Billie J Porter goes inside the Miss Venezuela boot camp, where plastic surgery and punishing diets transform young girls into beauty queens in hour-long BBC Three documentary, “Extreme Beauty Queens: Secrets of South America”. Beauty is a huge priority in Venezuela despite the economic climate. The country is divided between the socialists and capitalists; engulfed with poverty, violence and conflict. In fact, approximately 16,000 people are killed each year. Despite the political tensions and not to mention their life-threatening ways of life, beauty has been apart of the country’s identity and heritage for centuries. Miss Venezuela is a huge part of the country’s culture and evidences that beauty and success can be found in the most unlikely of places. As contestant number 22, Meyer, who we follow throughout the documentary, states, “People from the slums can succeed”.
Winning The Miss Venezuela crown is the ultimate prize for many Venezuelan girls. It’s not just a competition but also a chance to change their lives. 15 million people across Latin America watch the final show live, which can give those successful girls instant exposure and fame. The girls’ transformations are also televised in a sort of glamorous reality TV show. Osmel Sousa is the president of the show and is loved (sometimes hated) across the country. For Sousa the competition is not based on natural beauty, rather potential. As a result, cosmetic surgery is a given: a necessity for fulfilling Sousa’s exceptional high beauty standards. But surgery is not exclusive to the competitors. Sousa is even seen undergoing surgery to perfect his look. Even when the reality show is first broadcast to the world one of the judges is seen wearing bandages from a nose job. Surgery is completely casual. Fakery and construction used as means to accentuate and improve.
Osmel advised for Meyer to succeed she would have to have her nose reshaped and breasts enlarged, and Meyer happily obliged. Her surgeries funded by her family totalled at a grand £7,000. If you think that’s extravagant, Meyer has taken weight loss to an entire new extreme. She had mesh sewn onto her tongue, which makes it too painful to eat solids. As a result Meyer can only have liquids, ensuring tremendous weight loss. It seems thinness is also deemed the epitome of beauty and femininity in Venezuela similarly to Western cultures. In fact, dieting plays a huge part in the girls’ transformation. The girls must be slender at whatever cost: one girl even faints during a show due to food deprivation and fatigue, “I haven’t ate enough”. Billie herself even feels extremely body conscious at the presence of Osmel, wanting and needing his approval to feel acceptable. Osmel even deconstructs Billie to mere pieces, telling her how she could be more beautiful including changing her teeth, hair colour, nose and removing her moles! Osmel states, “Its an industry so we strive for perfection.”
We then meet humble Lara, a farm girl who has had no surgery but definitely feels the pressure: “You have to be beautiful. I dream about it every night. I never rest”. For me I think even without the surgeries Lara is one of the most beautiful girls out of the competitors. Her features are reminiscent to beauty ideals Mila Kunis and Angelina Jolie, with her putting lips, long dark hair and big bluish eyes. Despite, her more natural beauty, Lara does not get picked to participate in the beauty boot camp to become the next Miss Venezuela. However, all is not lost. Billie meets with Lara some months later to find that she has been modelling whilst rocking a new pixie haircut! Lara realises that if she had been picked, surgery would have been inevitable and is relieved that she never had to do that. “Beauty lies in the differences of females, otherwise we would all be walking round looking like Barbie dolls”.
6 months later, the Miss Venezuela final arrives and we witness Meyer become a finalist. Whilst she doesn’t win the crown, becoming a finalist opens just as many doors as winning does. The Miss Venezuela competition has stood the test of time and politics, overcome every threat and even feminist protests. Obsessed with beauty, Miss Venezuela is where dreams are made of. The crazy diets and ‘necessary’ surgeries highlight women’s obsession to reach perfection and to succeed. It also reinforces the sad truth that to be successful, one must be beautiful. But beauty and perfection still fail to exist.
The Miss Venezuela contest echoes a social ‘norm’ that woman are not only encouraged to use their bodies as a tool to get what they want, but they are also encouraged to make sure that they look perfect so that they will have the necessary means to use their body to get what they want out of life. The competition gives the impression that beauty equals success and acceptance. And it’s understandable why. The girls, who are often from poverty stricken areas, have their lives transformed if they commit themselves to the ridicule of Osmel’s beauty boot camp. Those who manage to convincingly cultivate the impression of ‘ideal’ beauty are promised a new life of happiness and success. The prettier and more feminine you are, the further you’ll go in the competition, something, which seems true in almost every aspect of modern day culture.
The contest shows how girls can be “trained” into being “Misses” and ‘ideal’ feminine beauty is attainable. The girls learn how to talk, walk and act. Much like a transsexual or drag queen would learn to do so. Thus, the Miss Venezuela competition evidences how certain acts, gestures and behaviours can create the impression of ‘ideal’ femininity and when cultivated, repeated and committed to, ‘ideal’ female beauty is attained. This proves that even a beauty queen’s style, look and gender is constructed; defined and perfected through vigorous training, which eventually becomes second nature. Second nature.
Secrets of South America: Extreme Beauty Queens (2014) BBC Three [10 February 2014]