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  • Writer's pictureSerena Nangia

One size does not fit all: Beauty standards in Latin American countries by Serena Nangia

Some say that Latin American beauty standards are more inclusive of all body sizes, including larger bodies. However, to say that is to discount the different beauty standards every Latin American country has individually (what is true for one country is not necessarily true for another). The generalization of beauty standards across Latin America discount the different identities which result from these standards.

The contrast between different Latin American countries is clear solely based on knowledge of popular culture and experiences in the region. In Argentina and Chile, thinness is idealized; in Mexico and Colombia, curvy bodies — ala Shakira and Sofia Vergara — are praised; in Venezuela, beauty queens rule; and in Brazil, buxom-y models are deified and sent to Victoria’s Secret. Without even diving into Latin American beauty standards of race, it is easy to see that size-wise, not all Latin American countries have the same standards.

For women in Argentina, appearances are everything, even more than in the United States. And when I say “everything,” I mean that if you wear workout clothes outside of the gym or forget to put your make-up on, you’re immediately judged. The pressure to match fashion trends, from clothing to hair, is also associated with the pressure to be thin. This study finds that “the best-known environmental contributor to the development of eating disorders is the sociocultural idealization of thinness.” In Argentina, this has resulted in record high rates of eating disorders that can be classified as an “epidemic-like” manifestation. La Asociación de Lucha contra la Bulimia y la Anorexia (ALUBA) released a study in 2012 stating that anorexia affected 1 in every 100 women in Argentina. In 2018, Dr. Mabel Bello of ALUBA stated that since that study, the number of cases has increased. Argentina’s focus on the thin ideal is similar to that of the United States. In Brazil, the thin ideal exists, but it is supported by the paradoxical push for “big butts” at the same time.

Brazilian beauty standards are confusing at best and impossible at worst. In the past couple decades, the “guitar-shaped” body became the body ideal for women in Brazil. This means small boobs, even smaller torso, and big butts. As a woman, this seems a bit confusing; I’m supposed to have a small stomach and a big butt? Not even to mention the size of my boobs. But apparently, yes. That is exactly what is expected of Brazilian women. “Brazilians are supposed to be beautiful. It’s a national pride thing.” However, for a long time, Brazilians were known for their pure confidence and acceptance of their bodies, seen in their confidence on the beach, which is why it’s confusing. Are Brazilians beginning to buy into the Western beauty standard? Maybe so. No longer are the Martha Rocha and “girl from Ipanema” representations of Brazilian beauty. In Brazil today, prominent Victoria’s Secret models Gisele Bündchen, Adriana Lima, Lais Ribeiro, and Alessandra Ambrosio contribute to unhealthy thin body ideals, whether they mean to or not. These models and media from the United States send messages to Brazilians that they are not good enough, and that their beauty standards are wrong. Globalization is hard at work here, says Joana de Vilhena Novaes, a psychologist and author. Unfortunately, this shift n beauty standards did not come without consequences. In 2006, 4 Brazilian women died as a result of anorexia, and their deaths became high profile. In 2007, the United Nations labeled Brazilians as the worst abusers of diet pills. Soap operas even began including plot lines surrounding eating disorders (not bad in itself, but soap operas are another form of messaging that promotes unhealthy beauty standards). The evidence is overwhelming that Brazil’s beauty standards are unique, albeit similar to that of the United States. The almost-requirement to be beautiful in Brazil is part of what makes it unique from other countries in Latin America.

Venezuela is another example of the damage strict beauty standards cause. Well known for its successes in the Miss Universe pageant, Venezuela is also the home of normalized high expectations and institutionalized standards of beauty. “I guess you could say beauty is their national sport,” said a German-Norwegian photojournalist named Karin Ananiassen. If beauty is the national sport, boobs and butts are the uniform. In contrast to Argentina’s thin ideal and Brazil’s “guitar-shaped” ideal, Venezuela’s is far more curvy. It is important to note, though, that the beauty standard of “curviness” is no less dangerous than one of thinness. Since it is almost impossible to achieve curvy body standards naturally, Venezuelans have turned to plastic surgery. As with any surgery, the risks of having plastic surgery are big, and the risks only increase the more surgeries you have. The country’s obsession with plastic surgery makes it even more likely that someone will die in trying to attain the curvy beauty standard set by the pageant industry.

It is clear that there are distinct beauty standards for Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela. While Argentina pushes a thin ideal, Brazil pushes mixed messages in a “guitar-shaped” bow, and Venezuela pushes a curvy ideal. In contrary to what some people like to believe, Latin American countries have different peoples, identities, and cultures. Those different cultures lead to varying beauty standards. Latin American countries do not have a “one size fits all” beauty standard, and we should not assume they do.

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