Thursday, 13 January 2011

Miss: Exploring Venezuela's Beauty Industry

Edward Ellis, an anthropologist who worked as production coordinator for Oliver Stone’s South of the Border, and Flor Salcedo, a Venezuelan activist on women’s issues, are working on a film to explore the beauty industry’s grip on the country.

Venezuela has won more beauty contests than any other country. But while it might have six Miss Universe crowns, it only has two shelters for victims of gender violence. One reality hides another. The beauty industry in Venezuela has struck deep social roots and is highly organised. Girls are taught from very young to aspire to be a “Miss”, a beauty queen. Beauty pageants for even little girls are highly sexualised.

An astonishingly large number of women do breast implants and it is not that unusual for proud fathers to buy breast implants for their daughters when they turn fifteen. Venezuela is also the highest per capita consumer of cosmetics, as the filmmakers point out. The “Misses” of Venezuela are white women. Many of them end up as TV anchors in the private channels, from where they both spew hate for the socialist government and reinforce the extreme objectification of Venezuelan women.

The Venezuelan beauty industry sits comfortably with a macho culture. In 2008, 10,000 gender violence cases were registered but local activists think it is only a ninth of the actual number. The newly-constituted Bolivarian police have had some success in reducing this in parts of Caracas but, like violence generally, it is an enormous and lingering problem.

The big boss of this industry is Osmel Sousa, a particularly dislikeable man who deserves a whole documentary to himself as a crude misogynist. Some of the scenes where he clinically measures up young aspirants could be straight out of a cattle market. Which is probably what it is.

Here is another documentary on Venezuelan obsession with beauty. 

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