Shop Latinx’s “Beauty Is Ceremony” is an ongoing series of Q&As with our favorite tastemakers where they share the rituals and routines that make them feel beautiful, in addition to their personal reflections on self-love and acceptance. Below, SBJ Esntls founder Jessica Monzalvo opens up about her childhood in Mexico, Eurocentric standards of beauty, and the one beauty ritual she’s been prioritizing over everything else.
Born and raised in Pachuca in Hidalgo, Mexico, Jessica Monzalvo’s earliest memories were informed by her upbringing in a picturesque rural landscape. Her grandparents owned a farm, complete with chickens, baby pigs, tadpoles, a horse, and a donkey.
“My experience in Mexico was such a beautiful one,” Monzalvo tells SLX. “I was truly, truly in love with Mexico. I grew up in such a loving environment in the sense of what my grandparents taught me as a kid and just the way I experienced living in Mexico.”
Monzalvo, 30, has deep-rooted love for everything Mexico has to offer. While she was living there, she often accompanied her grandparents to sell roses since they cultivated the flowers for a living. Her grandfather was a shareholder for a greenhouse, and she always observed the love, dedication, and passion they poured into their craft.
She especially loved that they would do it together, as a family. They had a spare room in the back of her grandparents’ house where they would prep the flowers, making sure they looked lovely and ready to be sold in the city.
“Every time I would walk in there, I could still remember the aroma of the room and how happy it made me to be in there and see them honor their craft,” Monzalvo recalls.
These moments colored her understanding of beauty and what it means to be beautiful. But then, when she moved to Louisville, Kentucky around age 8, something shifted.
“My experience with beauty definitely transformed once I moved to the States,” she reveals. “Kentucky in itself wasn’t a very diverse state when I first moved there. I felt out of place — like, here was this little Mexican girl who didn’t know English in first grade.”
She remembers peeking around the classroom and noticing she was the only one who looked like her, from her teacher to her peers. It was “such a shocking experience” for Monzalvo, who describes it as the first time she felt distinctly different. Being so young, too, further complicated her understanding of beauty and representation.
“It does shape the way you view yourself,” she says. “Back in the ‘90s, if you went to a CVS, a Walgreens, a JCPenney, or wherever your family was shopping, you did not see Latinas promoting beauty products. So that was even another level of, okay, where do I fit in the standard?”
Get to know Monzalvo more in her Beauty Is Ceremony Q&A below.
SHOP LATINX: You mentioned that beautiful memory from Mexico and growing up around the flowers. Are there other formative memories that influenced your perception of beauty?
JESSICA MONZALVO: One of my favorite holidays was the Virgen de Guadalupe’s birthday. I remember feeling so freakin' beautiful when my grandmother would braid the ribbon through my hair. She would let me wear her beaded necklaces, these rich emerald and ruby colors. My grandmother was such a stunner. She was a beauty and she took beauty seriously. She was the woman that always smelled amazing. And one of the things I remember asking her, “Oh, why do you put lipstick on when you go outside?” I have this specific memory of her looking into this gold mirror that was in the hallway and her putting red lipstick on. And she’s like, “That just means I’m ready to go out.” What a beautiful way for her to reassure her presence in the world and how she felt about beauty.
SLX: How did your perception of beauty evolve as you came of age in Kentucky and then ultimately into young adulthood and who you are today?
JM: If I’m honest with myself, it wasn’t until my last year of high school where I woke up and I was like, “I am nothing everyone says.” You know what I mean? It was this sense of I took ownership of me. It was almost like shedding a layer of perceptions that I heard about myself, like, “Oh, you’re the darkest in the family” or “You are a hairy girl.” It’s like we’re Latina, we’re hairy. It’s these things you’re told are not seen as beautiful and you carry them with you. You’re like, “Oh, I’m kind of hairy. Let me shave,” even if you don’t want to shave, even if you never even acknowledged your body hair. It’s these things people placed on you. I will say, though, that anytime I saw Black models, I always felt a sense of hope. Like when I’d be at the mall — because Latinos were not in the advertising — but when I saw Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell, I was like, “Oh my God, there is room, there is space.”
SLX: What ultimately led you to creating your own beauty brand?
JM: If you were to go back and ask 18-year-old Jess, “Are you going to be a beauty founder? Are you going to have your own products?” The answer would be absolutely not. It wasn’t something I aspired to do. But I've been in the beauty industry for over 10 years as a makeup artist. I relocated to LA about three years ago, then the pandemic happened. Honestly, it was like, “Great, I’m here to do makeup and no one wants me touching their face.” So I was sitting on my couch, just thinking about what’s really getting me through this time. And for me, it was self-care. It was doing those small actions of love for yourself. I thought about the fondest self-care memory I could remember. And again, I went back to my grandmother, to this moment when she would make this oatmeal honey mask and we would have a girls’ night. She would spread the oatmeal honey mask on my face and I remember feeling so loved. That’s the energy my grandma always gave. When I thought about that, I was like, I would love to pay homage to this memory, to my culture, to things that really mean something special to me.
SLX: How does that come into play with your current product lineup?
JM: Our debut product was the Rosa Clay Mask and it honors her and my grandfather’s way of life cultivating roses of Mexico. So naturally, the mask has fragrant rose petal powders, there is oatmeal, there is kaolin clay. Aside from the product being formulated with melanin-rich skin in mind, vegan, elusive and multi-use, the story behind it is what I’m truly proud about. It’s a product that holds intention. That was the roadmap for the rest of the brand.
SLX: How would you characterize your current relationship with beauty?
JM: I am having so much fun. I have learned so much about self-care through this journey. I have learned so much about self-acceptance and self-love. When you come into yourself in the sense that you truly accept yourself the way you are — your dark hair, your thick brows, your beautiful brown skin — there’s a whole different level of how you see beauty and yourself.
SLX: Yes, such good points. What kind of beauty rituals are you practicing these days?
JM: One of the biggest ones I’m practicing is patience, even though that’s not an immediate beauty ritual. When you’re patient with yourself, with the progress, and with the journey, it all kind of falls in line. In America, we are so used to feeling praised or compensated immediately — that instant gratification. Even with skincare, a lot of brands are into this almost fast fashion way of developing things and marketing where they’re like, “Buy this, and then in a day, it’ll be gone.” And while some products might work like that, a lot of the time it’s understanding that everything is a journey, even skin, self-love, self-care, all of it. Sometimes it just requires a little bit of patience.
SLX: That’s something we probably aren’t actively thinking about when we’re thinking about beauty, but it makes such a difference to practice that patience.
JM: Yeah, totally, because I over-plucked my eyebrows a few months ago. I was like, “Patience. The ritual is patience.”
SLX: In one or two sentences, what is your definition of beauty?
JM: My definition of beauty is taking your life experiences and making them your own and accepting yourself wholeheartedly.
SLX: Who is your favorite '90s or 2000s beauty icon and why?
JM: That’s a good one. There were so many. I would say Dulce María or Anahí. I loved Aaliyah, of course. What an icon. I loved Sofía Vergara. I thought she was super cool.
SLX: Who is your beauty icon today?
JM: This might sound so insane saying it, but I feel like it’s myself. Like, honestly, I’m at that point where I really appreciate that I love what I love.
SLX: I love that answer. That’s the best answer ever. Our beauty icons should be ourselves.
JM: And it can be ourselves. I don’t know if anyone’s ever told anyone that, but you can be your own beauty icon. There’s no one like you.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.