Puerto-Rican/American, woman & artist.
“As a little girl and as a teenager I struggled to figure out where I fitted in. I grew up in a very ‘mixed' household. Both of my parents are Puerto Rican but divorced and married white partners. I lived in predominantly white neighbourhoods and went to almost entirely white schools. I looked nothing like any of the people I was surrounded by. For most of my life I hadn’t really known anyone who looked like me. Even if I turned on the television, all I’d see were white people most of the time. This didn’t necessarily bother me as a child. My friends were white. Half of my family is white. I was able to relate just as well. However, I did feel like I was different and that my differences needed to be changed in order to fit in.
Hair is a good example. I have very big, curly hair and as soon as I entered high school, I started straightening it almost every week. My boyfriend at the time said he preferred my hair straight so in my mind it made me more attractive. Straight hair made me stand out less and spared me from comments such as 'your hair is so frizzy!'. Straight hair was what this particular community was used to and it was a standard of beauty that I felt compelled to meet. Small things like this caused me anxiety and made me hyper focus on the way I looked. It wasn’t until I went to college and met people from all different backgrounds that I began to come into my own. Up until this point, I had been stagnant. My interests and hobbies were limited. My mind was consumed by very superficial thoughts and desires to be like everyone else. I’ve always been creative but I was too insecure to really delve into anything. The sense of freedom that came with being on my own and away from what I had known allowed me to flourish creatively and try new things. I learned how to play guitar. I began to study theatre and eventually began making art. I discovered that my differences could be celebrated and that they are special. I found that being creative and making art made me feel most connected to others. Art brought me peace and made me feel confident and proud. Art allowed me to have a voice. It allowed me to accept my brown, curly-haired Puerto Rican self because I realised that I am so much more than my outward appearance.”
To view Zoe’s art head to her Instagram account.
To follow the series on Instagram follow @iamjessanders.