A Colombian Perspective


This week’s readings reminded me of the reason I wanted to take this class— I wanted to explore how different cultures view beauty. I grew up in Medellin, Colombia,  a place where you don’t leave the house unless you look your best. when I moved to the United States, I started living on a small island off the coast of Seattle, Vashon. It was basically filled with hippies and people much more interested in farming that beauty work.  On Vashon Island, people were completely against anything that seemed unnatural, plastic surgery included. I rarely saw anyone who had work done, and they certainly didn’t talk about it. So when I went back to Colombia the summer after moving to the states, realized the huge cultural difference between where I was from and where I grew up. One day, while I was  a taxi cab to get my nails done with my mom (classic Colombia) , the radio started talking about a new contest. They were giving away free breast implant surgeries as though they were concert tickets. It was sponsored by a “famous” plastic surgeon in Colombia. This would never happen in the States, for obvious reasons. But in Colombia plastic surgery and breast implants in particular, are hugely popular. Like in the discussed in the Alexander Edmonds piece, “Beauty, Sex and Plastic Surgery”, The discourse of self-esteem is used to justify the beauty practices Americans think are crazy.  In Colombia women without breast implants are essentially a minority. Had I lived my entire high school life in Colombia, I would have probably seen a lot of my friends get implants for graduation, or some other big occasion.  I didn’t find this reading particularly shocking because everyone from business women to maids have access to some form of plastic surgery in Colombia, and the practice itself is not frowned upon.Alexander discusses an advertisement that says “raise your breasts, raise your self esteem”,  in Colombia the discourse of plastic surgery is more easily summarized by “raise your breasts, raise your social class.”  Edmonds discusses the idea that “improving the body and rejuvenating the face, it’s known, helps maintain self-esteem, with consequences for personal and professional life” (30). In the United States plastic surgery has a stigma, but we still see attractive people have more opportunities in terms of the job market and the way that they interact with society. In Colombia, the way that plastic surgery can alter a person’s daily life is accepted,  it becomes a way for people to change their circumstances.  Perhaps this latin hence is a more effective way of looking at beauty culture and plastic surgery. Instead of judging the person who got the procedure, the society that makes beauty an advantage is more readily accessible for critique.

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7 thoughts on “A Colombian Perspective

  1. It’s interesting that you say, “In Columbia, the discourse of plastic surgery is more easily summarized by ‘raise your breasts, raise your social class.’” I thought to myself, “If everyone from ‘business women to maids’ have access to plastic surgery, then how does anyone move up?” If every social class is enhanced in looks, do social rankings stay the same or do social classes begin to mix? Is the distinction made in quality of surgery?

    You say, “In Columbia, the way plastic surgery can alter someone’s daily life is accepted, it becomes a way for people to change their circumstances.” I feel that using plastic surgery to change “daily life” is different than “changing circumstances.” I think back to the example of the woman Jessica Simpson hoped would find some inner beauty. This woman who lives in a poor area of Rio had plastic surgery that may have helped her “self-esteem” but did little to change her circumstances. In the U.S., where plastic surgery is not available to everyone, it symbolizes wealth, power, and ultimately, beauty – even if this beauty is artificial. But in Brazil and Columbia, where it is more accessible and less stigmatized, can it still symbolize wealth and power in the same way? What we saw in Jessica Simpson’s ridiculous show is the Westernized view of plastic surgery that heavily focuses on wealth and judgment versus the “otherized” Latin American view of plastic surgery that simply enhances daily life rather than contributing to extreme upward mobility.

    While very different contexts and social systems, what the shared global idea comes down to is the myth of “self-esteem”; how feeling good and looking good can solve your problems.

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  2. Colombia and Brazil are fantastic examples of Neoliberalism at it’s worst (is there a best?). About a decade after Neoliberalism altered the economic and social landscape of the US, many Latin American nations adopted free market reforms in the hopes of increasing trade and capital flows with wealthy countries like the U.S. When the Colombian economy crashed in the late nineties, social services had been cut to such an extent that the only functioning economy–the drug economy–was able to expand and create a second, stronger government.

