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Male Beauty Standards in Puerto Rico

On November 16, 2016, Her Campus wrote an article called Women Empowerment: Beauty Standards in Puerto Rico and Living Without Them, which offers a list of the six most common requirements that define beauty in women of Puerto Rico. This article also gives an inside look on Puerto Rican socio-cultural ideas of beauty, linguistic terms (words like chumba, lampiña, and dubi), notions of race in Puerto Rico, and advice on how to live without the pressure of following those standards.

In Puerto Rico, these standards, which are considered to be correct, are something that we live with, consciously and subconsciously. We find them to be accurate when really, they're just social constructs.

Our goal was and is to show women that they are beautiful just the way they are, to let them know that they are the ones who decide if they want to follow the standards or not, and to empower them. We wanted to show women that it's their choice. It is also an effort to create awareness of mental health issues caused by negative self and body image.

When we published that article, we promised that we would conduct the same study in regards to male beauty standards in Puerto Rico. We recognize that it's not talked about often. As we say in our island, lo prometido es deuda, so here it is!

About a month ago we released an online questionnaire for people to fill out, anonymously, where we asked questions about the presence of male beauty standards in Puerto Rico. We wanted a general idea of male beauty standards, especially with the opinion of men themselves. The questionnaire was directed towards everyone who wanted to participate, regardless of gender and sexual orientation, but two of those questions were directed towards men only.  We received 56 responses in total.

The results of the questionnaire showed that of the sample of 56 people, 91.1% said that they believe there are beauty standards for men in Puerto Rico, while 5.4% said maybe, and 3.6% believe there aren’t. We can see that the vast majority said that they believe male beauty standards do exist in Puerto Rico, so that leads us to discuss “Why?”. Beauty standards often reflect the roles women and men are expected to fulfill within society; they also reflect what’s considered attractive and/or desirable in media. We’re always bombarded with magazine covers, pictures, movies, and TV series. Media, as massive as it is, begins to establish roles or to declare statements (whether conscious or unconsciously) that exclude others from the criteria of beauty; and it eventually has an effect on its spectators and consumers. This is where standards begin to develop. In the case of Puerto Rico, an island as diverse as it does show the conflicts between imposed beauty standards and the reality of the people. This is our hypothesis and it composes the groundwork of the beauty standards we’ll present in this article.

 

We believe there is a difference between beauty standards in a society and personal beauty standards. Personal beauty standards can be personal tastes and the likes that one has for another person. It can also be what a person thinks beauty is for oneself, like a preferred style of fashion, hair, etc. Personal beauty standards are normal because everyone has different ideas of what they believe beauty is, what and who they feel attracted to, what and who they don’t like, and how they feel.  All of that is perfectly fine. But it starts to get problematic when a unilateral or one-sided idea of what beauty is establishes itself as the only form of beauty, on a macro level. In other words, if a single consideration of what is beautiful or handsome is predominant in ALL of Puerto Rico, then it excludes other ideas of beauty and handsomeness that exist, leaving a lot of people out of the picture. If the person decides to follow the standards, that’s great because that someone is doing something they want for oneself, but no one should feel pressured to become the type of beautiful that society asks you to be, especially when it could affect one’s self-esteem.

The second question was directed towards men, and it asked if they feel pressured to follow those standards. Men made up more than half of the main sample. 51.6% of men said that they do feel pressured to follow those standards, while 19.4% said maybe and 29% said they don’t feel pressured. The question was divided into two parts; the second part asked who or what incites the pressure to them. The most repeated responses were women, family, society, Latin culture, social media, mass media, significant others (partner, spouse, etc.), and men.

 

All the people who answered the questionnaire were asked which physical traits they thought were most commonly perceived as part of being beauty standards. We received many responses, but we narrowed down the most frequently repeated answers.

1. Muscular Physique

Among responses related to muscles in men, we received answers such as six-pack abs, muscular extremities, the “V”, strong chest and shoulders, and toned back. All responses that make allusion to that were mentioned approximately 50 times, making it the most required and desired male beauty standard within the sample. Of those elements, the most repeated one was six-pack abs. 

