Fellows Marissa Chan and Dr. Denise Moreno Ramírez are joined by Melissa Cordero and Tatiana Diva Blanco on the Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast to discuss racialized beauty ideals and how to confront them. Transcript Marissa Chan Hey AOC podcast listeners. I'm Marissa Chan. Denise Moreno Ramírez And I'm Denise Moreno Ramírez Marissa Chan And we are sitting in for Brian Bienkowski in this episode of the Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast.
We are current Agents of Change fellows and we both have a passion for beauty justice, which is work that surrounds the economic, social and the physical cost of beauty. In this episode, we discuss beauty justice with two Tucson-Arizona-based individuals with different perspectives on this topic that are not usually the focus of campaigns, research and podcasts around beauty. Melissa Cordero It's been a long journey to get to this point, I will never, you know, be half of myself at any point in my life anymore.
Especially, especially in these particular situations. In fact, it's more of a focus effort to be as Brown facing as I can, Brown and queer facing as I can be in these in these situations. Marissa Chan That was Melissa Cordero, who works as a marketing manager for Sonoran Institute, and has a deep understanding of how they came to their current multifaceted idea of beauty, and how justice can look in our world.
Melissa also discusses what needs to align for them to feel unapologetically happy, and their journey getting there as a lesbian-identifying woman. Tatyana Diva Blanco For me, my way forward is trying my hardest to keep that open mind and also encouraging people to stop looking at a standard and create a standard.
And that is my constant endeavor in life, just period. Marissa Chan That was Tatyana Diva Blonko, who is winner of Miss Gay Tucson American crown, among other awards and a legendary performer in IBTs, one of Tucson's gay bars. They will talk about their journey of becoming a drag queen and how they see their role in inspiring and supporting the next generation.
We promise this episode won't be a drag. And before we start, we want to talk about our connection with the topic of beauty justice from our own lived experiences, so I will pass it to Denise to get us started. Denise Moreno Ramírez As a brown skinned woman, I have a love-hate relationship with beauty standards.
Through my Mexican family and friends, I first learned about the unwritten rules of beauty. Then, when I became immersed in school, I learned more about those rules, then society providing me with more clues through images in popular media. Fast forward to adulthood, beauty became a tool, an important tool, I won't get into all the details, but I realized I could manipulate my looks to fit in as much as possible in a white-dominated workspace called academia.
The only thing I could not do was change my skin color, even though there's a product for that. By manipulating my hair, wearing certain clothes and putting products on my face, I could morph into a more palatable version. Ultimately, people in institutions judge you by your outside appearance. That's is the fact.
Today with four decades of practice and experience, I see beauty differently. I appreciate beautiful things, but when it comes to myself, those pressures are less due to the confidence I have gained, which I can attribute to age and experience. I compare less for sure, I have a more diverse definition of beauty, which used to be more exact.
Today I'm comfortable stepping into social settings without wearing makeup or leaving my hair wavy. I can do what I want and that is powerful for me. And now I pass it on to Marissa. Marissa Chan From the time I was a child, I've always been aware that my hair was different from the majority of my classmates.
While they had no trouble throwing it in a ponytail or wearing it out on rainy or foggy days, mine would take a bit more effort and to me, it would never look right. Based on these experiences and others I started to straighten my hair to fit into certain spaces which eventually led me to using chemical hair relaxers until I was exhausted of upholding a standard of beauty that is unattainable and harmful for many of us.
Now that I've been wearing my hair curly for a while I've come to appreciate and celebrate diversity in hair textures. Every once in a while I will straighten my hair but the key difference is that it is because I want to and not that I feel like I need to. The choice to wear my hair curly or straight is not a choice everyone can make.
And I will continue to fight beauty injustice in the hopes that one day everyone will be able to make that choice. Just a note, before we get started, we had such rich and inspiring conversations with both of our guests, that we could not fit it all into one episode. So you will be hearing some particularly impactful sections from our conversations with Melissa and Diva.