    In class, we’ve talked about how economic policies play out in our everyday lives. It makes sense, then, that a country who had to adopt a second government because the neoliberal government failed, would have disseminated the ideal a second best option into it’s culture.

    Also, we can’t say that the second best option isn’t working. Without the drug economy, so many Colombians would be unable to put food on the table. If they can not cultivate cocoa and work on poppy fields, then where will they work? If getting implants is practically the only way for one to move up in terms of economic or social standing, then why shouldn’t one do it?

    The potential cost is high–death from drug violence or death from surgical complications is a grim reality–but it is a comprehendible cost. Addressing the underlying problems surrounding social and economic mobility demands global solutions that current geopolitics will not allow. What it will take to change that, and what a change would mean for those who depend on the secondary government, or who have already invested in self-work, could arguably be greater.

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    1. I would just caution against suggesting that the only two options to make money in Colombia are either plastic surgery or drugs. I by no means want what we get from this to be a suggestion that the situation in Colombia is one where “death from drug violence or death from surgical complications is a grim reality”. This is really not the case. The high prevalence of plastic surgery is based on the great amount of value placed on beauty. Colombians are not in danger of dying from drug violence if they don’t get breast implants. Colombia’s economy is based on a lot more than drugs, people have access to thousands of jobs, meanwhile the drug economy is one that few people are a part of. Plastic surgery could theoretically help people get a job, especially in a place where beauty is so valued. However, my point with this post is that as Weber points out, the neoliberalist attitude towards plastic surgery suggests that a pathway to a better job or way of life is beauty culture. This by no means suggests that this is actually a way to make money. The idea is that this is a false promise because it doesn’t change the socio-economic structure that makes people have problems in the first place. I brought up plastic surgery in Colombia to point out the ways in which the same discourse of self confidence that Edmund points out in plays out Brazil.

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  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNIRNTR6dwQ. This is one of the episodes from a British tv program, “Supersize vs Superskinny”. In each episode the program shows two extreme eating habits of two people who swap their diet with each other as a method in trying to change their relationship with food for the better. In many ways it relates to what we talked about last week: makeover reality tv shows in that these people who come into the show are in need of some sort change. However, in “Supersize vs Superskinny” there is less of an emphasis on beauty, but more on health.

    However, what this blogpost actually reminds me of is the intermission part of the show where the program takes the viewer away from the supersize and superskinny to a slightly different topic. (9.49min to 14.40 min of the youtube clip). Valentina mentions that there is an advertisement that says, “raise your breasts, raise your self esteem”, and the nurse in this clip did just that. She just lift up her top and proudly showed her enhanced breasts as well as saying which other parts of her body she had done – contradicting what Cacee Cobb( in Jessica Simpson’s “Price of Beauty”) who said that “people in America will lie to the day they die about plastic surgery”. Its kind of interesting to see how Jessica, Cacee and Ken went to Brazil and were shocked by their practices and in the clip we see Anna Richerdson going to Hollywood and was surprised to find out that the nurses who worked for the plastic surgeon had been worked on numerous times by that very same surgeon, saying “I don’t think you would have that in the UK” Noticing a pattern here?

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  4. I enjoyed this juxtaposition of attitudes towards plastic surgery in Colombia and the United States. It made me think about how plastic surgery is represented in popular culture, and therefore society. . It reminds me of celebrities getting nose jobs under the guise of a “deviated septum.” Many well-known actors have gone under the knife citing a deviated septum as the reason; these include Josh Hutcherson, Jennifer Aniston, Ashlee Simpson and Ashley Tisdale. These celebrities justify their plastic surgery as a medical necessity, not a social status. Statistics say that nearly 80% of the population has a deviated septum, and in most cases it is not a serious medical concern.

