The Dramatic Transformation Of A Mexican-American Singer


Lila Downs is an extraordinary Mixteca/American (Scottish) singer. She has thick Frida Kahlo-like natural brows, a pale olive-tinted complexion, long black braids, and the fashion sense of an old-world, beautiful Mexican woman. Well, she used to have all those things.

I noticed on her new album that Lila looks really different. She has super-plucked brows, lots of make-up, long, loose hair, a tat on her arm, beige lipstick, and a decidedly tanner complexion. She also dresses more modern, showing a lot more skin, and even wearing a bikini top at times. When I first saw these images I thought, wtf happened? Then I did some research and found this interview with her. In another interview she also claimed that she was now embracing being a lady. So… her old look was embracing being… a man, androgynous? I wish she’d said she now is embracing being the template of what modern femininity is supposed to look like. I also stumbled on a forum at that also exclaimed bewilderment at her new transformation.

Lila’s new look apparently grew from her realization that she can’t have kids. This led her to a sort of crisis where she wanted to look more feminine and womanly. I thought she already looked great, but what do I know. It seems her new idea of beauty meant skinny brows, pale lips, loose hair, and skimpy clothing. She still has a sort of Mexican vibe with her look but it’s definitely more overtly sexual and it seems to me a lot more definitive of what modern men find sexy. Instead of oozing her mysterious, indigenous, rebellious beauty, instead of looking like she’s flipping the bird to the Anglo idea of pretty (if you look at J.Lo pix before she became famous she was a lot more ethnic looking with big brows, curly black hair, and a paler complexion… and don’t even get me started on Shakira) she now looks like every other misguided conforming woman trying to be “hot.”

Maybe this particularly bugs me as I have naturally very dark and curly hair. My brows are thick and my complexion is Iberian: pale and olive-tinted. When I was younger I never felt comfy when people asked (as my doctor did last week)… so, you’re Mediterranean, right? But lately I’ve been embracing my ethnicity (Portuguese with some Moor tossed about in there) and to see someone I so admired seem to diss her heritage while at the same time saying she’s embracing it… has left me confused and annoyed and kinda hurt. I know Lila’s her own person. She can do whatever she wants. But I totally get when a woman on the chicano forum calls her out for bowing to Colonial ideas of beauty. And I feel totally weirded out that guys find this new look a lot hotter than before. I pretty much thing it’s all conditioning. Her new look is kinda Pam Anderson meets Frida. And I just don’t see what’s so special or hot about it. Hopefully, she’ll get over feeling like her pretty braids are a “ball and chain” and stop equating her hotness with Hollywood.

This post originally appeared at Tous les Garcons et les Filles. Republished with permission.

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