Now let's get into these conversations. Starting with a discussion about the impact of beauty standards. Melissa Cordero I would definitely say I went through a long period of, you know, just being you know, feeling that pressure that many of us do as a Pacific Islander women trying to satisfy the western ideals of what beauty looks like, you know, the slim body types, the lighter skin, the high cheekbones, the large eyes, the tiny nose, the symmetrical face, I can go on and on and on about, you know, just the pressures of, you know, what, what I'm surrounded with every day.
And then I joined the LGBT Chamber of Commerce here in Tucson, and that's where I found my courage. When I was around other business professionals in Tucson, and I saw them being authentically and intentionally themselves, I was like, 'Oh, my God, I'm like, okay, so business can go on, I can be exactly as queer as I am, and show who I am.
And all the things that I love about myself, and, and it shouldn't hurt my business.' And in fact, once I started doing that, even in, you know, heavy white facing situations, I started applying that everywhere. And my sales doubled, my contracts doubled, everything got better. So I was like, 'Man, I like, I wish, it didn't take me so long.' And then that same courage that I found right there, I brought that also to my family, because even as an adult up into my late 20s, early 30s, I still felt that pressure on my dad.
So when I would pack to go visit my family, you know, I would grab dresses, and I would grab like more girlier things that I'd put away my button ups and my you know, like bow ties and stuff. And, um, because, you know, I didn't want my dad to see me in that, you know, because there was still that lingering pressure.
So, you know, again, it's, it's the pressure, it's like, the social pressure, and then it's the media pressure. That, you know, it's been a long journey to get to this point, I will never, you know, be half of myself at any point in my life anymore. Especially, especially in these particular situations.
In fact, it's more of a focused effort to be as brown facing as I can, Brown and queer facing I can be in these in these situations. Tatyana Diva Blanco Right now, I'm kind of in the middle of the struggle. Because there was – so funny, I was going through videos that I was going through all kinds of stuff.
And I was like, 'oh my god, I remember when I used to fit into that costume,' or 'oh my god, I remember back in the day when my body did this, and not this, like it does now.' And so there's a constant mode to like, fit the mold, I think a lot of performers struggle with, especially since the most successful queens in the nation are some sort of like this certain size or this certain, like this makeup or this certain trend.
There are other queens that are going against the grain of that. And I try so hard to also like kind of live that moment of letting the girls know that I know are struggling. 'It's okay girl, it's fine. Do instead of you thinking that you need to put a corset on and pull it until it can't be pulled anymore girl.
It's fine to let yourself just be you and wear something more comfortable. Why are you putting your body through it, girl?' like it's kind of my mission to be that but also in the back of my head I think to myself, like what I started the story. 'I wish I could still fit into this' and all that. Marissa Chan Well both of our guests share different experiences a common thread was that they have felt pressured to look a certain way based on beauty standards that have prioritized Eurocentric features.
However, throughout their journeys, they have found their way to being authentically them and supporting others and doing the same. In the next part of the conversation our guests talk about their experiences and the connection between beauty product use and health. Tatyana Diva Blanco I come from the makeup industry as well.
I worked both for Mac and for Morphe in my tenure and I'm So when it comes to makeup, I think one of the coolest things I've ever seen was a lot of the new makeup lines that are coming out, for example, like House of Gaga, when it first came out, there was a big movement about the fact that she didn't use, she didn't use makeup products that were safe, or, like, not tested on animals.
And like it was a big movement. And I remember she changed her entire line, just because she wanted to make it more safe. And I remember thinking to myself, Wow, that's amazing. And then I started looking at some of them regular makeup that I use, and I was like, holy, I'm not gonna say the words, but oh my god.
Oh, my God, this is crazy. And so I worked at Mac at the time. And I remember looking into it, and I, I never realized how impactful the makeup industry is to just the environment in general. And also, people's health is crazy. And so, um, a lot of the makeup I use now is very much if if I can find your alternative that I know is safe, I'll do it.
If I can't find an alternative girl that I guess I just sacrifice. Melissa Cordero Growing up, we were, I wasn't, we didn't have the most money. You know, we were I mean, I felt like I was the poorest person in the world growing up, but I probably you know, I'm pretty sure I wasn't. And I remember, like, I think back to the products that we used, and they were usually like the bottom-shelf, 99-cent-dollar products.
