was little. I had no idea what I was doing, but I just loved doing this with her.

HG: What's one valuable lesson on self-confidence that you learned from your abuelita?

RI: Overall, I think the greatest thing my grandma taught me was learning how to take care of myself. For as long as I can remember, I've had a hard time investing in myself. I never really bought new clothes, never saw the importance of getting my nails done (even though I loved looking at the cute designs when I would get them), and rarely bought into the idea of putting myself first. However, my grandma would often try to tell me that I should, and it's okay to take care of yourself because there was nothing wrong with that. I try to follow this philosophy today to honor her because I know it helps with my self-confidence and the relationship I have with myself.

HG: How has your culture influenced your relationship with your abuelita, especially when it comes to beauty?

RI: Because I'm a half Puerto Rican woman who doesn't speak Spanish, I often had (and still have) a hard time feeling connected to my culture outside of my grandma's four walls. I often didn't feel authentic enough, even though I grew up in a Hispanic household, where we would watch novelas every night and eat rice and beans daily. I think that's why I felt so connected to my grandmother and watched her do her beauty routine every day I lived with her.

She celebrated being Puerto Rican through the individual brush strokes she would do with her Clinique mascara and she would highlight her Puerto Rican pride by making her curls bigger than life itself. And by doing these things, she would pass down her love for her culture onto me to help me feel connected to my roots.

Jannely Espinal, 31

Jenna Brillhart, Jannely Espinal, HelloGiggles

Location: New York/Miami

Nationality: Dominican

HG: How would you describe your relationship with your abuelita today?

Jannely Espinal: Abuelita and I have become closer throughout the past two years. Growing up, I did not relate much to my grandmother. Her standards of beauty were different from the ones my mother inculcated on me. It wasn’t [until] after living with [my] abuelita that I understood the importance of a "less is more" view and that also means wearing less makeup and skincare.

HG: What are some of your abuelita's go-to beauty tips?

JE: My grandmother relies on applying copious amounts of lotion. One of the products I always saw her putting on was Cetaphil, and I was reminded to never leave the house without it. She also loves using aloe vera. For the past few months, she has been growing aloe in our backyard and uses it for beauty treatments and home remedies such as alleviating burns, creating hair masks, and even [putting it in] juice. Milagros (my grandmother) likes to wear lots of lotion before going to sleep. I think that’s a beauty trick that has helped maintain her smooth skin while preventing aging.

HG: What are some beauty products and rituals that you both believe in?

JE: One of the beauty tricks I have learned from my grandmother is to wear a "tubi," also known as a Dominican hair wrap, after getting a blowout for bed. It helps to maintain my hair shiny, glossy, and humid-free. Also, it is a great way for your blowout to last longer. Abuelita also applies a hair serum to add extra shine. I have found this to be efficient if I want to prolong my blowout in humid areas like Miami.

HG: What's the biggest beauty lesson your abuelita has taught you?

JE: Abuelita taught me to be confident and to embrace my natural beauty. Even though she likes to wear a wig from time to time, Abuelita shows off her natural hair and is not afraid to wear it short. Last year, she shaved her head and told me, "Now I don’t need a hairstylist." I think life has been less complicated for her. I think it is time I give short hair a try.