Extraordinary Latinas: "Gordita: Built Like This" Review & Interview with Daisy Ruiz
The first performance of Josefina Lopez's play "Real Women Have Curves" was in May of 1990. The revolutionary film adaptation starring America Ferrera was released in 2002. In 2016, Gloria Lucas started Nalgona Positivity Pride, an "in-community eating disorders and body-positive organization" for BICC rooted in Xicana indigenous feminism. In 2017, Princess Nokia released her hit "Tomboy" celebrating her "little titties and fat belly." 2022 brings a new creative force to this league of cycle-breaking, body positive latina, indigenous, and women of color creatives tearing down diet culture: "Gordita: Built Like This" a new comic by New York based Chicana illustrator Daisy Ruiz.
We're introduced to middle schooler "Gordita" standing in front of her mirror holding her tummy. She explains to the viewer that although she is latina- she doesn't fit the stereotypical latina beauty standards pushed by the Latina American and US media. The societal expectation burdens her in her everyday life- rude, hypocritical tias... self hating mestizos... nasty classmates who say she's "built like spongebob" cus she lacks Selena's legendary curves. Even before Gordita's ultimate transformation- her creativity and personality shine through. While she stands in the mirror critiquing her own body, she's wearing red "Punk Princess" chones. She's owned the rude af "SpongeBob" dig, and turns it into her own character: "Hood SpongeBob" who proudly backs his square ass up while waving the Mexican flag. Later she embraces the idea that she is more than her body- and these little seeds that Daisy plants early on show that Gordita is a girl of strong character, humor, and creativity- she just needs a little guidance to dig herself out from the mountain of bullying and expectation that middle school, puberty, racism, fatphobia, and colorism have pilled on top of her.
"Gordita: Built Like This" tackles tough themes head on in a way that is empowering to those who need this work most. Daisy Ruiz has presented the traumatic intersection of when puberty and bullying collide with cultural and racial identity issues and body dysmorphia- yet Gordita comes out the victor. In this way, Ruiz has created a captivating hero for teens and adults alike that I hope we see more of!
R.A.: You have represented the compounded issues so many latinas/girls of color have dealt with in this comic. Middle school is a tough time for a lot of people, yet adding this expectation of what you are supposed to look like because of your race or ethnicity is such a heavy burden that many of us are still unlearning way into adulthood. What was your motivation in revisiting this painful yet trans-formative era? How are you still unlearning and combating diet culture as an adult?
Daisy: I wrote/ illustrated “Gordita: Built Like This” when the Youtube algorithm recommended videos to me on young women’s journeys towards getting a BBL. It brought me back to my young teen years when I too thought that getting a big butt would solve the bullying I was facing at school. How I would grab my belly fat and wish that I could move it down to my booty. All the mean things I would say to myself at that time, like how I was square shaped. They were words that were said to me by my classmates, family, and strangers. Now as an adult who has taken therapy and learned to eat food three times a day, I see things with perspective. I look back at my middle school pictures and I have so much empathy for my past self, it gave me the motivation to make this comic.
R.A.:Gordita is clearly a clever, sensitive, artistic, funny, well-rounded character. The lesson here is that we are more than our bodies. Yet it seems like another takeaway is that we exist in them and can use our creativity to feel more comfortable in them. What were some of the creative ways you felt more comfortable in your body as a teen and now as an adult? (dyeing your hair, favorite clothes that make your feel most you, etc)
Daisy: As a teen I remember using art and fashion to make myself feel better and that’s reflected in Gordita: Built Like this. I’m so lucky that even though my mom didn’t like my style most of the time I was still allowed to express myself through my hair and clothes. I love dying my hair different colors now and doing that process myself. All my life I just wanted to look like an anime villain and I feel like I’m living 12 year old me’s wildest dreams.
R.A.:The comic is full of Y2K nostalgia. I started high school in 2004, and I remember the whole "Latino Invasion" thing. There was such a clear picture of what a latina was supposed to look like and it was basically a Ricky Martin backup dancer or J Lo. Like- tan but not too dark, a round ass but a tiny waist and flat toned tummy. The parameters were drawn and they were VERY narrow. It was also the era of Paris Hilton, "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels", and low rise jeans- do you think that body image and positivity has improved since then? Kids today have to battle the Kardashian/ Jenners and social media- what message would you share with them?
Daisy: With social media there’s more pressure to follow trends and I can’t imagine how hard it is for kids in poverty, body image issues. When I was a teen all I had to do was log offline, now we’re on our phones 24/7. My message to everyone is to join their public library, get a hobby, journaling, and find a trustworthy adult/ friend that you can talk to.
R.A.: Gordita's mother follows the same path as many latinx relatives and starts shaming her daughters choices and even puts her on the dreaded Yerba Lite dieta without realizing the pain she's putting her in. Unlike many adults who shame their children, she realizes the harm she's caused and apologizes and tries to make it right and restore her daughters confidence by getting her clothes she actually wants to wear, making her a comforting breakfast of a quesadilla y huevos revueltos, and braiding Gordita's hair. In this way Gordita's mother makes a transformation as well and is quite possibly breaking the cycle of generational abuse. Do you see this character as a possible proxy for young latinas struggling with their mothers opinions on their body and as a way to show that yes mothers can do wrong and should apologize and make right on their harmful behavior?
Daisy: As a child I didn’t get an apology from my mom, the apology came once I was an adult. I hope that children will be able to take away that they should feel safe setting their boundaries with their guardians. And I hope that guardians will learn that children are people and worthy of respect.
R.A.: Miss Payne makes such a positive impact on Gordita and her friends perspectives on themselves. Was she based on your real guidance counselor or another adult in your life who made a difference?
Daisy: Miss Payne is the name of my High School counselor, she helped me get into FIT and encouraged me to pursue my Art career. But the character is also a representation of my favorite teachers in elementary school. Miss Johnson and Miss Jackson come to mind; they were a teacher/ teacher assistant duo that taught dance after school. Through them I learned about American culture and expressing myself through interpretive dance. My mom isn't someone with self esteem so being able to learn that from black women around me meant a lot to me.
R.A.:Lastly, middle school is the perfect setting for this story. Gordita's creativity and humor are blossoming- nourished by her friends. She makes this change in perspective about how she relates and inhabits her body thanks to the guidance of Ms. Payne. Are there any plans to continue Gordita's story as she faces new struggles in high school and even later in young adulthood?
Daisy: I do have a lot more stories that I want to draw and publish, so I’m in the process of writing and sketching.