Two decades ago, the world lost Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, a 23-year-old Tejano singer that many knew only as “The Mexican Madonna.” Today, she would have been 44. Selena was in the midst of working on her first English crossover album when she was fatally shot by the president of her own fan club, a woman named Yolanda Saldívar who was accused of embezzling the club's money. It wasn't until the Selena biopic was released in 1997, starring Jennifer Lopez in her breakout role, that much of the world discovered its namesake, but she was already beloved in the Latin world. Two months after Selena was murdered, Dreaming of You was released and her first English-language single, “I Could Fall in Love,” was on the radio constantly. As a young teen with a revolving roster of crushes, I was hooked on the kind of heart-wrenching ballads sung by Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and Janet Jackson at the time. This album formed my introduction to Selena, and I quickly became a fan. Little did I know just how influential she'd come to be in my life. In high school, most of my friends were poker-thin with nary a curve or booty in sight. I was the opposite — curvaceous with a big ol’ butt that stuck out. At the time, I thought that thin was the only way to be, and that my body was abnormal. Seeing Selena flaunt her figure without any apologies helped contribute to my own body acceptance and greatly improved my self-esteem. When the movie Selena was released, J.Lo herself said she was inspired by Selena’s body confidence, telling The L.A. Times in 1996 that "one of the beautiful things about Selena, and probably why she was so popular, was that she embraced that. She showed her body, which was very Latina. She was brown, and she didn't try to hide that in any way or try to deny her roots.”
Selena had a remarkable voice that was a gift from birth — she never took singing lessons. But, her skills didn't stop there, and I found myself fascinated with her work as a costume designer. When Selena was 21 years old, she started her own clothing line, later opening her own boutiques. Selena would design and create many of her own onstage costumes, such as a memorable jumpsuit that featured wide bell-bottoms and a midriff cutout. Influenced by Madonna and Paula Abdul’s style choices at the time, Selena took elements of their outfits and made them her own. Madonna may have been the first to sport an extremely pointy brassiere (hers courtesy of Jean Paul Gaultier), but it was Selena who made the sparkly bra her signature piece, using one she handmade herself. She was the epitome of ‘90s fashion, but also knew how to incorporate an old Hollywood beauty look, like bright red lips. The juxtaposition between her '90s-era clothing and throwback makeup (while her peers were sporting the pre-Kylie Jenner brown lip look) was just another instance of Ms. Quintanilla creating her own type of flair. Another signature outfit of hers that I loved was a pair of black, form-fitting pants, an oversized rhinestone belt, and gold hoop earrings. Even with her glamorous sequined bras and stage-ready outfits, Selena didn’t think she was above stepping foot inside regular stores and restaurants. She shopped at Payless and Walmart, and when she wasn’t eating her favorite food, pizza, she’d chow down at her restaurant of choice: Olive Garden. There’s no doubt she’d be into the snackwave trend of today.
I can honestly say that my affinity for being bold and daring through my own personal style is majorly due to Selena’s influence. I was lucky enough to have discovered her in high school, a time when body acceptance and self-esteem can be hardest to attain. She inspired me to wear the clothes I loved, and to embrace my body, loud and proud. And yes, I own a couple of rhinestone-studded bras, and my Bedazzler is always on standby. Selena still contributes to my life in other funny ways, too. Several years ago, she became a litmus test of sorts, when I’d send random Selena fan art I found online to new crushes in order to suss out the quality of their character. One guy instantly passed when he swiftly replied, "Dear Marie, I'm just here in my room dreaming about you and me." A keeper! I'm not alone in still cherishing this icon of individuality. She's being celebrated this month with a two-day festival in her home town of Corpus Christi, TX. To mark her birthday today, I’ll be putting on one of those sparkly bras, eating a slice of pizza, and dancing to “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom,” all at the same time.