I stopped watching the Miss Venezuela pageant when I was about 14 years old. Year after year, I would sit with my Nana and my sisters in a misogynistic ritual. We would mercilessly pick apart every inch of the candidates: that one is too fat, that one has a horrid nose, look at those awful teeth, that one is just plain ugly.
It was like a sorority initiation gone terribly wrong.
But in the end, I knew that no matter how “ugly” this or that candidate was, all of those 22 girls had something that I didn’t: they had a chance to be “successful.”
At 14, with my 159 centimeters, chubby body, short curly hair, and slightly boyish appearance, I was never going be elected queen of anything. I was never going to be Miss Venezuela.
This realization was a hurtful experience, because in my short life, I had always heard (and even experienced myself) that being beautiful was all that truly mattered.
Sure, you had to finish school, and you most certainly had go to college, and well, a graduate degree wouldn’t hurt. But all these were conditioned on the fact that you had, HAD, H-A-D, to be beautiful. That was the sine qua non that defined a successful Venezuelan woman.
The pressure to conform to an impossible standard of beauty was, and is, incredible. Why? Because if you do not nip, tuck, fill and blow-dry your way towards “beauty,” then you will be the exception to the rule, you will be “un-beautiful,” you will break the mantra that we all repeat about Venezuelan women being the most beautiful in the world, and that in itself is not a big deal, except, not being beautiful means that no matter what you do, you are a failure.
The artist Mr. Toledano has an interesting photo series on how society is currently defining a new kind of beauty. In almost all societies of the world, we dissect different parts of the female body, exaggerate them, sprinkle them with a dash of fetishism, and sew them right back on the frame. With every Miss Venezuela, Telenovela, Chica El Propio, and Playboy a new brick is laid on the foundation of the new Venezuelan standard of beauty.
Most often than not, women buckle under the pressure. If you don’t have enough money for the boob job, you get the lypo. Not enough for lypo? Maybe botox or dermal fillers. Not enough for that either? Well, you can always straighten your hair and opt for the Brazilian keratin treatment. You will do one or all of these, because, in our country, beauty is the most valuable currency.
I don’t blame the girls for perpetuating these damaging sterotypes. They work hard, they suffer through operations, and endure a lot of pain (for Christ’s sake, some use supralingual mesh to eat less). These girls are being completely rational – they see an opportunity, and they are working hard to achieve it. Can you imagine parading your bikini body in front of Osmel and his entourage? I have a hard time getting my pareo off to get in the beach.
And let’s be honest, What other opportunities do these young girl have? I’m going to be a devil’s advocate for a moment and say that at least Osmel is getting some girls out of the slums. He’s like a perverted and slightly bitchy fairy godmother. Yes, the girls take all the humiliation, all the pain, all the starvation. Why? Because he gives them a chance, a chance out of the barrios, a chance for success.
It’s easy to see these young women and snark. It’s easy to feel superior, to blame them for the objectification of women in our society. The problem is that they are not the guilty ones. They are the visible victims.
Let’s fight this culture. Let’s stop saying “Venezuelan women are beautiful,” and start giving our girls other options.