    While it is possible some of these cases had legitimate reasoning, it is fair to assume that they wanted it for cosmetic reasons (I’m looking at you, Ashlee Simpson). But regardless of their reason, they almost have to claim medical reasoning for getting work done; otherwise, the media and society will hound them for giving in to societies beauty standards. Which is a double-edged sword because they would be hounded if they didn’t give in to the same standards. I agree with you that perhaps Columbia has “a more effective way of looking at beauty culture and plastic surgery.”

    http://www.eonline.com/news/58413/is-there-a-deviated-septum-epidemic

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  5. It’s so interesting to hear about the Colombian perspective and how much it differs from the way we approach plastic surgery here. While there’s obviously a discourse around self esteem and confidence when it comes to justifications of plastic surgery in America, the practice is still so stigmatized in a way that I don’t think it is in some other places like Brazil or South Korea. If I were to make a guess, I would say it’s because in the US, we’re imbued with this concept of natural beauty–the idea that we’re supposed to be flawless and beautiful without any effort. Beauty is supposed to come naturally to us, but the truth of the matter is, unless you’re Beyonce (and let’s be real, even Beyonce has an entire team to help her) no on can attain this effortless beauty without time, money and real work. The paradox is that we’re expected to be these great consumers and use products that minimize nonexistent pores and conceal already invisible dark circles, but at the same time, everything is supposed to look and feel ‘natural’ whatever that means. What I’m getting at is, doesn’t it bother anyone else that there are YouTube tutorials for “No Makeup Makeup Look”? Women are so often forced to walk the line between “she looks like a slob, she is obviously not trying and doesn’t care about herself” and “look at how dressed up she is, she’s trying way too hard.” And plastic surgery is the ultimate example of “trying too hard.” So as a society, we don’t like to fess up to the “No Plastic Surgery Surgery Look” and instead try and masquerade as natural beauties. I think what Val’s trying to get at in her post is that at least in Colombia, people don’t feel the need to hide when they go under the knife and are proud of their new-found “self-esteem” and while plastic surgery is probably not always the right answer, maybe being able to admit to your not so natural look is better than pretending that we are flawless humans who don’t do any beauty work.

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  6. I think it is so interesting that there is a fascination with plastic surgery in latin America. It makes me wonder if it has to do with the fact that they are former colonies , or other factors regarding their somewhat-recent independence (in the grand scheme of world history). The reason I thought about this was because attitudes towards plastic surgery in Europe are so different, almost opposite than how you wrote about Colombia or what we have read about Brazil. My dad is from Spain, and I have visited quite a few times. Minimal make up, clothes that aren’t too flashy, and a more “natural” look are what seems to be valued in Beauty. Even when I wear makeup (which he always thought was unnecessary), he says that it is for old women, and that I am young and don’t need to be wearing it. In Greece, where my mom is from, there are similar sentiments. Everyday makeup is very minimal and usually used to cover things like dark circles or uneven skin. Things like eyeshadow (like a smoky eye) or lipstick are reserved for nights out. It seems excessive to put on a full face every day. No one in Greece would dare admit that they had plastic surgery, it would be a hush-hush thing. It is not even that each woman needs to have natural beauty, it is that even if you aren’t traditionally beautiful without makeup, it isn’t even that important. It is a part of life that you deal with, and you are still expected to be happy with yourself and confident, and something vain like beauty isn’t supposed to have that much importance. This is how I saw beauty in my experiences in western Europe (I found France was similar). So I think its really interesting that Colombia, Brazil, and other countries in latin America, who were colonized by western European powers, have what seems like a directly opposite view on plastic surgery and “natural” beauty (which isn’t always effortless – but that’s a different topic) is something that is associated with a lower class standing. Perhaps it began as an effort on the more indigenous citizens to assimilate to the white, European look, and then spread to the entire culture as a whole? Im so curious as to why and how these beauty ideals came into play. Obviously I’m not saying that one is correct and the other is wrong, but im just curious about how they do (or don’t) interact and why.

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