source: Paul Lowry, Flickr CC
“Inner beauty doesn’t exist. That’s something that unpretty women invented to justify themselves.” This statement comes from a man with huge influence in the beauty industry in Venezuela: Osmel Sousa. He is one of the most prominent men concerning female beauty and body image in Venezuela and is the leader of the immensely popular Miss Venezuela pageant. His vision of beauty is all about gigantic boobs and butts, but how that “perfection” is accomplished is of little importance. As he himself puts it: “If it can be easily fixed with surgery, then why not do it?”
Beauty pageants are widely popular in Venezuela and the Venezuelans take great pride in being considered as having the most beautiful women in the world. They hold the record for the nation with the most international beauty queens, and Osmel Sousas ideal is given great prominence in the pageants and has had an effect on the beauty standard in Venezuela. Normality has been transformed, to the extent that a normal body now often means an operated body. Cosmetic surgery has become a cultural norm, and a topic of casual conversation among young women. To be’ operada’ (having undergone plastic surgery) is not frowned upon as in most Western countries.
Mannequins in shops reflect this inflated ideal. Mannequins are often imported from Western countries, but are on arrival substantially modified. The breasts and the buttocks of the model are changed so that they present an overblown and extreme depiction of the female body. The alterations to the mannequins are influenced by the change in the body ideal; the old mannequins didn’t reflect the extreme proportions that now appeal to the public. Stores carrying mannequins displaying the inflated ideal saw a rise in sales and now the norm in shop window displays is Mannequins which clearly reflect the operated ideal.
The breast is, however, not the only body part that is subject to surgery and alteration. Besides boob jobs there is a dangerous trend of getting injections in the buttocks emerging in Venezuela. In order to attain the desired figure, many women in Venezuela are putting their health at risk and getting injections of polymer silicon directly into their buttocks, with no implants surrounding the liquid. This synthetic substance can easily spread in the body and damage tissue which can lead to deformities, enormous pain, tumors and even death. At least 15 women have died from buttocks injections since 2011 and it is estimated that 40 000 women have undergone the procedure. The injections take around 20 minutes and cost on average only 8 dollars. Jesús Pereira, the president of the Venezuelan Plastic Surgeons Association comments: “100 percent of cases become complicated. It could take four days or it could take 20 years, but eventually the patient will become irreversibly sick.” Since there are no implants the injected silicone can never fully be taken out.
Due to its dangers the procedure is banned but it is not difficult to find places that secretively perform the procedure. The ban and dangers have done little to curb the demand. It is a popular procedure which even parents are known to give to their daughters for their 15th birthday, the so called Quinceañera; the traditional passage from childhood to adulthood for women in Latin America. Campaigns against this practice are gaining influence, but much is still to be done, and with so many women having undergone the procedure, it is a public health problem of huge proportions.
The late president Hugo Chavez uttered criticism of this extreme focus on beauty and called it “monstrous”. The beauty ideal leads to many women spending a large part of their income on beauty products and procedures. On average a Venezuelan woman spends around 20 % of her income on beauty products and 4000 are estimated to undergo plastic surgery every month. In a country with few opportunities for women to advance in the occupations appearance has become a way for women to achieve status and to move up in the world. Appearance is seen to matter more for your career than being talented or dedicated and there is a huge societal pressure to look your best.
But this extreme focus on female beauty is not a feature exclusive to Venezuela, although the extent of its inflated ideal is worrisome. All over the world, in the West as well as developing countries, women’s bodies are an item of controversy and objectification. Around the globe there is a chase after an unobtainable ideal. Where women in Venezuela inflate their figure taking dangerous risks, women in the West starve themselves to death. The women of Venezuela may talk openly about surgery while in the West it is a taboo, either way the results are often the same; in both parts of the world women are often pressured to conform with a tightly defined mould of perfection, with pain, tears and even death as a consequence.