When people talk about breaking racist beauty standards in the fashion industry, they rarely mention Latina models. Not that they need anyone to tell them they’re doing a good job — these women from Mexico, Central America, and South America are breaking boundaries all on their own, and the success they’ve earned can speak for itself. Just look at Gisele Bündchen and Joan Smalls, two of the most well-known (and well-paid) models in the world.
But is it really a surprise? Latina women have always been stereotyped as being bold and sexy, and in the case of these Latina models, the shoe definitely fits. These women don’t shy away from the camera, and as a result, they’ve gained impressive followings in both the fashion industry and online, especially on social media apps like Instagram.
We’ve compiled a list of our favorite Latina models — ones who are changing what it means to be beautiful in the fashion industry, who have powered through discriminatory and racist generalizations to find success and have given millions of Women of Color role models to look up to. You may be surprised at how many of these models you recognize, but we aren’t: we recognize the power of strong Latina women.
Here are some of the leading Latina models in today’s fashion industry:
Gisele Bündchen may be one of the most well-known Latina models of our time, but it wasn’t always that way. She was discovered in 1994 while on a school trip to at a shopping mall in São Paulo and was chosen to compete in Brazil’s Elite Look of the Year, where she placed second. Two years later, she had her first big break in New York City during Fashion Week. Since then, Gisele’s career has been met with resounding success as she’s appeared on the covers of the most prestigious fashion magazines and walked for the most renowned designers in the industry. She also broke into the acting world in 2004 with the movie “Taxi” and later with “The Devil Wears Prada. As of 2007, Gisele was the 16th richest woman in the entertainment industry, and in 2014, Forbes listed her as the 89th Most Powerful Woman in the World.
Yovanna Ventura has booked gigs with brands like Good American and Frankie’s Bikinis, but she’s more than just a Latina model — she’s also a social media influencer with over 5.3 million Instagram followers, with whom she shares workout routines and professional photos of herself. Yovanna has gained publicity within the past few years because of her romantic connections with both Justin Bieber and The Weeknd and recently collaborated with clothing brand Revolve to create her own fashion line.
It’s no surprise Jimena Sanchez has made a name for herself. The Latina model looks almost identical to another Fashion icon: Kim Kardashian. In fact, in 2015, several news outlets dubbed her “The New Kim Kardasian,” though Jimena has plenty of unique qualities to her if you look past the face. For starters, when she’s not modeling, she’s a sports presenter at Fox Sports who has a major love of baseball and some athletic hobbies on the side, including surfing. Who needs to be compared to the Kardashians when you’ve already got 4.6 million Instagram followers of your own?
Joan Smalls knew she was meant to be a Latina model. After graduating university, she moved to New York City to pursue her dreams and found her big break in 2010 when she was signed as a Givenchy exclusive for Riccardo Tisci’s Spring/Summer haute couture show. Since then, Joan has made appearances in nearly every single renowned fashion magazine and has walked for the biggest designers of our time, both in haute couture and ready-to-wear fashion. In 2011, she made history when she became the first Latina model to represent Estée Lauder cosmetics. Joan’s career has taken her from the catwalk to the small screen, where she appeared in Beyoncé’s “Yoncé” music video and in Netflix’s 2018 rom com Set It Up. Joan has been ranked at number 8 on Forbes magazine’s “World’s Highest-Paid Models” list and is considered a New Super of the modeling industry.
Ana Beatriz Barros
At 13, Ana Beatriz Barros and her older sister, Patricia, were spotted by a modeling agency representative while vacationing in Rio de Janeiro. The agency urged Ana to compete in the Elite Model Look 1996, where she placed second. From there, her career as a Latina model blew up. She has made several appearances in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and has become well-known for her work with Intissimi, Guess?, bebe, and Victoria’s Secret.
Only a year after giving birth to her son, Lais Ribeiro’s friend convinced her to try out to become a model in Brazil. The advice worked — by 2009, less than a year later, she walked the major international catwalks for such designers as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci. In 2011, she became the most booked model at Brazil’s fashion week. Lais began walking in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in 2010 and officially became an Angel in 2015.
Arlenis Sosa’s career as a Latina model began in 16 when she was discovered by designer Luis Menieur, who complimented her looks and said she should make a career out of it. After two-and-a-half years of working in the fashion industry in the Dominican Republic, Arlenis grew tired of the color prejudice from some Dominican designers and decided to move to New York, though she couldn’t speak English at the time. That didn’t matter — during the first week in the U.S., she was immediately signed by an agency and sent to the MET Ball by Anna Wintour. Within two weeks, she was already booking editorials in the biggest fashion magazines in the industry, including Vogue. In 2008, Alrenis became the face of Lancôme.
The beginning of Bruna Tenório’s career as a Latina model was promising: when she started working in 2006, she was already walking for Chanel, Christian Dior and Dolce & Gabbana in some of the biggest fashion capitals of the world and was dubbed a “Rising Star” by Style.com. She has since worked for other top-tier designers, such as Vera Wang and Valentino, and has appeared in the international editions of L’Officiel, Vogue and Elle. When Bruna isn’t walking the runway or starring in a photoshoot, she’s running her own blog.
Denise Bidot made a splash in the fashion industry when she became the first Plus Size Model to walk the runway for two straight size brands during New York fashion week in 2014. She has worked for brands such as Nordstrom, Forever21, Target, Old Navy. Denise is a body positive activist, even starting a lifestyle movement called “There is No Wrong Way to be a Woman,” which encouraged women to be themselves instead of conforming to unrealistic beauty standards. In 2016, Denise when viral when she released an unretouched photo in a two piece bathing suit, showing her stretch marks.
Venezia Cruz is a Plus Size Latina model who has drawn attention to herself in both the fashion industry and in body positive movements. She’s known on Instagram for her bikini pictures and her stylish wardrobe, much of which she sells online through Poshmark. She currently boasts 189k Instagram followers.
Daniela de Jesus Cosio
Daniela de Jesus Cosio began modeling after placing as the runner-up in the national beauty pageant Nuestra Belleza Mexico 2005. She has appeared in international editions of Vogue and Maxim and has walked for designers such as Marchesa, Guess?, and Baby Phat. She was listed at number 25 on model.com’s “Money Girls” list.