HAVANA TIMES — I’ve spent months looking for a small-sized bra without padding and still haven’t found it at any store. If I were looking for a pair of comfortable, low-heeled sandals, I would have to set out on a similar odyssey, because platform shoes are now in style.
Fashion governs our lives, determines our tastes and tortures us, even when we choose to follow its dictates faithfully.
A neighbor of mine was talking about the last Miss Universe contest. A friend was showing her the pictures she had downloaded from the Internet. “A gorgeous Venezuelan won,” she was saying. “Now, that’s a body…”
The phrase reminded me of Miss Inc., a Canadian documentary I saw during the last Havana Film Festival. The film explores the beauty academies that thrive in Venezuela, institutions designed to train Miss Universe models.
These institutions take in anyone from four-year-old girls who are taught to walk in high-heels and put on makeup to young women who are convinced their destiny is to become Miss Universe. To achieve this, they have to be beautiful.
We’re not talking about any type of beauty. They have to adapt to standards that restrict individual freedom and promote uniformity. In most cases, accepting these codes entails frustration, low self-esteem and many sacrifices.
Women – and young men also, increasingly – live under the tyranny of beauty standards. From a very young age, our families, friends, the market and the mass media teach us what is feminine and what isn’t, what is beautiful and what isn’t, what is right and what is wrong – and whoever doesn’t toe the line will have to deal with the scorn of society, which does not tend to forgive differences.
Like beauty contests and publicity in general, these academies give more importance to a woman’s physical appearance than to their intelligence and idealize the body. Their victims want such an “ideal” body and become frustrated on realizing they have an “imperfect” physique.
To rectify this, there are extreme diets, gyms and surgeons. It was shocking for me to hear a former Miss Venezuela, today the owner of one of these academies, talk frankly and jokingly about a second nose job she had, because straight noses were now in style (whereas slightly upturned noses were in style some years back).
She talked about a part of her body like one does a dress that’s gone out of style. Plastic surgeries are risky procedures. In addition to the use of anesthesia – which can cause anything from a simple allergic reaction to death – hemorrhages and infections can always complicate the procedure.
Incidentally, in Venezuela, the highest authority in the world of fashion is a Cuban that everyone refers to as the Czar of Beauty. Osmel Sousa thinks beauty is wholly external, that what’s inside the body is horrible and he sees young women as upgradable little dolls.
He is the one who decides whether they are “fit” to become a Miss or not and guides them in their plastic surgeries, in short, the person who “manufactures” their perfection, so that they can be admired and desired.
Everyone is of course responsible for their own bodies and lives, but, when we are caught by the fashion industry, we cease being in control of our own desires and begin to try and realize the desires someone set down for women.
The dictatorship of beauty becomes fused to that of the market, creating a perfect couple capable of subjugating even the most unruly.
Hair dyes, makeup, nail polish, lingerie, clothing, shoes, jewelry, everything is designed to satisfy our “needs” and make us look “good”, to make us feel eternally unsatisfied with our bodies and to make us want to look like the ideal woman we see in beauty contests.
In Cuba, people are consuming more and more audiovisual products related to the beauty industry, show business and fashion.
Though there are isolated cases, there isn’t much of a plastic surgery craze here, for the medical establishment is controlled by the State. We don’t have large beauty academies that train women in phony gestures (to walk, smile, applaud and sit down) and that, governed by the international standard of the 90-60-90 body, annul all individuality to produce the same, ideal body.
Incidentally, we had a beauty contest at home at the close of 2013. I will tell you about this in a later post.