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How Three Latina Singers Use Fashion To Elevate Their Performances

Fashion
PHOTOS VIA INSTAGRAM

It’s a crucial part of the live experience

Onstage fashion is a crucial part of any musician's visuals. Who can forget Celia Cruz’s colorful outfits, Madonna’s Gaultier cone bra corset, or Beyoncé’s gold gown and headpiece from the 2017 Grammys? While fashion is often fun, fierce performers have shown time and time again how memorable fashion choices can help elevate a performance.

One half of Buscabulla, singer Raquel Berrios embraces a high-low aesthetic, a lot of her pieces are customized DIY and found at thrift stores. She counts Iris Chacón, Solange, and Cyndi Lauper as some of the artists whose fashion inspires her. Known as “La Vedette de América” or “America’s Showgirl,” Chacón was a Puerto Rican entertainer. “Iris Chacón is somebody I really, really admire," says Berrios, "because I think that she kind of really owned her sexuality in a way. She was so over-the-top about it, she was almost unapologetic about it, and I feel like there was something very strong about that.”

With her onstage clothing, Berrios is embracing her Latina identity and at the same time, fighting stereotypes like the hyper-sexualized Latina. “What I wear is an active part of the artistry behind the music and the message that I’m trying to tell," she says. "It’s really about sort of the whole package of the message of the music and the art that I’m trying to bring forward.”

Berrios is, of course, not alone in viewing onstage fashion this way. Nan de Miguel, a singer who is known as Girl Ultra, describes her current onstage style as “a mixture between '70s simplicity and '80s avant-garde fashion,” also saying that fashion is a part of the music’s message. “I think fashion and art always had very strong relation towards music... it supports the message you're trying to transmit. So I think it's equally relevant for any artist, it's part of any character. And I do really think it affects [the performance], because it helps you build your personality up there. It really matters if you feel confident and even comfortable.”

Among the people she looks up to for fashion inspiration are Prince, Grace Jones, David Bowie, young Julia Roberts, and Sade. Her style has evolved and matured as, she says, she started “becoming a grown-ass woman.” De Miguel explains, “I used to care about just being comfy in the mirror, but I realized I also needed to support who I really am somehow, and create a conversation about the whole package. So I unleashed the beast and became a research addict. I started working with very talented national stylists and designers who I can relate to, and that made me learn a lot.” She says her movements onstage are influenced by fellow Mexican women like Silvia Pinal, María Félix, and Dolores del Río—all stars from Mexico’s Golden Cinema Era, during the 1940s and '50s.

When it comes to Ruidosa Fest founder and singer Francisca Valenzuela, her onstage fashion reflects her culture in her own way, including her Chilean and Latino background. Fashion inspiration comes from many sources for Valenzuela, including theatre, art, singers, and films. Prince, Michael Jackson, Frida Kahlo, and Annie Lennox are some of her fashion muses. She said her fashion is always evolving and has included pin-up styles, suits, and dresses. Her favorite onstage look, though, involves fitted pants and red lipstick.

A vocal supporter of gender equality, Valenzuela’s fighting back against double standards and criticism that many female musicians face: “I think anybody should and can wear whatever they want onstage. Of course women and females have been criticized and under scrutiny for all their decisions—misogyny, patriarchy, and machismo, unfortunately, have reigned everywhere, and still very much do. I think the only important thing is: feel comfortable, express yourself, be who you are. And it doesn't matter if it is jeans, pajamas, ball gowns, or [if you're] naked. The stage is a place to be free, to feel powerful and connect.”

Nail polish is for novices

Fashion label The Blonds is known for its high-intensity looks that you'd only wear if you wanted to stand out (and who doesn't?). For its runway shows, wild press-on nails are the beauty step that can't be missed. So, since the brand has partnered with CND since it was founded, we thought it best to get prepped for the show with Jan Arnold, CND's co-founder.

See why you should take your nail look from a zero to a 10, in the video above.

Credits:
Shot by Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson
Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Production Assistant: Polina Buchak
Featuring Jan Arnold of CND Nails and The Blonds

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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

It would've been nice if someone said the word "fat"

Back in November, Rebel Wilson claimed to be the first plus-sized lead in a romantic comedy when she appeared on Ellen to talk about her role in Isn't It Romantic. Wilson was not only wrong, but she was—even if inadvertently—erasing the work of Black plus-size actresses like Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique, both of whom have expansive resumes that include romantic comedies.

