The Latina Beauty Obsession

It's what's on the inside that counts. But for many Latinas, the outside seems pretty important too.

A new study which surveys the past decade of purchasing trends in the U.S. indicates that spending by Latino consumers on personal care products grew more than 40%-- almost three times faster than growth seen for non-Latino consumers.

The same study found that Latinas are "significantly more likely" to use many beauty products -- including perfume, mascara, and facial cream. Also, the report notes that Hispanic women are almost twice as likely as non-Hispanic women to have used shampoo "12 or more times in the last seven days, such that they account for 26% of all women in this high-frequency usage category."

These numbers aren't the first to indicate that Latina women in the U.S. are spending more energy and money on their physical appearance.

Lili Gil, a Hispanic market expert and HuffPost blogger, writes that, "Latinas spend three times more on beauty and cosmetics per month" than non-Hispanic women. Negating the prevailing stereotype that anorexia affects mostly the white and upper middle class, studies conducted in 1996 and 1999 found that Latina adolescents in the U.S. displayed higher rates of anorexia than their white, Asian, and African American counterparts. And the number of Hispanics opting for plastic surgery in the U.S. rose by 19 percent in 2009 -- faster than any other ethnic group, The Washington Times reported. The number of whites who sought out surgeries during that year fell three percent.

South of the border, the statistics are similar. According to World Health Organization statistics, many Latin American countries per capita over-index in eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia.

Dr. Lucrecia Ramírez-Restrepo, associate professor of psychiatry at Colombia’s University of Antioquia told the Inter-Development Bank that Medellin, Colombia, had the highest rate of eating disorders in the world for adolescent girls in 2003. 17.7% of young girls suffered from an eating disorder in the Colombian city, whereas 10.2% of adolescents battled such issues in the US, according to Ramirez-Restrepo.

Lori Leibovich, Executive Women's Editor at The Huffington Post, wrote in 1997 for Salon Magazine that "Argentina has a higher incidence of anorexia and bulimia per capita than either the United States or Europe," a fact which she says Argentineans attribute to everything from a "volatile political climate", to "machismo", to even an imported "flair for fashion and an appreciation of beauty" from the Italian immigrant population.

The celebration of Latinas as beautiful, seductive, and sexual is hardly new. Brazil is often lauded for its Victoria's Secret Angels, Venezuela for its pageant queens, and Univision, of course, for its bombshell anchorwomen. Competitive beauty has even become a cultural pastime for many Latinos, with pageant shows like Nuestra Belleza Latina (Our Latina Beauty) enjoying tremendous ratings on Spanish language television.

Six of the ten women crowned Miss Universe in the last decade were from Latin American countries. But are Latinas really more beautiful? Or do we just spend more time and money hoping to be?

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