Halfway through my freshman year of high school, it seemed like my body completely changed overnight. Suddenly, I had thicker thighs and a noticeably bigger butt that I struggled to squeeze into my jeans. The rest of my body remained slim and petite, but let's just say my booty really popped. As I desperately looked around for someone else who was experiencing this awkward transformation, I realized the other girls in my class weren't shaped like me.
My body became a source of all kinds of unwanted attention. While guys who barely looked at me before sexualized my newfound curves, girls who were supposed to be my friends shamed me. "Your butt is so much bigger than the rest of your body," my friend pointed out, laughing, as I walked ahead of her to the cafeteria. "It looks so weird and it jiggles when you walk." The words hit me like a ton of bricks. I was mortified. Even as I write this so many years later, I can still vividly recall how uncomfortable my 15-year-old self felt in her skin.
Being Puerto Rican, I didn't always get to see myself reflected in pop culture, either. The one famous Latina I felt like I could relate to was the multihyphenate and proudly Puerto Rican Jennifer Lopez. Ever since her breakout role in Selena - a major accomplishment for a Latina actress in the '90s - I gravitated toward her, not just because of our shared heritage or the successful businesswoman she quickly became, but also because of her unwavering confidence, especially when it came to her curves. Let's not forget, Lopez's body type wasn't one that was celebrated in Hollywood at the time - and her butt quickly took on a life of its own.
Whether she was walking the red carpet, heading to the gym, or showing off her epic dance moves in "Love Don't Cost a Thing," Lopez's curves were constantly the center of attention. Despite how obsessed news and TV outlets were with covering her backside, the star never tried to change her body or who she was - and while I'm sure this took courage, she made it seem effortless. Yes, Lopez was often praised for how great she looked, but for years, she was singled out for simply living in her body, something that resonated with me as I walked the hallways of my high school. Had we been more exposed to different shapes and sizes in the media at the time, I don't think this would have been the case. It just goes to show how important on-screen representation truly is.
For years, Lopez was singled out for simply living in her body, something that resonated with me as I walked the hallways of my high school.
Lopez paved the way for a generation and helped to flip my mindset when it came to my own body. Thanks to her, I didn't feel so alone. Though my body was scrutinized on a much smaller scale, in a way I felt like she and I went through similar experiences. It made me determined to let go of my insecurities and heal my bruised body image. My butt continued to be talked about throughout the rest of my time in high school, but I eventually stopped caring what others had to say and learned to love my body as it was (I even spritzed myself with Glow, the star's very first fragrance, on the days I needed to channel my inner J Lo).
These days, curves are more widely seen as beautiful and a bigger butt is even the goal for many, and there's no denying Lopez's influence in that. To me, she was and still is the definition of a role model and deserves more credit for promoting body positivity before it was ever a trend on social media. While it's sad to think back on a time when I didn't like my body, I'm forever grateful to Lopez for teaching me how to be proud of who I am and where I'm from. I went from throwing on a hoodie every day to hide my figure to wearing whatever I liked, even if it happened to accentuate my booty. She was brave enough to embrace her curves, and in time, she inspired me to do the same.