Wilson's comment isn't the first example of white women taking up a little too much space in the fat acceptance ethos. It's actually quite common. But there is a reason why women like Wilson—women who are blonde, pretty, successful, and white—get put front and center in calls for body positivity. In the same way that feminism—the movement from which body positivity was born—has often failed to address how gender intersects with other identities like race and class; so, too, has body positivity been championed as a cause for otherwise privileged women. And that's why it's no surprise that Isn't It Romantic, which aspires to be both a spot-on mockery of rom-coms and a celebration of body positivity, is actually a perfect example of how very white both the movie genre and the body positivity movement tend to be.

In the film, Wilson plays Natalie, an architect based in New York, who is single and plus-sized—the archetypal rom-com underdog. Very early on in the movie, she endures the double humiliation of both being hit by a runaway food cart and then accosted by its owner for not stopping it with her "cement truck"-like body. At work, Natalie is similarly disrespected: The office manager hands off troubleshooting tasks to Natalie; another colleague always tasks Natalie to throw out his trash; her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) won't stop watching movies (rom-coms, naturally) while in the office; and Natalie is so afraid to present her ideas for more innovative parking garage designs that she isn't even widely known in the firm as an architect, and is treated like an intern.

But is Natalie just a doormat? Or is it that she isn't asking for what she wants? And isn't very nice about not getting it? If Natalie's life is any example, the bar on suffering is set pretty low for white women. In her personal life, Natalie lives alone with her dog, and seems to be pretty well-off, financially; her best friend is actually her slacker assistant, Whitney, and she's close with another coworker, Josh (Adam Devine), who gives Natalie constant emotional support. She's decidedly anti-romantic, having been told by her mother from a young age that there's no such thing as real-life fairy tales; she's level-headed and practical. But also, she's filled with self-loathing. This leads her to be crass, sarcastic, and disconnected from people. And it was this last part that was hard for me. As a fat Black woman who grew up broke, does not have an assistant, and would get fired if I didn't do my job well, it was hard, if not impossible, to root for her.

For Natalie, though, everything changes when she bangs her head while fighting off a mugger. Her mundane life is tinted through rosy rom-com glasses. Suddenly, all the things that sucked about her life are gone, and everything is beautiful and perfect. But was her life so bad before? It didn't really seem to be.

And yet, looking around the theater at the mostly white, female audience, I accepted that my feelings didn't seem to be shared. But that almost seems to be by design; this feels like a movie for a white, female audience. There is only one person of color in the movie who even has a name: It's Isabelle (Priyanka Chopra), who shows up about halfway through the film—after everything has been rom-com filtered—as a yoga ambassador and swimsuit model. But a name is all Isabella has. A supporting character at best, she doesn't have any connection to anyone other than her white boyfriend, and is sketchily drawn. We learn nothing of her familial or ethnic background, and, even when she is shown at her wedding, there is nobody from her family celebrating with her. This huge oversight is particularly bizarre, given that Natalie has already bemoaned the lack of diversity in romantic films.

Another huge oversight? The presence of the word "fat." I don't think I heard it used a single time. Natalie only references her weight indirectly, by commenting on the appearance of straight-sized women; when talking about her own body, the word "fat" is replaced with "girl like me." But by ignoring this aspect of herself, and refusing to address it head-on, Natalie is succumbing to the same fatphobia that shapes her world, whether she identifies it as being a problem or not.

Before her life becomes a rom-com, Natalie feels invisible at work and in the world. Some of this is certainly her fault, but fatphobia is also at play. Fatphobia chips away at the humanity of fat people from different angles. It means that Natalie gets used to being dehumanized; she doesn't expect others to have empathy for her when she's physically hurt, because they don't value her body. And it's no coincidence that Natalie's fantasy world includes a magically bigger apartment with unlimited clothing options, because discrimination against fat people isn't just a matter aesthetics and preferences—it affects everything from our ability to dress ourselves to our ability to make and save money, since there's a price to pay for being fat, even if it's just having to pay more to travel. Just as much as gender and race intersect with fat bodies, so, too, do economics and class.

I knew I could count on a plus-sized white comedian to take down a genre of films that prioritized thin women. But I ventured to see if Wilson could go further than that, and challenge what it means to be white and well-off and fat in the process; it isn't just about taking down rom-coms but about doing so in a way that isn't just a mouthpiece for white feminist values. But, in the end, that isn't what happened. Isn't It Romantic is fine, but it needed to do more than target an audience of girls who are 10 to 30 pounds overweight and still too jolted by the word "fat" to ever apply it to themselves, so they go for acceptable alternatives, like curvy, plus-sized—or thicc, if they're hip. But I'm not afraid to say I'm fat, I'm just disappointed I will be waiting even longer to see a realistic reflection of that experience onscreen.

Isn't It Romantic is in theaters now.