Thursday, March 26, 2015

{Beauty Bloom} Defining Eye Shadow Palettes & Bronzers/Powders


Yes, spring is there, thank our good God, and yes soft colors and hues are begging to be worn! I'm in love with just about every spring collection most of my fave brands have rolled out. I've yet to try a single one, but when I do, I'll make sure to clue you in. But I'm also a fan of non-conventional approach to beauty and trends. While everyone else is rocking pastels and neutrals, I'm still looking at bolder, more pigmented colors. I mean, we all still have fiestas and dates to go on, right!? 

And, while the sun is still hiding but around the corner, we could all use a bit of brightening in a sexy way. Bronzers are the easy and much cheaper way to accomplish that. No fake tanning, no unhealthy baking in the sun and much more of a natural look. I've been swearing by Laura Mercier's Matte Radiance Baked Powder in 02 so much, I've gone through two in 3 months. It's sheer, clean, super light, but has a beautifully natural shimmered color with decent coverage. Used on top of my L'Oreal true match concealer creates a perfect day look. A bit of light can hit your face and you can easily feel like you're having that J. Lo glow!

But, I'm digressing! Here are some recently new palettes and bronzers/powders I'm lusting this spring for evening looks and a more sultry day look. 

Tory Burch D'Ombres a Paupiers. Love the color scheme and silky feel of the shadows in this "Catch" box. They've not creased and blend so well with each other. Not to mention the casing is just too pretty with the floral pattern. Try Wild Card and Morning Glory together! Check out the "Cat's Meow" box which I think is even better with golden espresso notes; you know me! Anything that reads espresso makes my heart flutter.

Laura Mercier Radiance Baked Body Bronzer. This is everything. Just everything. If you want to extend the pretty, sexy feel beyond your already lovely face, go with this (using their bronzer blush which I need to share, too!) to apply to your shoulders and décolletage. The gold shimmers are noticeable and last a long time. You can't go wrong this one.

Urban Decay "Smoked" Palette. This was made for haute MUAs and travelers. I've been taking this with me on recent long trips but haven't played with it enough to figure out which combination works best. Though, if you're a cult UD fan, then you know this will work. I'm feeling Loaded and Asphalt a whole lot.

Lancome Color Design Illuminatrice du Regard is for the classy lady that doesn't really have time to figure out color combinations.  These mini 3 in 1 are great for learning. The Rosy Flush and Jacaranda Bloom are fabulous colors for transition from day to night. Save the neutral palettes for really hot, steamy days when you don't even want to think about makeup!

COURRÈGES/ Estée Lauder Illuminations Face Powder. Who knew the popular beauty brand, once led by a protége of the Spanish power house, Balenciaga, would make a come back and partner up with Estée Lauder, using Kendall Jenner as their muse. Their new capsule collection "Pop-timistic" embodies a futuristic aesthetic with some 3-d elements. I'm digging the face powder --- not to wash me out like the white eyeliner may do -- rather to equalize and brighten up some of my sleepless night look I'm experiencing lately. There's a fix for everything, I swear! I'll report back on the other yumminess from this all white collection -- especially on the kabuki brush.

All are available on counters now. If not, order online is always an options.

* This an editorial in which I was provided samples to write this. All opinions are my own, true and honest! I only write about things I truly do love and think you should know about! ;) 

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

{Natural Hair Series, Part 1} They Are Not Their Hair: A Look at the Latina Curl Stigma

I love my natural hair. I may not always reflect that, but I do. There have been times I hated it and didn't care at all. But in the end, my hair is a true representation of how I identify myself and will give you a pigeon hole view into my spirit. It's my hair. The hair God gave me. 

But that's just the problem. It's the hair God gave me and the not idyllic locks I think would look best on me. Perhaps because of the social pressures and standards placed on women to look a certain way --- or better yet, the classification of ethnic women and our appearances -- I've allowed myself to want "other" type of hair. 

Let's start there. 