If they weren't for Walmart, they were from the Dollar store. And I remember when I started to learn about carcinogens, and you know, and like allergens and in skin irritants, and, you know, preservatives and parabens, and I remember when I remember, like thinking about that, and then I had just been accustomed to using certain products.
So like, I go, I go, and I look at these products, and I'm just like, holy, like the everything that I read about in all of these products, you know, and I'm just like, wow, like, no idea. No idea. And I know, my parents didn't have any idea either. But, you know, I started to pay attention at that point, what am I using on my skin, and I made a, I made a very quick switch to using a lot of, you know, just like olive oils, and you know, a lot of just natural products.
And if I can make it myself, I will. But I think the part where I'm most, I think passionate when when I'm answering these particular questions, is that unless you have that, wow, that you know, that aha moment for yourself, you don't really question these things, right? It's not really something that's, that's taught, you know, and then you know, the accessibility, right? like I am from the island of Guam.
And you know, we're very close to other Asian countries and stuff like that. So when we're talking about like our corner stores and our markets there, and the products that are the most accessible and the ones that are most affordable, these products are typically coming from places that there is no sense there's no regulations around, you know, these products and then they can be easily found in like our corner stores and stuff like that.
So in most people where we're kind of broken down into villages, and every village has their market, and so you can go and grab these products and you know that they are... who knows what's in these products. Marissa Chan Both Melissa and Diva discussed the moments when they learned about chemicals concerning their products, and the shift towards looking for safer products.
They also talk about the potential lack of access to information and product availability, which speaks towards a broader issue of who has access to safer products. In the next part of the conversation we ask the guests to describe a word that makes them feel their best and share a moment where they have felt their best. Melissa Cordero Beautiful, handsome fine, sexy you know, all those things.
I I don't really, you know, for me a compliment is a compliment. However, somebody might be perceiving me in that moment. If they're being nice, I'll take it. But, you know, I would say you know, beautiful and, you know, but where, where? Like, when do you feel the most beautiful? I would say when I am focusing on my mental and physical health, that is usually where I am the most confident as a person.
When I let either one of those two things get away, I feel like I feel like my fallback is my image. And, and then I put this heavy emphasis on what what do I look like? So I feel the most beautiful when I'm taking care of myself, when I'm making time to take care of myself. Tatyana Diva Blanco I'm gonna say...
alright when I'm in full glamazon mode. Full glamazon mode, meaning like, Girl, I have my hair snatched up to here. The makeup is snatch back, she's, she's ready and willing, I have a picture. Hold on, let me show you. I think this is a good representation, oh, I'm holding my Miss Arizona crowns. Marissa Chan Amazing.
We will share this somehow with our podcast listeners, Tatyana Diva Blanco I can send you a picture. I think I think when I get to that, when I'm in that mode, and it doesn't happen too often as as weird as it may seem, when I'm doing regular shows, or whatever, I showed this picture just because she was right here on the wall.
But also, the reason I have it up is because it reminds me of, it reminds me of the moment that the Miss Arizona crown was first put on my head. And I remember feeling so powerful, and just so validated, and a part of something bigger. And just I remember feeling exactly what I wanted to feel when I was first coming out, which is being a part of something bigger than myself.
And having people look at me and say, Holy shit, I want to do that too. And I remember that moment was the moment that I felt all of those emotions put together, along with the crowd screaming. And it just made my whole life go from one lane to another lane. Because at one point, I was like, How can I get there? How can I get there, all of a sudden, I turn this, this huge left turn that told me Okay, now it's time to reach back and pull those girls along with me. Denise Moreno Ramírez For both our guests, the moments when they had felt their best are not only based on their physical appearance, but more specifically, moments when their physical, mental and emotional health were aligned.
If you have not already, please look at the photos of our guests, which are displayed as the artwork of today's episode. These are the moments that Diva and Melissa described as them feeling at their best. Now what is the path forward in terms of duty justice, here, our guests insights Melissa Cordero just increasingly awareness, right of what is a safe product, what it could do to you, you know, what, what, what long, what long term use looks like on the body, and how it can can be affecting you.
