Jennifer Lopez was once just plain old Jenny from the block, as she has been prone to remind us on occasion. She was a young Latina who had a dream, and even though her parents didn’t believe it was possible, she went for it anyway. She wanted to be a movie star – and not just a movie star, but a singer and dancer too. Her parents told her that "no Latinos did that" and wanted her to go to college instead, but she knew that she could make it.
She started off being cast as a Fly Girl dancer on the show In Living Color in 1991, and left in 1993 to pursue her acting. She managed to break records before the decade was out. She became the first Latin actress to earn over $1 million for a film and also got a Golden Globe nomination for 1997’s lead role in Selena, and in 1999 went on to release her debut album.
In 2001 with the film The Wedding Planner and her second album J.Lo, she was the first woman to have a number one album and a number one film in the same week. Not just the first Latina – the first woman of any kind. She was the first person in history to get a remix album to debut at number one on the Billboard 200. She has claimed the highest first-week sales for a debut Spanish language album in the US. She has one of the best-selling singles of all time. She’s one of the most powerful and influential women in the world. Let’s look at where it all began.
15 Now vs Then
It’s incredible to look at how far J Lo has come. First, she was a tomboyish Latina who loved to sing and dance in front of her friends, with her hair cropped short for her high school yearbook photos. Now, she is the diva that we have known her as for decades: with her sleek hair and toned body, her love of singing and dancing now extends to the homes of everyone around the world rather than just her schoolmates. We have seen her on the big screen, we have seen her at the awards shows, and we have seen her personal life in every headline. While it hasn’t all been good over the years, it’s incredible to look at the face of this girl and know what she was soon to become. Through sheer willpower and talent, she carved a place for herself in the industry which had not previously existed.
14 An Early TV Appearance
This is a screenshot from one of Jennifer’s appearances on her first TV show, In Living Color. The quality is awful because it was broadcast in 1991, 26 years ago. You can recognize the woman that we know today, but a lot of her features are a little different to how we know them. For starters, it’s unlikely that the ultra-glamorous Lopez we know would go out with slicked-back hair with those couple of strands loose. It’s such a 90s look, so we can’t blame her for that! Her stage costume is bristling with feathers and sequins, which in all fairness might not be so out of place in her live shows today. She looks a little less sleek and vibrant than we know her today, but that’s to be expected from a young woman taking her first steps into fame. She wasn’t yet a star in her own right.
13 With A Curly Perm
Jennifer usually wears her hair straight or with a slight wave, but back in the day when she was still Jenny from the block, she had a different look entirely. She actually allowed her hair to be as curly as possible, with a tightly curled appearance reminiscent of a perm. Whether this was natural or not remains to be seen, but it’s definitely a very different look for her! She is dressed in a very stereotypically 90s fashion, with a lilac, sleeveless, V-neck top and a choker-style necklace. That’s topped off with dark lipstick and carefully manicured brows. She has a great smile on her face, and looks happy to have her photo taken in this shot from 1994. You can see that her arms aren’t as toned as they would be later in her career, as a result of constant training and touring with her own dancing routine at her live shows.
12 From Stock Office Worker To Glamorous Diva
One of Jennifer’s early headshots makes her look like she is posing for a stock photo of an office worker. She is wearing a simple, dark, pinstriped blazer over a plain white t-shirt, and her curly hair has been relaxed slightly into softer shapes that frame her face. She has the typical make-up of the time – cherry-red lips, dark and heavily defined brows, and minimal eye make-up. It’s amazing to compare her to a more recent look, where everything but the structure of her face has changed. She wears her hair in a sleek ponytail in controlled waves, her brows are less heavy, her eyes are emphasized more, and she wears a glamorous gown with statement jewelled earrings. If you ever saw her looking like the first image again, it would have to be for a movie role about the 90s. Otherwise, she’d never be caught dead looking so simple.
11 That Searching And Earnest Look
This photo from a shoot taken when she was a young wannabe showcases just how natural her beauty is. Right from the beginning, she had the kind of face that you just can’t forget. She has soft but strong cheekbones, full lips, and searching eyes that seem to look right out into yours. Rather than smiling or laughing for the shot, she has a more serious look. It feels real, and you can guess that this is probably about the time that she started to pick up her first small acting roles. Her hair is more natural, with a lot of curls that seem to be going in all directions. Girls with thick, curly hair will recognise this look from what they see in the mirror after trying to brush their hair, so it’s definitely a relatable style! She is genuinely just gorgeous, which is no surprise when you look at her today.
10 Already Looking Like A Star
It’s clear that Jennifer knew what she wanted right from the start, and looking at this image, you can see someone who already acts and thinks like an accomplished star. Aside from the fact that fashions have changed, you probably wouldn’t get too different of a look from Jennifer if you set this photoshoot up again today. She has a look in her eyes that demands for you to sit up and take notice, because you will want to see what she has to offer. She was an appropriate choice to play the role of Selena, since the pair have a lot in common – they were both Latinas who knew they had what it took to break through to the US mainstream. It was sheer tragedy for Selena which meant that Jennifer was the one to go first, not her. Otherwise, things might have been very different at that time.
