Beauty Is A Holy Ritual

"A ritual is a ceremony, a rite that brings us closer to our higher power."

The year is 1993; I am nine years old, my sister Jennifer is seven, and the baby Julissa is four. We are on summer vacation, but Mami has to go to work. She sits on the edge of her bed, still in her towel, and talks to us while she slowly spreads lotion all over her body. She dips her fingers in the blue Nivea jar and scoops the cream into the palm of her hands. We watch her from our beds, our sleepy eyes mesmerized by how brand new Mami looks in the morning light. Once finished, Mami pulls her curls into a low ponytail, dresses, and kisses us goodbye for the day.

Tonight, as I stood in the bathroom doing my nightly skincare, I ask Mami about what rituals make her feel beautiful. She laughs timidly and says, “you know I don’t do that stuff.” I remind her that every morning she covers herself in lotion. She thinks for a second and chuckles on her way to bed. As I finish applying my Brujita Skincare products, I realize that they smell a lot like something I would find in my Abuela’s home, like things she picked with her hands and brought indoors. Antonia Duran, Mami’s mami, loved perfume and freshly ironed dresses. She carried a handkerchief sprayed with her favorite Avon or Mary Kay scent. I tried gifting her something more expensive once, only for her to turn her nose at it. My Abuela was a woman that undoubtedly knew who she was and what she wanted. I try and channel her when I am doing big and wild things. Sometimes those things are calling myself beautiful. The last time we sat together in El Salvador, we both knew that would be our last conversation. She squeezed my hand, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Eres una hermosura.” I believed her.

The first time I ever felt beautiful was amongst other women. In school bathrooms, leaned into a mirror sharing makeup tips with other girls, lining my lips brown with a pencil I bought at the local drug store. One day in middle school, my best friend Araceli showed me how to pour baby oil into my hands and run them through my hair. We spent years recovering from the damage it caused, but no one couldn’t tell us we didn’t look amazing with our greasy hair catching the gorgeous California sunlight. As the oldest sister, it’s been my job to bring home the secrets I learned from other women. I taught both my sisters how to apply foundation, what brushes you use for what, and most importantly, what moisturizers the best to own. It is an honor to answer any of their questions, and I cherish the few rare times they’ve let me take their faces in my hands to apply eyeshadows, blushes, lipsticks. I blink back tears, watching them marvel over themselves, as if I just did a little bippity boppity boo, and any sudden movement might break the spell.

Saya is my nine-year-old niece who loves anything pink and glittery. She often digs around my makeup when she thinks no one is paying attention. One day I surprised her with a small palette of lip glosses from Claire’s. She immediately smeared them all on and demanded I take pictures. The next time I gave her lip gloss, I upgraded her to a tube of Fenty Beauty’s gloss bomb. She applied this with more caution and took her time staring at her pout in the hallway mirror. We sat on the couch cuddled under a blanket, and I asked her if she felt pretty. She nodded and demanded a pink eyeshadow palette to match, of course.

When I think of rituals, I think of what is most holy for me. Of the women in my family, my tias asking my cousins to help them dye their hair, my mami and her daily lotion, my abuela’s perfume, my primas and their red lipstick, my sisters and their face masks, my niece and her bubble gum kiss, me cutting my hair over the sink. I think of my homegirls and the way they pour magic back into themselves. Ariana’s acrylic nails, Aman’s perfect eyeliner, Zoila’s gorgeous braids, Monica’s silk hair, Lala’s red lipstick, Katrina’s flawless skin all leave me feeling powerful. In the small moments when we are alone, pouring onto ourselves all the love we spent handing out to the world, is when we are most divine.

A ritual is a ceremony, a rite that brings us closer to our higher power. Mami sit’s on the edge of her bed each morning, rubbing God into her skin, and to that I say, yes yes, Amen.

Meet the Family

Yesika Salgado is a Los Angeles based Salvadoran poet who writes about her family, her culture, her city, and her fat brown body. She has shared her work in venues and campuses throughout the country. Salgado is a two time National Poetry Slam finalist and the recipient of the 2020 International Latino Book Award in Poetry. Her work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Teen Vogue, Univision, CNN, NPR, TEDx, and many digital platforms. She is an internationally recognized body-positive activist and the writer of the column Suelta for Remezcla. Yesika is the author of the best-sellers Corazón, Tesoro, and Hermosa, published with Not a Cult.

Find her here and here.