American author Toni Morrison’s famous novel The Bluest Eye focused on the plight of a pubescent African-American girl, Pecola, in a society that had the paragon of beauty as one having light eyes, sun-kissed hair and a porcelain complexion. The ebony-skinned Pecola succumbs to these idealisms and wishes for a pair of blue eyes, which she believes, would make her beautiful and thereby being able to transcend racial prejudices. Nevertheless, Pecola’s dream continues to be a dream, as she is oppressed and marginalized not only by her peers but by her own family, most importantly by her father who rapes her to the point of insanity. In Toni Morrison’s own words, this novel, besides other pressing issues, attempts to shatter this dangerous construct that is an idealized beauty.
Let’s rewrite The Bluest Eye.
Bring Pecola down South to the land of Venezuela – a land which has oil running through its veins and beauty at its heart. This land is a factory house which considers the starry-eyed girls as its raw materials and runs them down the assembly line to emerge as manufactured glammed-up glamazon dolls. The machinery: Intensive training. Plastic surgery included, of course. Thanks to the Cuban émigré who landed on Venezuelan shores to see and conquer the global pageantdom: the Czar of beauty – Osmel Sousa.
This is our teenage Pecola who is all set to try her luck at Miss Venezuela. It’s easier said than done. She has to trotter in her heels every morning for rehearsals, crack through numerous eliminations under the hawk-eye of the Czar, take stringent advise of any dietary change or exercise or a “touch-up” under the scalpel and finally, she earns the nod of the discerning jury.
This is the outcome:
To the layman pageant enthusiast, she would easily classify as a strong ebony contender for an international crown. Not much so for Osmel. Keep her under his radar and his suggestions for corrections pours more seamlessly than his compliments. A normal routine would go on like this:
Osmel: Dios! Her nose is too broad. Trim it down.
Osmel: Bien, good work with the nose. It makes the lips look gigantic now. Reduce it.
Osmel: Good. A little work around the eyes and she should be good.
Osmel: Perfecta! Ella es Miss Amazonas!
Pecola has officially embarked on her journey towards fame and fortune but the road ahead lies bleak. A spot on the finale night stage is contended by thousand odd girls across the nation. Sailing through the ultra-competitive swimsuit, evening gown and question-answer portion is only an uphill task and reserved for the best of the best. Even then, Pecola will never make the top three. Ironical. Simply because she is dark. A dark Venezuelan has never worn the winner’s tiara except once in 2005. And it’s intentional.
Despite the bevy of ebony stunners like Erika Pinto (2014), Jennifer Saa (2014), Yaisbel Arteaga (2009), Andrea Escobar (2009), Milunay Hull (2012), Ainette Stephens (2000) on the Miss Venezuela stage, Osmel never rewarded them with a crown. He did it once to Jictzad Vina in 2005 and she failed miserably at Miss Universe. Even the nominally first coloured Miss Venezuela, Caroline Indriago of 1999, cannot be classified as ebony as she is more of a morenita, that is an exotic mix of white and black. Osmel has a rationale – he says that the Venezuelan public will never accept a black Miss Venezuela, simple because she doesn’t fit the stereotype of what “their” beauty queen should be: light skin, light eyes, light hair.
This idealism is so ingrained into the psyche of young Venezuelan girls that it has enmeshed itself into their culture – beauty pageant is their sport, Osmel their hero and the beauty queens, their pop stars. A manicurist in Caracas, rightly quipped for a local newspaper that “Venezuela is the worst place in the world to be ugly.” It is a fact that a large number of women would go bankrupt to pay money for boob-jobs, nose-corrections, buttock-uplifts, waist-reduction, waist-reduction, botox, dental-makeup or collagen-injections. Fifteen year old girls are given a plastic surgery treatment as their birthday gift, young girls are enrolled into “beauty schools” and raffles for surgery are sold readily at a pharmacy store. This culture of “I want to be more beautiful than you” is stark, indeed, where the poverty rates are high and yet, one of the largest rates of consumerism in beauty products and surgeries. Even girls in the slums do not eschew the idea of a surgery to better their looks.
The root of this ideology is not cryptic. Miss Venezuela has the power to unite the crime-stricken suburbs of the country in front of a television under one canopy. People are bedazzled by the spectacle of near-to-perfect to perfect girls parading in over-the-top, scintillating designer gowns in their quest for three major crowns. These crowns are a key for the recipient, who more often than not, hails from the middle-class strata, to a door that can have multiple openings in the showbiz world. In a way, they transcend the oddities of their dangerous cities and browbeating poverty to attain a life of glamor and fame. This is the stuff of heroism for the average Venezuelan. Hence, their dream.
Recently, one such success story was highlighted by BBC in their documentary “Extreme Beauty Queens”, which featured Wi May Nava, hailing from the Barrio slum, where someone gets murdered every one hour.
She braved these roadblocks to eventually certify herself in the top five of Miss Venezuela 2013 and eventually become a runner-up at Miss United Continents. Her story attracted more brickbats than bouquets for that she underwent many surgeries, such as sewing a mesh in her tongue to aid weight loss and breast augmentation, all under the expense of their meagre family income.
Hence, many Venezuelan girls are obliging to go under the knife, as it is apparent that many of the Misses have to constantly undergo surgical treatments. A look at their “antes y despues” pictures, and it speaks for itself:
No amount of surgeries and fame could prevent Miss Venezuela 2003 Monica Spear from her ill-fated murder.
On the other hand, Miss Venezuela 2000 Eva Ekvall might have regretted getting breast implants to win the pageant. She succumbed to breast cancer.
And then the million-dollar question: Is plastic surgery a fair play to win a pageant? Osmel says, “If it can be easily fixed with surgery, then why not do it?” His statement might be stanch, but he knows that he means business. Face it, despite all the hullabaloo about inner beauty, beauty pageants at the end of the day, boils down largely to psychical beauty alone. And if there are means to achieve it, then why not harness them. Being detrimental in the long run is another story. But when it comes to competitiveness, Venezuela has realized its need and mastered its formulae. Because for them, pageants mean much, much more:
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