Our advice: This standard can be followed if you want, but you’re not obligated to do so. One of the other questions in the questionnaire asked people which beauty standard they would eliminate, and ironically, the most frequent response was the muscular physique. At the end of the day, it’s your choice to work for that body if you want to. If it makes you happy, if it makes you feel strong, if it makes you feel healthy, and if it makes you feel beautiful then, by all means, go for it. But if you feel that you can’t achieve it or you don’t want to, that doesn’t mean that you’re not handsome or less attractive. You can feel happy, strong, healthy, and beautiful without muscles, and there are many people that will see you as a beautiful and handsome person as well.

 

2. Tall Height

This is the second most frequent response, with a repetition of 18 times. A tall height is a more complicated standard to achieve since 60%-80% percent of the difference in height between individuals is determined by genetic factors. It’s not something we can control; we’re just born with it. Historically in Puerto Rico, the average height of men was 5'3” to 5'5”. Now, the average height for men is 5’6” to 5’8.” That’s not considered too tall compared to other countries’ averages.

Then, why is a tall height considered a beauty standard to be achieved? Some of the answers of those who responded to our questionnaire made allusions to the aspiration of Americanized Eurocentric qualities, like a profiled nose, fair skin, blue eyes, straight hair, and the ability to speak English. Other answers related a tall height with power, with taller men being seen as stronger and healthier. It was also said to be related to the ability to play sports. Whatever the height you have, don’t be too harsh on yourself if you’re not tall. Height doesn’t determine intelligence, success, friendliness, handsomeness, health, etc. Everybody is different; beauty is in the diversity. El sol sale para todos.

 

3.Straight to Wavy Hair

 

Having been repeated 10 times, straight to wavy hair becomes the third most frequent response of the questionnaire. One person referred to the desired hair as muertesito, which translates as “dead”. Just like the female beauty standard of straight hair, men are beginning to change it up and embrace their natural hair or play with it. People are also a lot more expressive with their hair, experimenting with different styles, haircuts, colors, and textures. One single way of presenting hair shouldn’t be imposed, and everyone should feel free to do whatever they want with it. It’s time to get rid of the derogatory terms that refer to hair that’s not straight or wavy, such as pelo malo. All hair is beautiful. No hair is also beautiful [shout out to the bald men!].

 

4. Fair to Tan Skin Tone

 

This standard can be quite controversial and debatable, considering that skin tones in Puerto Rico are extremely varied. Just like height, it’s something we’re born with. Yet, it is also repeated 10 times in the questionnaire as a male beauty standard people recognize in the island. Some people wrote blanquito, blanco or piel clara (referring to those with fair skin), others taneado, moreno or trigueño (referring to those with a medium to darker skin tone), and also both. Only one response wrote about black men, stating that they can be considered attractive only if they’re really muscular. Skin tones in Puerto Rico are a varied spectrum that mixes with different facial features, hair textures, eye colors, and body types. It is wrong to say that those who exclusively have fair and tan skin are beautiful. They are beautiful but so are other skin tones. We cannot exclude those with darker skin. This could be due to a long history of racial discourses in Puerto Rico, where colonization played an important role. Also due to the fact that those who are darker (medium or tan) fit with Latino stereotypes, they are seen as more “exotic.” Not only is this beauty standard nonrepresentational of the entire spectrum, it cuts away essential parts of our Puerto Rican history that makes us who we are as one country.

 

5. Beard

 

Beards have been extremely popular for the past few years in Puerto Rico. They existed before, but now they're being seen with more frequency. This answer was given a total of 9 times in our questionnaire. Some responses said that facial hair, especially beards, should be groomed and taken care of in order to be attractive. We could speculate that facial hair is seen as a beauty standard in Puerto Rico because it makes men appear more mature, which is perfectly fine. Again, we still shouldn't exclude beardless men from being considered as handsome and we also can’t force them to grow facial hair (some can’t, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of). Beard or no beard, Y'all are handsome.