Why am I, a successful, wildly independent, smart, and educated woman not satisfied with what God gave me? As a black Latina with very strong Chinese genes, my hair is a combination of textures, not all the way "kinky black" as some have suggested, definitely not that corn silk hair most Asian women have, and not the wonderfully thick and long treases a lot of non-black Latinas have. I have a unique blend of all three hair types, which makes it a complicated mess to manage at times.

That complicated mess only became an issue when I decided I wanted to start wearing my hair blonde and blown out. Though it's a super pretty look (you can see it here), it's not natural for me or most afro-Latinas. Our hair is not blonde (at least I don't know a single natural blonde Latina) and curly tops are more prevalent than not. The constant blow-drying and flat ironing, eventually killed my hair and I ended up having to cut it all off. Had I just stuck to my natural,  I probably wouldn't be penning this post.

But the desire to straighten my hair isn't unique to me. Most Latin women I know have curls, in many patterns, and also opt to wear their hair straight. Through perming, blowouts and flat ironing, we have become a culture of wanting what's not natural to us. Ironically, we come in all different shades of white, brown,  and black, inclusive of ethnic groups. We come from 21 different countries, and though connected in our roots, we are vastly different in appearance (and culture).

There's a deep rooted issue we don't talk about. Why do we want to wear our hair straight? Why do we think it's prettier, as many have expressed? Why can't we just love and rock our curls? In a mild debate over the issue a few months ago, a family member suggested our attraction to flatter, straight hair is indicative of our self-disapproval; that a White looking aesthetic is more appealing, they argued. That may be a strong reach, but I have to believe there's some truth to it.

A male colleague told me recently that "men prefer it that way {straight}. It's just sexier" after seeing it curly during a week-long work project and then straight for a black tie event. BH

If we look at the cultural history and practices of curly haired women, we spend hours upon hours and paycheck after paycheck visiting  salons for all kinds of lengthy services to make our hair straight. I used to do it, too. And even though I wore it 100% natural all through college, there was a time when I looked forward to the straight or looser look more often than not. It made me feel sexy. I'll get into my personal issues and reactions from friends and colleagues in a follow-up post, but the sentiment is the same -- the need to look a foreign part.

The wrongful association to professionalism and straight hair isn't uncommon, either. The TODAY show recently did a segment on curly hair with Hoda Kotb, where she explored why curly haired women go straight and vice versa. My sister, Karen, was part of the round-up. My sis, a PhD and director of a large facility, with a staff of 40, shared how her colleagues and patients told her she looked "more professional" when she wore her hair straight. Get out of here with that mess! (sisterly reaction). Really? To suggest she's less intelligent or less capable of performing her work, or that anyone would treat her differrently because of her curly hair, is insulting, borderline racist, and ignorant. To suggest straight hair is more professional is oppressive. But she's not alone.

In talking to some Latina friends about their experience, there was an impressive commonality: they've all gone from sticking to straight hair in the work force and rejecting their curls to loving and embracing them. Most of them also shared that the process had a lot to do with loving and accepting themselves in a way they hadn't before. But that just underscored my argument that our self perception is in part designed by what society expects of us. We see these gorgeous Latina models and actresses all rocking long, straight hair. That's the standard which then becomes the expectation. Any departure from that removes us from mainstream and invites unreasonable conversation about our lifestyles and culture. When was the last time you saw a curly-headed Latina personality or celebrity on TV or in a magazine? I can't relate nor do I look like a single of the mainstream Latinas on TV; most are blonde with long and straight hairdos. But there was a time when... (next post in series)

The scary harm in that is the lesson we're teaching our daughters (and son, actually). A friend recently shared her daughter wondered why her super tight curly hair was different from her own, which is worn straight though just as curly. Having to explain that to a 5 or even 12 year old is tricky. What are we teaching our daughters about our natural beauty? What message are we sending by not setting an example of self-worth in our uniqueness? If we consider the issues a young girl innately faces, especially in school, where they inevitably start asking about all the varying looking girls, we have to plant seeds of confidence and acceptance.

