I remember seeing Christina Aguilera—after “Genie in a Bottle” was overshadowed by Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby”—break out of her shell with her album Stripped. I remember not fully understanding the lyrics to “Dirty,” loving the message behind “Beautiful,” and jamming to “Fighter.” I was ten or eleven when I first saw her music video “Can’t Hold Us Down” from the same album.
I remember it was one of the first music videos that really made me think of how we view women in the media and the double standards of women’s sexual agency versus men’s sexual agency in the larger scope of society. I didn’t fully understand the video or songs themes to the fullest at ten years old, but I understood that Aguilera and Lil’Kim were saying women have a right to choose and not be shamed for their choices.
Furthermore, it was a video that resembled aspects of my own life and culture. The style, fashion, and setting of the video resembled the home life that I experienced when I went to school or visited my Mamita. The choice of clothing, makeup, and overall aesthetic within “Can’t Hold Us Down” I remember seeing my ma and tit emanate with their friends. It was similar to the style that our Latina icons, such as Selena and Jennifer Lopez, wore and that captured me.
Unfortunately, after I grew older and more socially aware, I found Aguilera’s aesthetic in this video to be a bit off-putting. Her entire “Stripped” look was something that we, the consumers, were suppose to find dirty, sexy, and jarring compared to her girl-next-door aesthetic from her debut album. What bothers me is that she used a fashion aesthetic popularized by Black and Latina women to promote that image of raw sexuality.
Now, Aguilera is part Latinx, her father is Ecuadorian, but looking at Aguilera it’s pretty obvious that she’s a white-passing Latina. She has extreme privilege in this case. She took on an image of a “ghetto” Latina woman to breakaway from the “good white girl” image and then tossed it aside as soon as it suited her needs. Her next album, Back to Basics, embraced a 40s and 50s aesthetic. More Marilyn Monroe than Selena.
Because Aguilera has that privilege as a white passing Latina woman, this sours part of “Can’t Hold Us Down” for me. I still believe in the themes it explores. I still think the overall message of sexual agency for women matters. I still enjoy seeing Black and Latina women put front and center of this musical narrative. But I don’t enjoy Aguilera’s part in it anymore.