 

6. Light Eye Colors

 

Ojos claros in Puerto Rico refers to eye colors that aren’t brown or dark, such as blue, green, hazel, and grey. This standard had a frequency of 7 times in the questionnaire. Light eye colors are considered a beauty standard because of its rarity and its ability to stand out. Light eye colors are very beautiful, but so are brown eyes and dark eye colors as well. Just like our skin tones, eye colors are a spectrum, even if some colors are more common than others. Embrace what you have!

 

7. The "Perfect" Smile

This standard was repeated 3 times within the responses of the questionnaire. As we were analyzing it, we realized that a lot of us had different ideas of what a “perfect” smile is. We concluded that there really is no single idea of what a “perfect” smile is since everyone has different definitions of it. For some people, straight teeth are enough, for others, it’s the dimples. Some people like whiter teeth and others might not care about the smile. As a person who has had braces twice for a total of 5 years, a retainer for 3 more years, and a nasty wisdom teeth removal surgery, achieving straight teeth is not an easy ordeal. Don’t get me started on whitening them naturally. Bright white is not even the natural color of teeth. It’s up to the dude, and maybe his dentist or orthodontist, if he wants to go through all of that to achieve what he considers his best smile. Maybe he doesn’t have to go through all of that in the first place, especially if he doesn’t want to. Una sonrisa no cuesta nada pero vale mucho.

 

8. Booty

 

Surprisingly, we were expecting this to be one of the most repeated beauty standards for men in Puerto Rico, but it was actually repeated only 3 times in this sample. Why are butts a beauty standard in men? According to Dr. Kerri Johnson of UCLA, women aren’t likely attracted to the butt itself as its own separate entity, but rather attracted to how it enhances male body movement. Like we mentioned in the first article, it’s okay for people to have personal tastes on people’s bodies because the perception of beauty for each person is different, but it shouldn’t become objectification. Chumbo or not, work it.

 

According to our questionnaire, these are the 8 most frequent beauty standards towards men people see in Puerto Rico, answered by a sample of 56 people. Other beauty standards were mentioned, but they were not added to the list because they were not repeated more than once. These were good hygiene, being a knave, shaving body hair, waxing eyebrows, clear skin [lack of acne], deep voice, European facial features, well dressed, straight nose, and money. Some of those standards don’t necessarily relate to physical traits and characteristics, but for some people, it can determine handsomeness and attractiveness in men. We want to clarify again that the standards we listed responded to a general view of beauty towards men in Puerto Rico, not personal beauty standards. The fact that personal beauty standards exist helps cancel out the establishment of oppressive beauty standards because it provides a variety of ideas of beauty and handsomeness, where everyone can be included.

 

Why is this important? One of the questions of the questionnaire dealt with how these beauty standards affect men’s emotions. When we asked men (more than half of the main sample) if they feel that those standards negatively affect their feelings, well-being, and self-esteem, 61.3% said yes, 32.3% said maybe, and 6.5% said no. Another investigation stated that more than four in five men (80.7%) talk in ways that promote anxiety about their body image by referring to perceived flaws and imperfections, compared with 75% of women. If the standards get out of hand, it can become a serious issue for some people because the negative effects could influence their body image and self-esteem. This could be painful, disappointing, embarrassing, and hard to talk about. It has the potential of becoming a mental health issue, and we need to be very careful with that. Thankfully, the participants of the questionnaire were able to help us with that by offering advice to those who are affected by the pressure of beauty standards. Here is some of their advice as translated from Spanish:

  • “Do not pay attention to the standards. Whether you are chubby, skinny, tall, short, built or not built, ignore all of that. The bodies are as varied as the tastes and there will always be someone who loves you as you are. The only reason that should make you change is your health. As long as you are healthy, let everything else pass you by.”
  • “RELAX. If the worry is never to find a partner that accepts you how you are, do not worry. We all have different tastes and definitely not all of us agree with these standards implicitly imposed.”
  • “Ignore the standards because they are changing over the years anyway and they are irrelevant. Be yourself.”
  • “Forget all of that toxic masculinity.”
  • “You do you.”
  • “Do not get overwhelmed with the expectations of others. Live for yourself and satisfy your tastes.”
  • “Beauty is in feeling comfortable, no matter what others say.”
  • “To heck what others think, if you're comfortable with how you are, then stay that way. All change must be done by oneself, not to make others feel comfortable or good.”
  • “The standards change by era, be authentic, that's attractive.”
  • “You’re not alone.”
  • “You should not feel pressured. I know it sounds cliché, but the reality is that once I read that everyone is beautiful, it only depends on what eyes you look at them with. Do not feel pressured. You do not have to follow a standard, just be yourself and create a new standard that many will like.”
  • “Accept the differences of your body as what they are: differences. They are not imperfections or failures. Create your own beauty standard. What do you expect from yourself? Work to follow your own concept of beauty, not that of others.”
  • Daddy is said to those who feel comfortable being themselves, who do not doubt themselves and who do not feel that the element that sets them apart from beauty standards is an attack on their sexuality.”
  • “You can always improve, but do not feel pressured, be happy and accept yourself.”
  • “It is not worth it to go through so much psychological damage to look ‘Good’.”
  • “It is important to lead a healthy life both physically and emotionally. Everything that defocuses you from that north, eliminate it from your life.”
  • “Stop giving so much power to your oppressors. Reveal yourself, without you they have no power.”
  • “To be themselves, be genuine and truly feel comfortable with themselves and they’ll see a change in how society (friendships) treat them.”
  • “Always be you, the one who doesn't love you as you are is not worth it.”
  • “The mind and the interior are much more beautiful than the appearance and are what will really make you happy.”

 

Lastly, when asked if beauty standards should be followed, of the 56 responses, 49 said that they shouldn’t be followed. Some of the reasons that were included in the responses were that standards can be discriminatory, unreal and relative; people should live how they want, and that beauty shouldn’t be standardized. 5 responses said that it depends if the person wants to follow it and that it’s up to them. 2 responses said that beauty standards are relevant and should be followed if it results in something positive. Also, when asked if they believe beauty standards are valid, 73.2% said no, 21.4% said maybe, and 5.4% said yes. 

 

 

In conclusion, beauty standards towards men do exist in Puerto Rico and they originate from a variety of sources, such as history, society, family, culture, and media. Standards can be a good thing if they’re individual, personal, and subjective, but it can be troublesome if they are oppressive at a massive scale and if they have a toll on someone’s physical and mental health. At the end of the day, everyone has the right to decide if they want to follow the standards or not; they are optional. They do not determine or define you as a person. If you already embody all those standards, then live your life and be yourself. If you don’t, also live your life and be yourself.

 

Disclaimer: Limitations we can consider from this small, mixed method (qualitative and quantitative) research are the fact the sample size is not large enough to represent the Puerto Rican population. Also, we didn’t ask for demographic information, such as age, education level, and civil status, considering that the data could influence the answers. The list of standards is based on subjective opinions and feelings of those who responded the questionnaires, and the analyses of each standard were developed by HC writers. For future articles, we can consider consulting professionals on the topic and we can collect questionnaires of a larger sample of people. This article was in no way intentioned to criticize or devalue those who do have the traits that are listed in this article; on the contrary, it is a celebration of beauty in every man and an attempt to start a conversation that is rarely spoken about in Puerto Rico.

We would like to thank everyone who took the time to fill out the questionnaires and for participating in this article!

A boricua who is currently a Psychology major and Drama minor in the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras campus. Completely overtaken by a passion for film, theater, music, writing, and cooking. Also a Sign Language (ASL) interpreter for the Deaf and for the Deaf-blind. As a member of Her Campus, my goal is to share the voices of those who deserve to be heard through the power of words. The pen is mightier than the sword, my friends... let's make a good use of it.
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