Ultimately, our hair is who we are. It can define us or not. Loving it naturally sends a loud message: I am Latina. I am naturally me. I am beautifully me.

These are some love notes shared by some of my Latina friends whom have embraced the curl. Some are stoic in their approach while others had to take a hard look at why they hadn't loved their curls before. But now, they rock the curl. They are the curl.

My Sister, Karen
It's a chia pet but I love it because it's the natural me, just as I was created to be. But it wasn't always like that. I used to wear it straight a lot, but after an awakening conversation with my sister, I loved how she embraced her curls and encouraged me to just be me; to be free of the pressures. It feels great and I love it! My hair has been a source of disappointment and delight for as long as I could remember. 

Lisa Quiñones
My hair has been a source of disappointment and delight for as long as I could remember. My hair has gone through every possible stage. It's been long and short. I've been with and without bangs. It's been dyed red, brown, blond and blue black. I've had highlights - auburn and gold. It's been wavy, curly, crimped and ironed straight. I didn't always love my curls and I wished for straight hair. Now I'm ready to embrace my hair and I love the stage it's in now: natural and curly. I love when it's styled and I love when it's wild. My hair suits me and my personality.

Marty Darby
I truly feel like it's okay to be myself. Embracing my curls means embracing an integral part of myself.  Loving my curls is loving myself.  Here's my story.

Jeannett Kaplun
Being a mom changes the way you see things, and it made me reexamine my relationship with my curls. Last year I realized how my own habit of straightening my hair for special occasions such as weddings or TV appearances (to look more "professional") affected the way my daughter perceived her natural curls and waves. I wasn’t the only one and a national morning TV featured us with my little girl. I stopped straightening my hair and my showing my daughter that I love my curls, I hope to inspire her to love her own hair.  Jeannette talks about her feelings in this post.

Melanie Edwards
I now embrace my curls even more than before so I can show my daughter that curly hair is beautiful. I want her to grow up loving her curls despite what our culture and society depicts.

Even though I still feel self-conscious about my curls look, I've never felt more unique than now. And I realized that is not what the people say it´s how I feel what matters and, oh, surprise! If I wear my hair confidently, people actually admire me. 

Vanessa Torres
Like most women with naturally curly hair, as a young girl I wanted the fine, straight locks of my friends. The flipped layers, the straight bangs, the easy-to-manage, brushable hair.  As I grew older and hair products, treatments and stylists grew more sophisticated, I got a grip on my curls, though I will not lie - we are in a constant evolution together. 

Accepting and loving your curls means you are OK with not being perfect. Or, what I call "glossy." You can never guarantee a good hair day. You cannot convince your hair to behave because you’ve got a big meeting or important job interview. Curly hair is wild, it is unpredictable and it also disappoints at inopportune times. 

But it also provides wonderful surprises. An extra-bouncy curl here, an adorable twist there. The sincere compliments I receive outweigh the negative comments or “suggestions” that I should join the straighteners' brigade. The last time I checked, it was my head and my life and I don’t choose to spend hours forcing my hair to do what is against its very nature. This is how God (and my unique genetic composition) created me and I embrace it in all it's unpredictable, untamed glory.

Simone Carson
Curly hair products were not available when I was growing up in the late 80s and early 90s  in Miami, so I struggled embracing what I naturally had. But once I learned how to manage my hair with a great diffuser and products, the love/hate relationship stopped. I embrace my curls and love them every single day! 

A rare day I wore my hair down and loose, I always wear it in a braid, a bun or ponytail slicked back. Growing up I hated my curls, the other girls had lovely long straight hair & I was jealous.

Vianessa Syed Castaños
I've straightened it a lot for auditions to fit the description of the stereotypical, narrow view of what latinas look like on TV. But I've moved away from that and wear my hair curly almost all the time time now because I prefer it that way and I'll make them prefer it too 

My curly hair is part of my identity that I haven't always appreciated. When I was a kid, it made me stand out when I wanted to blend in. As a young adult, my curls became a chore when I wanted to be on trend. But now, as the mother of a biracial daughter, I value the curls that connect us and see them as a tool in my parenting. I hope that my girls grows up to know that blending in, or being on trend, should never overpower who you really are. Curls and all.

