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  • Writer's pictureNatalia Anciso

ELLE Magazine 30th Anniversary Feature: "This is 30"

This past year has been extremely difficult with the loss of my grandfather. It has also been a year filled with amazing opportunity, from walking the red carpet in Hollywood to earning my second Master’s degree as a full-ride scholar and Distinguished Graduate Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.

On the day of my graduation, I couldn't help but feel heartbroken of my grandfather’s condition as well as my parents missing my graduation. My grandfather was in a coma and my parents and I decided that it would be best if they stayed back home in Texas with my grandfather to be by his side. As I was getting ready to leave, I received an email from ELLE Magazine (US). Naturally, I thought it was an offer to subscribe to their magazine. Instead, I found myself reading an email from one of the editors about a portfolio, titled “The American Woman at 30,” which would be the marquee feature in the ELLE’s 30th anniversary issue. The portfolio would be photographed by world-renowned American photographer, Mark Seliger, and would showcase outstanding women from Hollywood, business, fashion, politics, art, literature, food, and sports, who are 30 this year. ELLE invited me to be part of the project. I was in DISBELIEF.

I am beyond blessed to have even been considered for this and given such an amazing opportunity. Never in my life did I dream of being in a magazine like ELLE. There weren't many Latin@s that were positively represented in the media and the perception of Latin@s has not changed much since then, given the public discontent of brown folks in this Nation. Even though there are some outstanding Latin@ actresses and models, I never saw myself, as someone who’s not just a brown skinned Latina, but a dark-skinned one, represented in the mainstream. For this and other reasons, I adore actresses like Lupita Nyong’o and Mindy Kaling, who have been recognized as figures of beauty in dark skin.

Growing up I always felt lesser than...most of this had to do with my complexion. I was told by many that I was ugly; I was told that I wasn't good enough. I was often dismissed, ignored, and silenced. As a result, I suffered from self-hate. From all this, I struggled into my adulthood, navigating around the negativity that was often brought against me, from college, through graduate school, and even in the workplace. I had to validate myself as an artist and then again as an educator. A few days before the shoot, my grandfather passed away and I felt as if a huge piece of me went with him. I wasn't going to do the shoot, but my parents and husband convinced me otherwise and deep down I knew that I had to. See, this honor is not only for me and my family, it’s for every little dark brown skinned girl out there who grew up struggling because of where they came from and how they looked. I knew I inherited this dark brown skin from my grandfather, and because of that, the photo shoot took on a greater importance.

For ELLE magazine to showcase me as an outstanding AMERICAN woman at 30 means so much to me. I was not pigeonholed into being a Latina, Mexican, or Chicana, even though I am extremely proud of those labels. Instead, I was called AMERICAN, a title that my family has fought to prove for generations, even to this very day.

Now, I find myself in a double-page spread of the “World’s #1 Fashion Magazine,” clad in Versace, Marc Jacobs, and Christian Louboutin (brands I would have never fathomed of ever wearing!), alongside supermodel Bar Refaeli, actress, model, and trans activist, Carmen Carrera, and actress and singer, Mary Elizabeth Winstead. I had an amazing time with these three women!

Thank you to everybody at ELLE, Hearst Magazines, and Wanted Media. And a special thank you to fellow Texans, Mark Seliger and Brandon Maxwell, as well as Judd Minter, Isaac Prado, Jo Strettell, and Kay Wamser for making me look and feel beautiful that day and for helping me smile through that painful time. I will forever cherish that day. Thank you all. ‪#‎ELLEat30‬

Natalia Anciso, MFA, MA

(Here's the link to the portfolio online:

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