5 Ways Growing Up with Telenovelas Damaged My Mental Health
(Source: Maria La Del Barrio, 1996)
A very fun and popular cultural aspect about growing up Latina was watching telenovelas. (Also known as soap operas or “novelas” for short.) Telenovelas are drama series that appeared regularly on TV, with 90% of their programming dedicated to the most dramatic entanglements. Imagine 24 hours a day of lovers on their wedding day finding out they’re long lost cousins or someone being pushed down a three-story staircase causing them amnesia, obviously. Most soap operas had happy endings but... like may TV programs in the 90's and 00’s, we were getting a very misogynistic and outdated point of view.
Constantly being exposed to the same messaging, specially at a very young age, will eventually impact the way you think. I know its called TV programming, but isn’t it programming us at the end of the day? To think the stuff we watched was an accurate representation of reality.
And I pondered, did telenovelas f*ck me up? The more I thought about it, I remembered the many different patterns in my life I’ve had to unlearn.
I’ve listed 5 ways growing up with telenovelas affected the way I viewed myself and the world around me. (side note: I’m a cisgender woman, which is my lived experience and perspective)
Representation in media is essential during a child's formative years. Yet too often, media fails to accurately represent the people they portray. I mean, most Mexicans are dark beautifully tan people, so why are the main characters in telenovelas predominantly white? The characters who resembled me were usually cleaning ladies. Truly don’t want to get into the whole systematic racism thing... so let’s leave it at “a preference for Eurocentric beauty ideals”, which internalizes insecurities in viewers due to a lack of representation. I remember being a kid and wanting blue eyes, flash-forward to me as a teen using coloured eye contacts for years.
(Source: Destilando Amor 2007)
Drama drama drama
Telenovelas made it seem like something dramatic should always be happening. It also gave me the impression that when things were good, something had to come and mess it up. Well, I’ve realized it doesn’t matter if something good or bad happens, what matters is how you react.
Male gaze realness
(male gaze= when the camera puts the audience into the perspective of a man and portrays a women as his sexual object.) I have this image engraved in my head of a scene in a novela where a woman is alone watching herself in the mirror, posing. Women tend to watch themselves being looked at by a man even alone, I mean I do it unconsciously, stick out my butt, tuck in the tummy, perk the boobs. I thank constant sexual imagery of women in media..🤢
Toxicity in relationships as a must
For us girls who crave a little drama in our relationships, well look a little deeper. Why were domestic violence or red flags ok? Normalizing slapping people across their faces or forcing a kiss upon someone is not cool and some telenovelas aged like milk. 🥛
No Heroes no villains
No one is 100% good or bad and sometimes you'll be the villain in someone’s story. There's also two very valid sides to every story therefore things aren't always black or white.