Read about my journey with my natural hair here and hereAnd hereThis is something I've been discussing with my girlfriends and sister over the years and more recently in the last 2 years because of the dramatic changes I've gone through with my hair. But, I've also struggled with my curls on varying levels. My goal is to invite a conversation I feel we need to have more openly and more confidently. I love my hair. I've said plenty on this blog, but I have stopped to wonder why I straighten it, moreso now that it's super short. But more on that in this series. 

Next: A Look at the African-American Curl Stigma

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

On Being Black: A Look at my Afro-Cubanism

Una cubana negra en labana. A Black woman in Cuba. 

I was born in Havana on a mildly chilly morning. From what I know, the typical Cuban breeze was mostly idle. My mom was 25 and my father 27 -- young for today's standards. But they were married and I was their second offspring, 9 years apart.

We emigrated out of the destitute isla in pursuit of freedom. We lived in Miami at the height of the influx of Cubans arriving by rafts and other risky and wildly unfathomable means of transport: a makeshift raft designed with tractor trailer wheels, a motorcycle motor, and wood planks comes to mind. At the time, the coveted American city was replete with pride and accelerated anxiety to make a new life; to leave behind the horror Castro had falsely established on the platform on which he successfully ran. By all counts, Miami was the free Havana where cubanos could enjoy their culture, speak their language, go to the grocery store and shop in abundance, have running water (and toilet paper), and not wonder when the next apagon would happen.

We left Miami for DC to enjoy a more "American" culture when I was barely 6, having just learned how to speak English the previous year. I was young. A child. Until then I was just that -- a child my parents loved and exposed my 3 siblings to this life vastly different from what they knew.

And just that quickly, I was more than just a child. I was a brown child that looked and spoke differently from the other children. We were the only non-White kids in a 3-block radius. In contrast to our diverse community in Miami, we stood out. My father is darkest in the family, having had really kinky hair at one point. My mother has strong Chinese genes and so is fair-skinned with dark black hair. My nose is far from a European or even Central or South American aesthetic.
Dad, Mami, Sis, and eldest Brother, circa 1983/84 in Miami

Within a year of settling into this new all-American life, a white boy, whom I considered my friend, called me “brownie girl”. Though we played almost daily, he felt incredibly comfortable referring to me by other than my name. What stands out still is that his tone was not a jestful one in attempt to parallel me to a perfectly warm kids' treat.  I was 7 at the time. His connotation was intentionally bigoted.

My fluency in Spanish wasn't considered cool or "sexy." It was a simple reminder that I was different. I ended up in a high school that boasted at the time a graduating class made up of 52 nationalities.  You'd think our exposure to so many cultures in one building fostered open-mindedness and an understood blindness to color, but in truth, turned out to be a fostering tool to further develop those stereotypes. A Black female friend told me once in 10th grade if her kids ever dated a Hispanic, she'd disown them. She now has a 12 and 14 year old. I wonder how her feelings have changed. She remains to be one of my closest friends. 

While I spoke Spanish at home, ate and cooked our native food (a combination of African and Spanish) and watched all the dramatic novelas with Mami, my experiences at school were different. I personally identified with the Black crowd. We dressed differently. We had different jokes. We had different hairstyles. We had different slang. I was friends with and only attracted to the Black boys. Truthfully, the White boys weren't ever interested. I was too Black for the Latinos. But that affinity and identification to Black people led to ostracization by the Black girls. My light skin didn't render me Black enough and so I was a "wannabe" to them.

Admittedly, I suffered through an identification crisis sometime during those 4 years. Ironically, most of my white friends, barring the kid down the street, didn't seem to care what my ethnicity represented. I was just a tall, lanky girl. My Latin friends and I didn't have anything in common other than our language. Those were my high school years. 

