Have you ever seen a pregnant mannequin? If so, you must have seen it in the stores for expecting mothers. At a mall in Venezuela, mannequins of pregnant schoolgirls wearing school uniforms are being displayed. Shoppers who see the mannequins were shocked and as a result, a debate over sex education was provoked (Buenos Aires Herald). The mannequins were set up by two local charities for children with the intention to draw attention to the nation’s adolescent pregnancy rate. This idea was formulated because of the alarming statistics that one girl under the age of 18 is getting pregnant every three minutes and 23 percent of all births come from that age category in Venezuela (Latin Times); the phenomenon is one of the worst in South America. A shopper, Auriselvia Torrealba said “Yes, it’s disturbing to see such sight in a window. But it’s the truth. You see pregnant girls all the time on the streets. So this forces you to think about the problem, doesn’t it?” (New York Post) Although this issue is a subject of taboo in Venezuela, the campaign is playing the role of igniting awareness for the current status of girls.
Teen pregnancy has been a major issue in developing countries. Even it is a girls’ choice to get pregnant, teen pregnancy can be detrimental for both the mother and the baby in terms of medical problems as well as mental health problems. In order to avoid the risks, many civil agencies or foundations insist that sex education needs to be improved and parents need to take the subject more seriously (Latin Times). Since sex education can provide the girls with information on various contraceptive measures and knowledge about the human body, the girls are given the opportunity to reduce the rate of pregnancy. Nevertheless, it cannot be a solution in the case of forced marriage. Teen pregnancy results to girls being deprived of not only the right to be healthy, but also the right to be educated. If they get married or give childbirth, they face difficulty in going back to school.
In addition to improving the quality of sex education, society has to be equipped with the proper systems and networks to provide a safe environment for girls. The more important thing for the girls is the change in overall recognition toward girls/women through the cooperation of parents and communities. Girls are not a tool to help men vent their desires or a reproduction machine, but a being worth valued. If this view is not properly established, gender disparity in education can never be broken. Beyond Venezuela where the attention to girls’ pregnancy was ignited, we have to go the extra mile for all the girls who are suffering from early or forced marriage as well as teen pregnancy to stay healthy and stay in school.
As a woman and a Venezuelan this topic has always interested and concerned me. In the last twenty years, the plastic surgery industry in Venezuela has become one of the most profitable businesses in the country, and Venezuela ranks among the top 20 countries that perform plastic surgery. The majority of these surgeries are breast implants for women.
Women have become enslaved to the country’s cult to beauty. This cult to beauty has been exacerbated by the media, with a pressure to look a like a Barbie doll, with body proportions that are only possible (if even so) by undergoing plastic surgery. Huge breasts, tiny waists (removal of ribs are necessary for this), butt implants and nose jobs to make the noses look tiny. This pressure is summed up in the words of Venezuela’s “beauty guru” and the owner of the Miss Venezuela Emporium, Mr. Osmel Sousa who nonchalantly said: “when there is a defect, I correct it [with plastic surgery]… Internal beauty doesn’t exist. That is something that ugly women invented to justify themselves.”
In the last few years, even shop owners have started making mannequins that have fake breasts proportions, and their sales have increased since then.
Plastic surgery is a phenomenon that influences women from all social sectors. Despite the high poverty rates in Venezuela, women from the lowest-income backgrounds undergo breast implant surgery. Former President Hugo Chávez, who died in March of 2013, publicly condemned plastic surgery, claiming it was “monstrous” that poor women would be spending money on breast surgery when they struggled to make it to the end of the month. Certainly the plastic surgery industry goes very much against the socialist ideals that Mr. Chávez endorsed of a society free of commercialism and consumerism, and he condemned it as a “mark of capitalist propaganda.”
Earlier this month, the annual “Miss Venezuela” contest took place, and girls from across the different states participated in the most-watched TV show of the year. The next day, the winner and the runner up spoke in a press conference about their plastic surgery: “I got my boobs done because I had to fill my bust… I’m not against surgery, I’m in favor of science and plastic surgery is a science.”
“I got a nose job…the important thing is that you’re happy with whatever you got done, and I love my nose, despite what they say…” Reading their declarations ignited my desire to write a post regarding this hot topic. Also, the shortage of breast silicone implants hit the news a month ago, emphasizing the importance placed by Venezuelans on the topic of breast implants.
I am very concerned about the obsession with breast implants that has taken over the country. When one of my friends said to me once, “getting a boob job empowers me,” I was perplexed and asked her why. She replied that it made her feel more beautiful, more desirable (to men) and that it boosted her self-esteem. I have given a lot of thought to her remarks along with many of my girlfriends’ who have undergone plastic surgery and express similar thoughts. In a free, democratic society everyone has the choice to do as they please, and if having bigger breasts make women feel better about themselves then why shouldn’t they get them?
However, I am digging deeper into this issue and find a truly worrisome problem ingrained in our cognitive social conscience. Why should our self-esteem as women be based on the size of our breasts? Why has our society given so much value to our outward appearance to the extent of sacrificing our health and even endangering our lives? Why have we succumbed to this objectification of our body parts? To me, this obsession with plastic surgery shows a severe crisis of values in our country, and it is a mark of the profound and overly plastic, materialistic society we have become. It is truly alarming how much of a role the media plays in shaping our identities as women and setting the parameters of what is and isn’t considered beautiful.
In class we have been studying the different theories and perspectives on development discourse. Is expanding people’s choices critical to development? According to Amartya Sen, development as freedom means expansion of choices, so then perhaps under this light, the choice to get breast implants can be seen as a form of freedom. If it makes women feel empowered, then more so. But when it comes to choices, we need to think of priorities and values, and dig deeper into their meanings. Can we objectively say these are “choices” that empower us and give us “freedom” when they appear to actually make us slaves to a standard of beauty set by a group of people?