English needs a word like ‘hermosa.’

It took me almost a year to start to grasp the outlines of the meaning of the word ‘hermosa’ here in Nicaragua. I had encountered the word many times before in Spanish classes, and thought that it just meant ‘beautiful,’ as many dictionaries define it. So I was perplexed by some of the usages I was hearing in conversations with people. The word has connotations that I might translate as ‘big and beautiful,’ though it feels clumsy to translate so literally; you have to imagine that the word ‘beautiful’ also conjured images of curves and health rather than size-zero models.

At times I would hear people talk about women who had put on some weight and they would say admiringly that before she was skinny and now she is more ‘hermosa.’ I winced automatically as my American-culture ears picked up the suggestion that she was heavier, even though it was clearly a heartfelt compliment. I have been trained, as have most Americans, that skinny is sexy and less skinny is less sexy. Here, however, if you are skinny and put on some weight you are literally more ‘beautiful.’ I know many female Peace Corps volunteers who struggle with the idea that people are pointing out that they’ve gained some weight when in their culture they’re trying to give a compliment. It’s tricky, because it can be said jokingly and as a gentle tease, but it doesn’t carry the same sensitivity that it has in the states.

I love the idea that being a healthy, voluptuous woman is seen as attractive here. In the US anything less than borderline-anorexic is perceived to be disappointing. There are plenty of cultural things that I would love to bring from the US to Nicaragua (like a reading habit and empowerment of women, to name two), but there are also lots of things that I hope to bring with me back to the US. A closer relationship with the environment, a more socially supportive culture, and a return to a more natural and healthy body-image for women are great places to start.


One response to this post.

  1. Nice sentiment.


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