While I happily came to terms with being a Black cubana, culturally rooted in Jamaican and Afro-centric traditions – our song and dance, our soulful food, etc… -- it’s not been so easily accepted by my peers today. The wonder of my ethnicity and race is even more mystifying to an even larger group of people. White people have minimally weighed in and wonderfully don’t seem to care; at least not blatantly. Though an incident I personally encountered at UVA loosely represented the separatist culture on campus. However, and quite disturbing, has been the dissenting opinion I’ve received from some  Latinos, namely Mexicans. Questioning my Blackness and my identification as such, no matter my late Jamaican paternal grandfather, has caused real riffs. I don’t have an accent. I wasn’t raised in Cuba. How Latina am I then? But the most baffling sentiments and questions have come from Black people. I was once asked to leave an event in Atlanta which was created by and hosted exclusively for Black independent business owners. Yes, this really happened. It was a prejudice moment where my Blackness wasn’t immediately noticeable and therefore didn’t qualify me as a befitting attendee. I wasn’t wearing Kente prints as many of the other event-goers were and my hair was tucked underneath a hat. I considered the environment and realized the limited mentality was more toxic to them than they could even see.

But even some of my closest friends have alluded to me not being a “real black person,” referencing my “good hair” or light(er) skin. A boyfriend’s mother disapproved of me because our "relationship mirrored that of Jennifer Lopez and Sean Combs" at the time. She went on to imply I’d not be a proper support system to his two young boys because I was culturally unaware. That same guy (lighter than I with green eyes) once suggested I would be a typical Latina stereotype. The unapologetic jokes continue and I gracefully laugh my way into beneficial situations where my ethnicity and bilingualism is celebrated.

{Read about being called a Ni88er Woman here and here}

But in all of my sympathetic glory of being a solid Black woman who happens to articulately speak Spanish, the lines drawn in attempt to pigeon-hole me into one class or another is simply ignorant. The African ancestry in my native island is just as strong if not more closely tied to the origins of Blackness than here in the US. However, my own Cuban people are arguably the first to call out Black people. The lighter you are in that nation, the more attractive you’re considered. A darker Black Cuban is treated with less dignity, I’ve eye-witnessed. There’s a present but unspoken deniability about our own.

Ultimately, the irony all lies in the aesthetics of a Black person. By first impressions, my facial features are more “Blackish” than a lot of my Black American friends, namely my nose. My natural curly hair is thick and full, more than most of my Latina-ish sisters. But we -- Black, White, Latino, etc… -- overlook that. There is no true reconciliation with my look and my race. At that same event in Atlanta, I note a very light skinned woman with much narrower features and similar textured hair, was allowed in without incident. The dangerous error made in our society today is to typify any one person or ethnic group.

Black is an American construct. The classification makes it facile for society to use a catchall word to describe anyone of the African Diaspora. Ideally, yes, our country of origin wouldn’t necessarily preclude us from acknowledging and loving our racial culture. Alas, we’re in a society where being Black is still equated with subpar existence.

Black is a culture. It's a thought process. It's a sensitive connection to disparity. Sometimes it's not just black or white. My Cubanism doesn’t make me any less Black than my fellow Cuban actor, Laz Alonzo, whom to my knowledge is roundly considered a Black man. And I’m sure we both love our respective Rumba, Celia Cruz, and platano frito as much as we love our Marvin Gaye or the Electric Slide.

My family celebrated our 30-something anniversary of arriving in the US just last week. I’m as American as it gets. I'm as Cuban as they come. I'm as Black as I want to be. It’s my hope people see me for a thick curly-headed educated woman with strong convictions and heartful giving who speaks several languages. 

Next, I'll discuss the issues associated with our curly hair for both Black and Latin women. 

