"Without sizes, without limits, and with no excuses," reads the new tagline for Season 11 of the popular Spanish-language reality show Nuestra Belleza Latina, which airs on Univision. The show is part America's Next Top Model (with weekly challenges and eliminations) and part pageant (with a live audience and over-the-top costumes). Taking a look at the past winners, there's a definite type: thin shape, fair skin, and long hair. But for the first time ever, the network shifted the focus from beauty to "talent, personality, and charisma," welcoming women of all ages, sizes, and skin tones.
This new ethos builds on the evolution we're seeing in beauty competitions both in real life and on TV. This year the Miss America pageant scrapped its swimsuit competition to be more inclusive and relatable to all women, and ANTM — which has accepted plus-size contestants since 2004 — removed their age restrictions for the most recent season.
As for Nuestra Belleza Latina, changes like eliminating the 18 to 28 age requirement and throwing out the swimsuit competition have opened the door for contestants like Carmen Batiz, a 53-year-old who aspires to be an on-air reporter, and Vanessa Romo, a plus-size model who wants to send an important message to the Latinx community about body positivity.
"Latinas are pressured to have these perfect curvaceous, hourglass bodies," the 23-year-old tells Refinery29. "Growing up, the representation of Latinas in the media were women that were very slim, tall, and lighter skinned. I remember asking my mom to get me shampoo that would lighten my hair. Now, I have this platform to share the narrative that it should be normal for us to be proud of our bodies and happy in them."
The "without sizes" portion of the tagline also applies to the panel of judges, which includes plus-size model and activist Denise Bidot, who is of Puerto Rican and Kuwaiti descent. Bidot has starred in numerous fashion campaigns for brands like Lane Bryant and also launched a body-positive movement called "There Is No Wrong Way To Be A Woman," which inspires women to celebrate their unique individuality and beauty.
"I love being able to come on stage week after week and show that curvy women and women of all ages can be fabulous," says Bidot, who remembers watching Univision with her abuelita growing up. "I saw a dated mentality when looking at the beauty competitions on television. This is breath of fresh air that was so needed in the Latin media." Former contestants, like the inaugural winner and current host Alejandra Espinoza, are also celebrating the revamp. "We are in new times and the least we could do is evolve," she says. "It's time we understand that we are all different."
"We are in new times and the least we could do is evolve. It's time we understand that we are all different."
Through the season, women will be competing in weekly challenges that put an emphasis on talent and personality over outward beauty. The lineup includes photo shoots, campaign building, acting, and working with both children and animals. The winner of this season will be getting a contract with Univision as an on-air presenter, an opportunity that Bidot says wasn't possible for curvy women in Hollywood years ago. "I remember going to so many castings when I first moved to California, and I was told that I was too curvy and that I'd have to lose weight if I wanted to be on television," she shares. "But I knew that in cultivating my talent, which is what we want this girls to do on this show, anything is possible. That's why this season is so important."
And while Romo is grateful to be where she is — still going strong four weeks into the live competition — the model feels that having one plus-size contestant is only the beginning and hopes her participation is the jumping point to more inclusivity. "There are still women bigger than me that need that representation. I don't want body acceptance to end with me. I'm not the final limit," says Romo. "But this season is really going to change our community, and I feel like more changes will follow. It's important that we start somewhere and keep pushing the limit."
Nuestra Belleza Latina airs on Sundays, 8 p.m. ET/PT on Univision.