Wishing a very Happy Birthday to the woman who made me proud in my own skin, Jennifer Lopez.
Let me explain. Embracing my ethnic heritage (a mixture of Lebanese and Greek Cypriot) wasn’t encouraged in Australia when I was young. It wasn’t nearly as bad as when my grandmother and mother were growing up (my grandmother tells stories of her and her siblings having to hide their homemade lunch food at school, for fear of being teased and beaten up by the other kids) but it was evident and felt. With her big hoop earrings, slicked back hair and pride in her Puerto Rican heritage, J.Lo made me “come out the closet” as an ethnic girl and in that, happily present my darker features in all their glory. Ask Kim Kardashian; she did the same thing for her and I’m sure countless others our age.
I remember writing a longer article on Lopez’s strong effect on Middle Eastern, Southern European, Indian and obviously Latina females for HQ magazine as an intern over 10 years ago, on how she bridged the gap for girls looking for a pop icon to physically identify with who fell somewhere between Janet Jackson and Madonna. Mariah Carey‘s ambiguous self was around before Lopez but she wasn’t presented as such until she took control of her career and decided to do so later on (remember when J. Lo arrived on the scene in her skimpy outfits with those killer curves, dancing up a storm? Mariah looked like a complete bore in comparison). Paula Abdul and Gloria Estefan were doing their thing but for my late teenage and early 20s years, Lopez was everything I needed. On an Australian press tour in 2001, she first acknowledged me—the only ethnic face in a sea of Anglo-Australian journalists clamoring to take her picture—with a big smile and wave (I think that was the reason; that or the fact I had tears streaming down my cheeks). Not only did she have the look I aspired to, she was also unashamedly streetwise. She named her first album On The 6 in tribute to her Bronx roots (riding that train was top of my list when first visiting New York) and she made it very clear you couldn’t get any better than a woman who was street and sexy. She was everything I thought I was (“no matter where I go, I know where I came from”) and more.
Lopez’s career has gone from strength to strength and while many can (and do) question her talent in both music and acting, I’ve never had anything but admiration for her. Being a hardworking female in this entertainment biz can be synonymous with being a glutton for punishment, so Lopez’s astounding achievements (at last count she was worth $110 million, thanks to her numerous business ventures) will forever inspire me. Happy 43rd Birthday, Jenny From The Block.
Meeting Jennifer Lopez for the first time in Sydney (2001)
My tape of Lopez’s press conference and our interview