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The myth of the most beautiful woman

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(Author: Antonio Ríos)

(Illustrator: Oscar Olivares)

When I was just an 11-year-old boy I lived in a little town in central Venezuela called Valle de la Pascua, which had a rather small population with mostly country folk. Nevertheless, even in a humble town, the same motto could be heard over and over: The Venezuelan woman is the most beautiful in the world.

This concept was repeatedly hammered inside my head during all the time I spent in Valle de la Pascua, but even later when I was 13 when I moved to Cumana in east Venezuela the idea continued to flutter around. You could hear it coming from the mouths of my schoolmates, family, television, radio — you always got your dose. Finally, I reached Caracas at 17 and at this point this wasn’t even an idea anymore. For me, it had become an undeniable truth, a fact.

Venezuela is known among other things because it stood victorious in so many beauty contests. I remember that my entire family would sit around the TV and watch the “Miss Universo,” talk about the new models, former winners. Apparently, everyone was an expert on beauty. This was the moment when I started to realize that something didn’t fit. For sure I considered (and still do) that the women on the catwalk were gorgeous and this is a bold statement since beauty depends on perception and particularly on cultural standards, but for now, let’s keep it simple. We are talking about really tall women, thin, mostly straight hair or curly, and finally, women with skin tones around the average Mediterranean white, informally called in Cumana “Quemaitas”. These were the exponents of this powerful slogan of the most beautiful woman, the Venezuelans.

I was rather introverted when I was little so I didn’t have so many friends, but when I moved to Caracas I was pushed to open up in order to survive. When I created new social circles in this new environment I finally realized the thing that didn’t fit: The women who represent the Venezuelan beauty have nothing to do with the average woman I meet every day, actually they don’t even look like the same people (I mean in terms of race). It took me a while to meet women that looked vaguely as those on the TV and being a little more straightforward, it happened when I started to hang out with the social circles of higher levels in Caracas.

Last names such as Vecchiotti, Bottoni, Texeira, Greco, Cohen, Pedersen crowned the names of these girls, mostly foreign last names mainly from Italy and Portugal (also Spain, but there is no easy way to tell these apart from the local ones). Finally, we are hitting the point. How many people in Venezuela have the same stereotype as the contest exponents?

This social construction of beauty is based on occidental standards that belong to Europe and the U.S. And indeed — on average — that’s the stereotype of the women of these locations. I’m not talking about being thin or proportions, but the “infrastructure,” like the shape of the nose, fair skin tone, straight hair, body proportions and muscular mass, rather small hips, you get the point, far away from the Asian or African typical phenotypes.

All these characteristics belong to the average European folk, but in Venezuela, we are not European, right? We are half African, half Native American, and half European. But how were these Natives and Africans? Well, they mostly didn’t fit the features I quoted above and thus the average Venezuelan person usually does not either.

I couldn’t give an estimate of how many people in Venezuela match this profile, but based on my experience, I could say that is a small part of the population (fairly less than half, I don’t think even a quarter). Women who preserve this phenotype normally have a parent of European origins, I encourage you to wiki-search the following names of Venezuelan models: Mónica Spear, Alexandra Braun or Alicia Machado, and if we are willing to extend the concept and accept that the Colombian racial composition is similar to that of Venezuela you can also “wiki” Shakira.

So, why all these victories in the beauty contests? An explanation can be found in the Sushi, yep, Sushi. Raw Fish inside of rice, at least those are the main ingredients and yes, that way it doesn’t look so special, so why is it so popular? What’s with it? Well, Sushi is exotic, a dish brought from a distant culture in the Far East that manages to be approachable since fish and rice are pretty common for us. This is some kind of “mild” exoticness and it happens to be the perfect combination. The best of two worlds, appealing and fascinating while still conventional and relatable, this is the key. Effectively, Venezuela is the land that has conceived amazing beauties, however, as I stated before, we are talking about a mild exoticness, therefore in most of the cases a close European ancestor is in the formula, that is, a descendent of a recent European immigrant, not a colonizer.

In Venezuela we have been raised to admit and believe that the Venezuelan beauty is the greatest around the globe and there is some truth is that statement, but it doesn’t represent the Venezuelan average, it represents a small sector of the population and that results in an inferiority complex that is intrinsic in the Venezuelan woman. There was so much trendiness with this Barbie doll issue and her unrealistic proportions that set unreachable standards for girls. Well, this is some kind of amplified version of it, is not about having the perfect measures or dying your hair blonde, in this case, not even the race matches. Which diet program would you use to sharpen a nose? Or which exercise routine to change your bone structure? What about using contact lenses to change your eyes color forever? We are talking about a population of women who has grown up watching Venezuelan beauty contests in which they are told that this is the standard they should follow and relate to. Since normally they cannot, the consequence is an even worse “Barbie Doll Syndrome”.

This idea of the Venezuelan woman as the most beautiful is a harmful concept that fills the average Venezuelan folk with displeasure and dissatisfaction, encouraging an endless pursuit of a beauty standard that doesn’t belong to him/her, like a koala that wants to fly or a fish that wants to walk. In order to make the people grow up, we have to understand that these standards are borrowed and that it is necessary to create and to believe in our own. Until we figure out what is the true beauty of the Venezuelan and assimilate it in our cultural identity, the myth of the most beautiful woman will continue to be a heavy burden that will anchor our society to the underdevelopment, dissatisfaction, and self-disdain.