Latina Beauty Queen

How many times have you pretended to be someone you weren’t? Keep in mind, we’ve just gone through Hell Week where I had to convince various people that I was interested in investment banking while running numbers on the “industry-standard” financial calculator programmed into my Visor. FYI – having to use a stylus to punch in numbers will slow down your processing speed. Bel‚n Aranda-Alvarado (NC) doesn’t have time for any of that kind of nonsense. She knows who she is and she revels in it.
She also enjoys bringing out the best in people – that’s why she and I are kicking off a new feature this week – HBS makeovers. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be taking submissions from people who need a more professional look, want to radically change their style or just haven’t got a clue (by the way, we know who you are…). Then we’ll feature his or her story and before and after pictures in the Harbus. Bel‚n was the first Beauty Editor for Latina magazine, one of the country’s fastest growing publications, and is also the author of the book Latina Beauty. She shares with me some of her experiences and aspirations.
Grace: Just so people trust handing their image over to you, tell me a little more about how you got interested in beauty and fashion?
Bel‚n: When I was younger, I loved going to the drugstore and pore through makeup. There weren’t all the fun, glittery brands teens have now. Just those cheap ones like Artmatic and Wet & Wild. I would love to be a teenager now. Even before I was allowed to wear makeup to school, I loved it. My mom was really strict, though. I couldn’t wear makeup until junior high – and even then it was only a little bit and it couldn’t look like you had on all this makeup.
Grace: How did you get the job at Latina magazine?
Bel‚n: I started as an editorial assistant. It was a startup – basically one office with cubicles. The first issue was in July 1996 and it had the then-relatively-unknown Jennifer Lopez on the cover.
Grace: So how did the Latina Beauty book project start?
Bel‚n: Hyperion, a subsidiary of Disney, bought the proposal and publishing rights. It ended up being one of the biggest advances ever given to a Hispanic author or for a book targeted to the Hispanic market. I was contracted to write the book. Hyperion loved the idea and they paid a lot for it, but as a consequence, they wanted it a year earlier than we had originally planned. So I had about three months to write it.
Grace: Wait – so you were originally supposed to write the book while you were in school?! Like in FRC?
Bel‚n: Yeah, I know. I don’t know what I was thinking. It ended up working out much better. Luckily, I had other resources and help at Latina that I was able to use to get information and other upfront research. And then, I just sat at home and wrote.
Grace: What was the best part about writing the book? Do you think you’ll do something like that again?
Bel‚n: It was a really great going-away project because part of the decision to go to business school was a conscious effort on my part to no longer be only on the creative end of a project. There are trade-offs. You get more control on the business side, but with that control comes a lot of responsibility that limits your creativity. Now that I’m in business school, I understand why there needs to be that division between the creative side and the business side. When I return to a media role, I’ll see my job as building an environment where creative people can really fulfill their potential. It’s hard to be creative within boundaries, but you could argue that’s the highest form of creativity. To let creative people run wild, that’s self-indulgent.
Grace: Hmm, I like self-indulgent.
Bel‚n: But that’s not productive. I’m always going to be doing something with media or beauty and working with consumers, people – working with Excel spreadsheets all day would just be dismally depressing. I like being a part of what’s out there, you know?
Grace: What do you think are the biggest barriers to people changing their look?
Bel‚n: Fear – that would be number one, fear of experimenting, fear of looking ridiculous.
Grace: I’m not a big fan of looking ridiculous.
Bel‚n: People think, “I don’t know how to do it” so they don’t even try. Beauty, fashion, a new look: they should all be FUN and exciting, a new way to express yourself. Beauty and fashion are ways that women can experiment with different identities and different looks. It’s a small step that, like anything else, can lead to something different and better.
Grace: That’s why women cut their hair at the end of a relationship. Or burn their ex’s car.
Bel‚n: Ummm, right. For instance, with very high-quality powder compacts, there’s a certain quality in the click of the closure that’s very psychological. Like warriors with war paint, the way they mask themselves, makeup can help you to say, “I feel great. I AM great. I am the bomb!”
Grace: Who are some people at HBS who could use an infusion of style?
Bel‚n: I think business school challenges your commitment to style. I’m definitely guilty of showing up to class in sweats and sneakers. When I see people like Joan Cheng (NC) or Sormeh Dowlatshahi (NF), I think “Damn, they look good now. I wonder what they look like when they DO have time.” You have these weird extremes here at B-school – just-rolled-out-of-bed and then formal balls. It’s schizophrenic.
Grace: As a fairly non-traditional HBS student, what are some of the challenges you’ve faced here?
Bel‚n: Geez. Just understanding what the hell’s going on. But there are investment bankers who assure me they have the same struggles.
Grace: What do you like the most about HBS?
Bel‚n: I like the fact that I can say I did something totally different from what you’d expect from someone with my background. To go and be around really talented, smart people for two years – it’s like a gift.
Grace: So where are you going for those two years?
Bel‚n: What?
Grace: Haha. Never mind. I was just kidding. What do you like the lea-?
Bel‚n: Finance.
Grace: Gee, you sure about that? I don’t think you answered fast enough. Who’s been our most style-challenged professor?
Bel‚n: Oh no! God, that’s brutal.
Grace: No, don’t worry. We’ll take every other letter of their name out when the paper goes to press.
Bel‚n: Yeah, right. I will say Dawn (Matsumoto) looked great. She was an example of how to look professional, feminine, polished and together.
Grace: Whose style(s) do you admire and why?
Bel‚n: I like Jennifer Lopez – I think she marries the whole designer-body/fabulous-urban-girl-with-a-stylist-type thing.
Grace: Hmm, I think I can safely say no one’s described me like that.
Bel‚n: Catherine Zeta-Jones, she’s more classical. I like Ananda Lewis from MTV, too – more bohemian.
Grace: Any idea who you’d like to makeover first here?
Bel‚n: Yeah, but let’s wait and see who’s going to send stuff in.
Do you fancy a makeover?
Send me an email to with a paragraph saying why, and we’ll work magic. Promise.