Meet The Refinery29 News Initiative Fellows: Estephani Cano

We are excited to announce a new video series coming to Refinery29's YouTube tomorrow — Truth Told. We are bringing these educational and investigative news series unpacking present day social issues to life through a Google News Initiative grant and five amazing fellows. Read more about the fellows — in their own words — below.


"Just sit there and be pretty.”

That’s what a former boss told me about five years ago when I asked him if he needed any help attending to some clients.

He walked away with a smirk of satisfaction on his face, as if he were being a gentleman by saving me the inconvenience of doing my job. I froze. For a few seconds I wanted to think that the discomfort I was feeling was the result of a misinterpretation. “Maybe he was just trying to be nice,” I thought. But a deep seated anger began to grow.

Is that all that I am? Is that seriously all I have to do? Just be pretty? After two master's degrees, two post graduate specializations, and years of work experience, I am still constantly confronted with these types of degrading situations. They are all based on my appearance, my taste in clothing, and the way I walk or speak. In addition, ever since I came to this country, I have had to deal with the stereotypes associated with my identity as a Latina.

It was in the United States that I first heard the word "bimbo," and learned that the person using it against me was referring to my curves and my accent to make his point. People who don’t know anything about my past or my immigration status have said behind my back that I am looking to marry a “gringo” or to get a green card. But maybe the most exasperating thing, is the underestimating looks and comments from my own colleagues, many of them women.


Not long ago at a networking event, a woman acted shocked when I told her that I have a bachelor's degree in anthropology.

"Wow," she said. "That's impressive, you don’t look like an anthropologist."

"Well, thanks. But what is an anthropologist supposed to look like?" I asked, as my anger turned to repulsion.

"I mean, you look very young to have two careers," she lied, avoiding my gaze while trying to find her way out of the conversation.

That’s not what she meant and the comment was still very demeaning.


In the wake of #MeToo and other feminist movements, women are arming themselves with new tools to identify and fight these kind of micro-aggressions. The problem is that they are so constant and sneaky that we often normalize and internalize them. Without realizing it, it begins to affect our behaviors, our decisions and the way we see ourselves.

Many times I have found myself wearing blazers that conceal my breasts when I know that I am going out to meet with co-workers. Sometimes I alter my voice when I speak in public. I avoid saying some words that are difficult to pronounce to hide that I still struggle with my English. I do all of this in fear of appearing “less serious.”

I have had enough.

In our arduous fight for equality, we women are still constantly jumping through hoops for respect and validation. This process is not only tiring but absurd. And by going along with it, we are not only not proving our intellect, but also reinforcing toxic ideas of what women’s success and feminism truly means.

Having interest in frivolous things does not make us less intelligent or weak. But allowing others to define us, definitely takes away our power.


So read Dostoyevski and dance sweaty reggaeton until dawn. Put your heels on or never wear makeup again. Do whatever you feel is an expression of your amazing being. But never let anyone tell you to just sit there and be pretty. And if that ever happens to you, just show them what pretty can do.

I’ve been following Refinery29 religiously. I love its mission to serve as a catalyst for women to claim their power, which is ingrained in every video, production, and written story. When I learned about this program alongside Google News Initiative to develop trustworthy news, I didn’t hesitate to apply. I want to produce videos where wonderful and diverse characters guide us through contemporary issues. I strive to tell impactful and disruptive stories that generate emotion and empathy in our audience, and this fellowship has been a perfect platform to do just that.

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