the spirituality of skin and hair care with emilia ortiz
The Brooklyn-based bruja and spiritual advisor discusses her oily skin, baby hairs and facing cultural appropriation in the industry.
Image courtesy Emilia Ortiz.
Supported by Aveda
26-year-old Bruja Emilia Ortiz describes laying her edges as a form of meditation, “like tai chi or some shit”. She describes taking a shower with her Himalayan salts in the same way. Painfully aware of the many cultural and societal pressures put on women, especially women of color, she tackles beauty topics with her signature no bullshit approach. Encouraging people to do as much or as little as they want, never apologize for it and think more spiritually about their self-care.
For Emilia, brujería work has been in the family for generations, passed down from her Puerto Rican lineage. “It was something that was just part of growing up for me,” she says. “But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve branched out to make connections in the community outside of the Afro Latina and Caribbean way of doing things.” This being her private sessions, where she aims to make spiritual advice accessible to all.
In these sessions, the topic of skin care often comes up. “I’ve noticed it’s a big thing. And it’s understandable,” she says. “People don’t realize that part of self care when it comes to skin is accepting what you have.” Emilia openly laughs about being an “oil slick” that used to struggle with acne issues and obsess over mattifying herself. Previously a makeup artist, she would carry blotting tissues and setting powder everywhere she went.
It’s hard to believe Emilia had skin issues when sitting down with her. Her skin is naturally glowing. She says it’s because she has begun to embrace her oily skin, and not just because everyone is “smacking highlighter all over their faces”. “I think we have to start by becoming comfortable with what we have first, so then whatever we do after that enhances what we already have,” says Emilia. “I think the big thing about self care is not feeling like you have to do a certain thing, and letting yourself be free. Then when you do put makeup on, it’s because you wanted to.”
Her approach to hair care is similar. She openly speaks about how the pressure to lay edges or baby hairs has and is being used to oppress black women. While she chooses to and enjoys laying hers, she’s sick of seeing judgemental attitudes on social media about it. “I think right now it’s become more of a tool of oppression rather than expression,” she says. “It’s fucked up because we will praise one person for beating their face and laying their edges a certain way but then there’s this whole other community online saying ‘why can’t you just let them be?’ It should just be everyone’s own business, because at the end of the day we’re not the ones going into the bathroom with them every morning”.
The topic, she says, is something most (if not all) women in the Afro Latina, Latino and African-American community face at a young age. “It’s something that, growing up, we all did that shit. One, because it’s cute. But also because of the pressure that if you don’t, you look unkept.” It annoys her that what once was considered “hood”, has now become a high fashion statement.
“We got told that it was ghetto and it’s not okay that now it’s high fashion shit for white people, when just a few years back brown and black women were being demonized for it,” she says. “I wish they would get somebody on those sets helping with that shit because half the time the way they laid them is ugly. I don’t see one of them who look like they are from the hood on the runway and it feels like we’re just here for the inspo.”
When it comes to cultural appropriation, fashion and beauty can be hard to navigate, says Emilia. “I get that it’s art. It’s like winged eyeliner coming from Egypt. Because we all do that.” She feels that no women are immune from the pressure of waxing, shaving, makeup and body image. “We do all get oppressed by the beauty industry. But for dark skinned women it’s a completely different ball game, they can’t get a break and then they have to see all these white people copying it in fashion and getting paid”.
Emilia is known as being a spiritual advisor that will be “real with you”. She has a no bullshit attitude mixed with a calming presence and a clear calling for speaking about the issues that impact her community and those around it. She constantly refers to herself as “hood” and has a large tattoo on her chest reading “Brooklyn”, somewhere she is proud to be born and raised in. She effortlessly weaves spirituality and magic into everyday conversation. Whether it’s explaining how if she’s sexually involved with someone she will ride them “into another astro rhelm” or laughing about how some people try to connect to a spirit that “really doesn’t fuck with their people”. Something she says many white people experience if they try to use spells that were designed to overthrow the oppressive during colonization and slavery.
That’s why her approach to spiritually and self-care becoming part of a beauty routine makes sense to her effortless nature. Meditating in the shower, eating well, accepting yourself and limiting stress all are accessible ways to increase your self-care time. A “cannabis advocate”, she also fits meditation into her day while smoking.
It’s easy to see how she has gained a cult following on her Instagram, with her positive and authentic videos providing a counter to the often unrealistic beauty standards presented on social media. It’s also easy to see why she was asked to speak at the Gurls Talk festival in New York this year. As a mental health advocate and self-confessed “empath”, Emilia wants to connect anyone from any culture with their magic. “Magic is a universal concept. I’m very much for everybody getting connected and getting back to their roots. I believe healing is for everyone,” she says.
But, facing cultural appropriation in her industry also, she wants everyone to be mindful of the historical context of spells. “White people have suppressed white people’s magic. Christianity has taken magic from everyone,” says Emilia. “I want people to get in tune with their ancestors because then it would all work one thousand times better, having your ancestors on your side too.”
And Emilia clearly takes her own advice. She talks about her ancestors with a deep respect and speaks to her father and abuelita often, both of whom have passed away. Staying grounded in her lineage, she is constantly busy on the phone to clients, giving relationship and self-care advice. “I just provide what they need, make it understandable and something that can be incorporated into everyday life,” she says. “I never want it to be exclusive to people who can go pay money and chant while they meditate. All of that fake spiritual ‘niceness’ is the worst. I’m just that girl from Brooklyn who will tell you some real shit you need to know.”