How Carmen got her strut back

This is a story about how I learned some pretty profound life lessons from two complete strangers. They had no idea that I was there observing them and yet they both taught me to nourish my heart. I will always be grateful to these two amazing Mexican women who lead by example.

Last summer my husband, my son and I went back to Alberta. During our visit we had an appointment at the Mexican Consulate located in downtown Calgary. After being in Puerto Vallarta for a few months, seeing the stark difference between downtown Calgary and downtown Vallarta was surprising.

Calgary’s city centre is very modern and quite pretty, however, it’s monochromatic. The buildings are silver, grey and glass; the cement and asphalt are grey and black. The only punches of colour are the flower beds, which stand out beautifully against the neutral background. Similarly, the people dress to complement the environment in which they work. When lunch hour arrives, a sea of humanity dressed in grey, black, and navy blue flows out into the streets for nourishment, fresh air, and a glimpse of sunshine. There are the occasional colour rebels who will wear a pink or purple shirt, but for the most part people stick to the expected corporate fashion norms.

I was stunned. I pretty much grew up in Calgary, so what I was seeing that day was nothing new; however, I was seeing it with fresh eyes. After being in the riotous colour of Puerto Vallarta for many months, the clean, neutral palette of Calgary was almost foreign. And even though this was essentially my hometown, I found myself yearning to be back in Puerto Vallarta with colour all around me. It was quite disconcerting.

We arrived at the Mexican Consulate, and were waiting our turn when a well-dressed Mexican family came through the door consisting of a woman, a man and their adorable preschool-aged son. The woman was the absolute antithesis to corporate conservatism I had just witnessed on the streets of Calgary. She wore a beautiful dress with an A-line skirt in a bright tropical print; and her multicoloured, open-toed shoes looked like a fiesta for her feet. She had long earrings on with colourful baubles hanging on the ends. They swung around catching my eye as she talked animatedly to the consulate staff members. Everything about her said, “Look at me!” The second I saw her I smiled. She reminded me of Mexico. She was so vibrant that I wanted to be like her.

To be fair to my Canadian counterparts, they were at work. This lady was not, so she was free to dress however she pleased. Even in Mexico, many companies require their employees to wear a uniform. They are typically unflattering and very conservative. (I call mine a monkey suit.) Nevertheless, I believe that there still is a cultural difference between how Mexicans and Canadians dress. Mexicans dress to be seen.

In general, Mexicans love colour and pattern. A lime green building can be situated between a brilliant purple one and terracotta orange one. Mexican visual arts are known for their intricate designs and bright colours. Mexican fashion is no different. It’s alive with colour and big, bold patterns. There are many small boutiques in Vallarta featuring clothing that would be considered garish by Canadian standards. Just like Mexican arts and crafts these clothes are designed to attract the eye.

From what I have seen, when a Mexican woman is free to wear what she wants, she often dresses to call attention to herself. Snug fitting clothing, short hemlines and plunging necklines are very common in Vallarta. Vallartense women also love high-heeled shoes, particularly platform heels and stilettos. Honestly, considering the state of Puerto Vallarta’s streets and sidewalks I don’t know how they walk without breaking their ankles! (I have trouble in flat sandals.) Once my chiropractor told me that she actually saw a Mexican woman driving a motorcycle while wearing red stilettos! It doesn’t surprise me in the least. At our staff Christmas party, one of my coworkers spent the entire night on the dance floor in platform stilettos. Not only did she never trip, she never missed a step. It was like watching a Mexican Ginger Rogers!

I don’t want to seem like I am slighting Canadian women, after all I am one! I have Canuck friends and family members who can rock a pair of stilettos and a miniskirt if they choose. Nevertheless, I do see a fundamental cultural difference between Mexico and Canada. I think that many of us have heard the expression, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.”; however, Mexican women appear to subscribe to a slightly different version of this expression, “Flaunt what you’ve got.” There is no “if” or uncertainty in the second expression, and I believe it makes a big difference. Mexican women are known for their beauty. I think this is because they focus on what they like about themselves instead of bemoaning what they don’t like. Time and time again, I’ve seen Vallartense women playing up their best characteristics, and the results are a city filled with striking women. This doesn’t mean that Mexican women don’t have “fat days”, but they don’t seem to suffer from same intense self deprecation that I learned growing up in Canada. I’m not sure what causes it, but it is a profound and dishearteningly widespread problem in my home country. Moving to Mexico has definitely changed my perspective, because I can finally see just how twisted my own self image was and sometimes still is.

Once while riding the bus, I saw a woman on the street who completely embodied the expression, “Flaunt what you’ve got.” Without a doubt, she stands out as one of the sexiest women I have ever seen in my life. I know that a claim like that conjures up images of a person who looks like Angelina Jolie or Elizabeth Taylor in her prime, but this woman was not what you might expect. She was easily in her late forties or early fifties, and she wasn’t petite. On the contrary, she was a curvaceous larger woman, like Queen Latifah the rapper and actress. She had a tight pencil skirt on and a low cut blue sweater that not only complimented her skin tones, but also displayed her astonishing cleavage. Like many of her Mexican peers, she wore unbelievably high heels. And she didn’t just walk down the street; she strutted. This woman refused to be ignored. Every move she made exuded confidence and sex appeal, and heads were snapping around to get a second look. Even I couldn’t help doing a double take, and I am a happily married straight woman!

I only saw her for a few moments before the bus continued down the street, but her impact on me was significant. All those platitudes about beauty and sex appeal being more than just one’s physical appearance were—holy crap—completely true! I had just seen it. This woman could have cared less if a nineteen year old swimsuit model had fallen into step beside her, because she owned every part of herself. I sat back in my bus seat with a small thud, eyes the size of dinner plates, mouthing the word “wow”. It was like a bucket of ice water had been poured over my head.

All those years worrying about the size of my stomach and thighs and I should have been thinking about the size of my heart. It was kind of like when the Grinch discovers the true meaning of Christmas and his heart grows three sizes. In that moment he finds the “strength of ten Grinches plus two”. (Dr. Suess was a genius.) For me, the change hasn’t been quite as instantaneous as a half hour Christmas special, but there has been a definite shift in attitude about my appearance, and surprisingly, a new interest in platform heels. Hmmmm

Both of the women I told you about in this article, not only accepted who they are, they delighted in it. I feel privileged to have witnessed true beauty. Plus, thanks to them, I’ve been fretting less about the size of my butt, and begun the work of not only being at peace with who I am inside and out, but celebrating it as well. I’ve also decided that I need to strut more. Everybody needs a killer strut, just ask Mick Jagger.

Here are links to some of my favourite struts.
Bart Simpson:
John Travolta:
Mick Jagger:
Sheena Easton “Strut” (of course):

Here is scene where the Grinch’s heart growing three sizes:


Photo by Hugo Cesar

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