9 Before The Fame And After The Fame
There’s a really distinct before and after here, and it’s very interesting to see. We know that Jennifer has aged, since the hands of time cannot be fought by anyone, so she does have a few more lines on her face. She also looks thinner, however, and her skin is tighter. Her hair is a lot sleeker, and even though the first photo is probably more natural, it still looks in great condition. It’s truly amazing to see that even though she might have changed her style, you can still see Jenny from the block when you look at Jennifer. It really is the same girl underneath it all, which is part of the reason why she has had so much success both on the screen and in the charts. Although her love life may have been rocky, at least she can definitely say she has that.
8 Film Noir Starlet
This promotional image is just amazing. Shot in black and white, it looks like a throwback to the days of classic film. It could have been a still from a Hitchcock production, that’s how real it looks. Of course, it was only shot on black and white film in the 90s, but Jennifer just pulls it off so well. In black and white, you can’t tell as much that she is Latina – she could easily be one of the stars of the 40s or before, playing a dramatic lead female role in a thriller. Everything about it is just right, and even her hair and wardrobe don’t look too out of place. We’d love to see a whole film shot like this – whoever took it captured the vibe perfectly, probably in some inner city studio with a traditional set-up that would not normally be used today. It’s the most interesting of the bunch.
7 A White Button-Down Look
We could already have guessed that Jennifer Lopez is one of those women who look good wearing just about anything, but this shot proves it for us. She couldn’t be wearing something more boring if she tried. Here, though, Jennifer looks like a total goddess in spite of the outfit. There’s something about the way that she has artfully swept her hair back off her face, her slightly parted lips, the piercing look in her eyes – you can tell that she is a star. The cheesy purple background doesn’t even put us off. She could have been any A-list actress at the time this was taken and we wouldn’t bat an eyelid at being told so. That’s just the kind of star appeal that she has had since a young age.
6 Posing In The Garden
This is a really cute photograph of Jennifer from far before she became famous. When she was a young child, her parents decided to encourage her and her sister to put on their own mini song and dance shows for the family and their friends. They figured that having to practice these routines and then perform them would keep their daughters off the streets and out of trouble. They couldn’t possibly have known that they were setting Jennifer up to become a huge star doing the very thing they encouraged in her. At the time, there were very few Latino or Latina role models in the public eye, and many believed that it wasn’t possible for a Latina to become famous in the US, especially not for beating white actresses and singers at their own game. One of the reasons why Jennifer became wildly popular was because she was a voice for a whole people.
5 Ready To Sing A Song
In this shot taken for some kind of promotional shoot, probably to give her a portfolio of headshots she could take to agencies, Jennifer looks like she is ready to burst into song. It’s a bit of an awkward moment where she was caught with her eyes closed, and normally a photographer would discard this image and move on, but this one has somehow survived. There’s an odd kind of grace to it, too. She appears as if poised in motion, and you’re ready for her to open her eyes and belt out a song for you. She is dressed in a simple floral-pattered dress which shows off her body well, without adding any unnecessary frills or details. Her hair and make-up are a little more polished than in earlier photos, suggesting that she was starting to come into her own a little more by the time this was taken.
4 Putting Her Graduation Cap On
This is just the cutest shot of a young J Lo. She has her frizzy hair all around her face, her graduation cap clamped firmly on top of her head, and a broad smile on her young face. She looks perhaps a little too young for this to be her high school graduation, though we could be wrong. It looks more like a middle school ceremony, or perhaps a photoshoot with the caps as a prop. She looks totally natural and you can see that she has not had anything in her face altered since those days, which is pretty admirable for a star of this era. This goofy youngster would go on to become one of the most successful women in the entertainment industry for all time. She would break records and change history, and do it with a cultural handicap too. Bravo to her, we say.
3 Smiling In Black And White
This photo looks like it just has to have been taken in the 80s – not only does Jennifer have what she would now consider to be a very embarrassing, shapeless hairstyle, but she is also wearing a dress with a very impressive pattern on it. We only wish this was in colour so that we could see all of the awful details! It may not have been a time with the best of fashions, but it was certainly an interesting time. Fashion, music, and film were experiencing heydays in terms of the public interest, and so it’s not surprising that a girl like Jennifer would grow up with the dream of becoming a star. Rather than being held back by her skin tone and the fact that Latinas didn’t usually get famous, Jennifer actually used her appearance and multilingual skills to get roles and make her fanbase love her all the more.
2 Still Jenny From The Block
When you look at this shot, you can see a look you have seen many times. This knowing half-smile is an expression you will have seen in countless Jennifer Lopez movies, and it’s an attractive look that shows off her face well. It’s really interesting to see it here, on this early shot, because it proves that she is still the same girl today. She still looks at the camera with this expression. She is still, on the inside, Jenny from the block. We have to rest our case as far as this one goes – we doubt anyone could argue after seeing this that Jennifer has become a wholly different person. While she may have matured, changed in small ways, and adapted with the times, she hasn’t forgotten who she is at her core. That’s something that we have to admire. This could almost be a promo shot from her next movie!
1 Adorably Young And Happy
How much earlier could we get than this shot of Jennifer as a little girl? Even though she is so young, you can still make out some of her trademark features. The shape of her nose and eyes remains very similar, and you can also see that her dark hair was curled even then. When you think that this little girl was just like any other, until she started to sing and dance to entertain her family, it’s a really inspiring thought. Anyone can become good at anything with a lot of practice, and with some talent and luck thrown in for good measure, they could become seriously great. It’s fair to say that Jennifer’s personality has brought her a lot of the way, too. Her fiery determination to go after what she wanted without listening to the nay-sayers is a testament to her strength of character from a young age.