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(image found on Instagram; not my own)

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Monday, February 23, 2015

OSCARS 2015: The Best Looks {& Why}

Another year of who's who. Another year of fabulous faces and over-the-top beautiful gowns. Another year at the Oscars. This was really no different from any other year of what we all glue ourselves to. Nothing super exciting or innovative. It's all blah, blah, blah. Really.

So the fashion, bad styles apart, is the what we wake up talking about. Or the ridiculously bad taste comments presenters tend to make... this year... a la Sean Penn and his insensitive and irresponsible statement about a green card handed to a Mexican. But I'll address that in a later past.

For now, after spending the morning perusing ALL of the gowns that went down the red carpet and beyond, these were my top picks. Mostly based on the gowns themselves, but also who she wore it and brought the whole look together. Sometimes, you can have an amazing dress but the hair and makeup don't complement its gracefulness; or fierceness for that matter.

In no particular order, here the modista winners and why!

J. Lo doesn't get it wrong most of the time. The 40-something year old has this natural super-glow to her that simply elevates anything she wears. We love her in jeans and oversized sweaters, but the flawless Latina always mezmerizes in a full length gown. This color also suits her really well. Keeps her young and fresh and allows us to focus on her gorgeous face. A bit too much cleavage for my tastes, but I'm certain her stylists know what they're doing. Her lips were a bit too bright and matted out but over all it worked with the delicate tone of the gown. Wearing Elie Saab Couture

Kerry Washington knows how to pick them. Yup. This gorgeous eggshell peplum ensemble screams elegance and refinement. It's classy and simple enough for her hair to be pin straight. The double textures make perfect sense and give the simplicity an effortless vavavoom. Wearing Jason Wu.

Emma Stone just did it all the way with the color, the lines of the dress and her hair. This gown is so incredibly vintage-style with a modern elegance, it deserves a perfect 10. Wearing Elie Saab

Lupita N'yongo was criticized for taking pearls to another level, but I thought an all pearl gown is both bold and creative. I mean, how did she sit all night w/out pearl dots on her bottom half? Oh, may! I love the detail and because it's white, the contrast against her complexion is stunning. She needs to stick to those colors. The only thing that would have made this dress better was to have a plunging neckline full of draping pearls! Wearing Calvin Kein. 

Meryl Streep is a bad momma. I find no fault in her. She could wear a drape and still look amazing. The 64 year old is one of few super feminine women that can rock a black and white suite and still command all kinds of attention. Wearing Lanvin.

Rita Ora stole my night with this unknown white gown while belting out her Six Shades of Gry number. It was so whimsical but also grown princess. She's only 24 so she's allowed to do that. The full gown is fell perfectly in the front to allow her super point shoes to be a point of interest, too! But her red carpet gown is the one to really talk about! Can I please have a reason to wear something so WOW bombshell gorge?! I mean, hello! It'a navy with gold accents! Her slicked back bright blonde hair did right by that fierce gown. I just wish those tattoos weren't so visible. Wearing Marchesa.

Gwyneth Paltrow is another one that just seems to know how to hire a great stylist. Much like her all white fitted gown with that sexy Super Woman cape a few years ago, this one is ultra sleek and simple with a big bold statement of a bow. A statement like that needs to be balanced with a subtle color like the pale pink she's wearing. It was delicate for sure. Wearing Ralph and Russo.

Rosamund Pike is the second gal to steal to my heart last night. Not everyone can wear red and not all reds are created equal. I thinks this Valentino Red lace gown reminds us of of how boldly intoxicating her Gone Girl character was. Did you see her insanity? Run, guy, run! This dress is screaming "I am here and I am staying." Good for her. Wearing Givenchy.

There were a few more great looks, but these were haute and too gorgeous not to mention! Jennifer Hudson, for instance was had a great canary yellow piece on the carpet. Loved it. Her performance look, not so much. Sienna Miller looked amazing her black gown also, but it looked a bit crabby on the carpet. Which is why these above were stunners all night long!

Tomorrow, let's talk about Birdman's win, the Latino director, and Sean Penn's comments.

Who were your faves?

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