International Journal of the Linguistic Association of the Southwest


Much has been written on the topic of feminine beauty, and existing studies suggest that ideas about beauty are a powerful cultural mirror that reveal what we value as a society and how we are valued by society (e.g., Etcoff 1999; Rhodes 2006; Whitefield-Madrano 2016; Wolf 2002). Despite critical advances made in beauty research, few existing studies in this area explicitly examine the lexicon of beauty as a critical site of analysis (e.g., Démuth et al. 2022; Gladkova 2021; Gladkova & Romero-Trillo 2021; Miller & Stevens 2021; Tayebi 2021; Wong & Or 2021). In the context of Spanish, no existing studies on the semantics of beauty terminology explore multiple beauty terms, analyze the hierarchical relationship across terms, or connect beauty terminology with specific physical representations (Romero-Trillo 2021; see also, Gladkova & Romero-Trillo 2014). The present study intervenes to fill the gap. Using a linguistic lens, the article analyzes feminine beauty terms in Spanish-speaking contexts in the U.S., Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Equatorial Guinea. Through photo description tasks and ethnographic interviews, the analysis explores three research questions: (1) How are beauty terms defined in these spaces? (2) What is the hierarchical relationship between beauty terms? (3) How is the word bella represented visually in Spanish-speaking settings? The results suggest that beauty indexes a number of characteristics, among them youth, race, and ideology. This study’s linguistic frame shows how language can facilitate a comparative, global analysis of beauty semantics and beauty discourses.