So just increasing that awareness. And the best way I think the biggest champions in that space would be from bigger corporations who have made a conscious effort to putting out healthy products, and then helping spread that, you know, awareness as well, just as a trusted influencing source that would be the place that I think would have the most impact on a campaign like the like that.
But and then when it comes to just embracing, you know, beauty standards, you know, we you know, there just has to be a conscious consistency of promoting, promoting and celebrating diversity in all forms. You know, different body types, facial features, skin tones. And I think that, you know, diverse beauty standards is is one clearly defining what that is and then again, making that conscious effort to include everybody in there and not just the masses where you're just pushing the same agenda on the western ideals of what what beauty looks like.
It's unfair, it's unsafe, you know, it causes, you know, just, you know, unhealthy habits, right? It can lead into very unhealthy habits when you're just constantly pressuring an entire world where we should be celebrating our differences and why, why we're beautiful, because we are different. And just trying to standardize this one look. Tatyana Diva Blanco When it comes to the way forward, one of the things that I've learned, especially just not just in drag, but just in life, is girl, you got to be open to everything.
And it doesn't matter what your foundation tells you, your foundation, meaning your core beliefs on what you feel is beautiful. It doesn't matter what your foundation is telling you, you have to stay open to everything. Because you don't know, when you're going to get reinspired. You don't know when you're going to get a different perspective.
And sometimes, even the newest person walking into your life, that you think, oh, okay, well, maybe like I can teach them something, they turn around and teach you teach you something. So it's, for me, my way forward is trying my hardest to keep that open mind and also encouraging people to stop looking at a, a standard, and to create a standard.
And that is my constant endeavor in life, just period. Denise Moreno Ramírez Diva, and Melissa shared critical routes forward for beauty justice, including increased education about safer products, and the potential health impacts, celebrating diverse beauty standards, and being open to everything in the context of beauty.
To end these inspiring conversations, we ask our guests to share some parting words with our listeners. Melissa Cordero As much time as you are spending on your image, you know, look, look within yourself. Share, share that time with your mental health and your physical health. And find your courage, find your courage to be authentic, whether that's putting yourself around people who inspire you, you know, but But you know, get close, get close to your roots, get close to who you are, and, and learn about wherever it is that you're from.
And I really, you know, I really suggest this and, you know, without leaving anybody out with, you know, Brown and Black communities and anybody who's two or more, right, get close, spend some time that goes along with that mental health focus on your mental health. Right? Spend some time and figuring out who you are and where you come from and, and spend time celebrating where you're from, you know, and why you look the way you look.
You know, there's there's so much to celebrate in your uniqueness. Tatyana Diva Blanco I think if I were to share anything with the world, especially now because like, drag is being like, such a, a hot topic right now. And I think for anyone that's not familiar with drag, I would say drag is... drag to me is not a is not a an art form that it has an agenda to disrupt the the straight world, that's not the point.
Drag is very political. And it's always been. Because we are telling, we are telling people, we're here and we're not going to go anywhere from the very beginning. And so anybody that's listening to the podcast, I just want to say, if you're unfamiliar with the art form, it's okay. If you've never seen a show, it's okay.
But don't ever stop yourself from enjoying that freedom from going and living vicariously, vicariously through someone else. For a good ol you know, one or two performances out a show, see it for yourself, and then make your decision from there because I guarantee you if more people went to drag shows, we would have such a happier community.
Period. Denise Moreno Ramírez Through this episode, we have had the opportunity to chat with folks with diverse perspective experiences and insights into beauty that have been typically overlooked in broader beauty conversation. From these conversations, we have learned that beauty is not skin deep.
And there are real mental and physical costs of upholding beauty standards. However, there is a way forward. And as our guests shared, there are a variety of avenues that we can, that we need to focus enough personal and more broadly in terms of businesses and society to push for beauty justice. Thanks for tuning in to this Agents of Change in Environmental Justice collaborative podcast.
We have enjoyed chatting with Melissa and Diva. Please check out Melissa's work at the Sonoran Institute. And if you are in Tucson, we hear that the drag brunch at IBT with Diva is a must. Stay tuned next time for another installment of these collaborative podcasts with the Agents of Change in Environmental Justice.