Columns, Opinion

Our True Face: How adjectives can exoticize women of color

Adjectives are used to describe a person and their qualities. However, some adjectives used to describe women can be objectifying and exoticizing. As a Latina, I have experienced both. The words “spicy,” “feisty,” “exotic,” “caliente,” “heated,” “curvy” and “sexy” are all rather offensive and not taken as a compliment, as men suggest they should be.

“Spicy” has a racist connotation. Latinas are called that because our food is spicy. It also has connotations to being “hot,” therefore, objectifying Latinas. I am not a chicken sandwich, so I urge you to stop referring to me as a spicy. 

“Caliente” is no better; its direct translation is hot. This adjective is never used in the Spanish language to describe a person — it is used to describe inanimate objects. However, English speakers have inappropriately adapted this word to describe the body of a Latina. 

The exotification of Latinas has been ingrained in our brains. If you recall High School Musical, the popular song “Bop to the Top”  includes the words “caliente” followed by Sharpay rolling her Rs. This scene misappropriated the Hispanic accent while also using the word “caliente” to “spice” things up.

Being “heated” or “hot-headed” has also been used to describe a Latina’s personality with sexual connotations. I have heard multiple times that due to my ethnicity and hot-headnesses, I must be good in bed. This worsens our exotification. 

The reason why Latinas are known as “hot-headed” is because of the idea of the other —  something that is different from Western culture. We are considered loud and impulsive, when we are just culturally different.  

“Curvy” has also become part of the checklist. There is the phrase “You have a Latina body,” which is meant to suggest that the woman receiving the comment is curvy. However, this can be damaging towards Latinas who do not fit this stereotype.

“Feisty” makes my blood boil. Normally, it means full of nervous energy. This has a very different meaning when describing a Latina. “Feisty” Latina conjures up the image of a bold and outspoken woman. However, not all Latinas are this way, hence stereotyping and invalidating the Latinas that do not conform to this trope. 

Finally, the notion of Latinas being sexy uses a similar logic as exoticism; the real excitement comes from being with someone of a different race. There is even a whole category designed in PornHub for us. I don’t see a category for “white.” I do see black, Latina, Asian and Indian amongst others. 

Latinas should be described as hard-working, loyal, smart, kind and beautiful. In fact, adjectives should not vary when describing women of various ethnicities. Describe us for who we are as individuals without making us feel like we must comply with a checklist to validate our culture. 

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