CARACAS – Every six minutes, someone in Venezuela goes under the cosmetic surgery knife.
In a country where millions suffer a shortage of medicine, thousands are prepared to spend the equivalent of 50-years of minimum wage in a bid to look more beautiful.
The Venezuelan Society of Plastic Surgery (SVCP) said $200 million was spent on cosmetic surgery in 2018.
On average, 700 society members perform ten surgeries a month, which is 84,000 a year in the last decade.
The market is geared toward women and the hyper-promotion of body image.
Women’s beauty has become part of the national identity in a country where many companies actively encourage women to undergo cosmetic surgery, according to psychologist Maria Alejandra Ramirez.
Motivated by this, Genesis Bastidas, 24, spent her life savings on breast augmentation surgery in June.
Her decision was a trade-in for her other life plan: emigrating from Venezuela to flee the country’s socio-economic crisis, something 4 million others have done in the last five years.
“It was about feeling good about myself,” she told Efe. “I didn’t get the surgery to show off, but to feel better about myself.”
It will take Bastidas years to recover the money she spent on the mammoplasty.
Today in Venezuela, many earn less than $2 a month.
Women are sold a beauty ideal of large breasts and buttocks, a thin waist and a profiled face, Ramirez said.
Entire families push their daughters, not their sons, to conform to this image.
The prolific nature of this ideal leaves many thousands who do not naturally have these attributes suffering from low self-esteem.
Ramirez said that women who adopt this particular appearance are “going to be more successful.”
The psychologist added that the decision to go under the knife in search of that perfect image is never 100 percent their own but is rather a result, to some extent, of society’s pressure.
“The decision has to do with what others expect of you, with what you want to show the world.”
THE QUEEN FACTORY
Venezuelan society is renowned for its fondness of beauty contests.
Miss Venezuela comes around once a year and provides an opportunity for contestants to be crowned “the most beautiful woman in the country,” a title that can bring fame, power and recognition. In other words: success.
In the last 50 years, Venezuela’s media has intensely followed the lives of contest participants.
Politicians, women in business, models, actors and singers often have links to the world of beauty.
Orlando Rodriguez, a surgeon with 20 years of experience, performed 352 breast operations last year in the capital, Caracas.
“Everyone wants to be a ‘Miss,’” he said.
The endeavor is sometimes reckless, with several trips to the operation theater.
“They are women ... who somehow grow up with this. The illusion is also to be part of this (Miss Venezuela) and also indicates belonging to our country,” Ramirez said, adding that beauty is often recognized as a talent in Venezuela.
This year the beauty contest insisted it was a stage for different beauty forms, its sponsors promote breast implant brands and the majority of contestants have undergone some sort of cosmetic surgery.
“Everyone has had surgery, even those who say they haven’t,” Osmel Sousa, who is known as the beauty tsar and has presided over the event for almost 40 years. Sousa now also directs Miss Uruguay and Miss Argentina.
In his opinion, the contest does not judge natural beauty and dying hair is just as artificial as a scalpel to the nose.
The president of Miss Earth Venezuela, Julio Cesar Cruz, believes that, given the current situation in the country, a beauty queen would have to give a “contribution” to society beyond inspiring the nation with her beauty.
A MERCILESS BUSINESS
In a country where the economy has fallen by 50 percent in the last six years, cosmetic surgery remains a fiercely competitive sector governed by its own laws.
The battle for business usually plays out on social media, where doctors promote their offers, celebrities recommend surgeons and small businesses offer financial services that allow you to purchase bigger breasts in monthly installments.
One such business, which has been active in the industry for a decade, sells breast implants ranging $400-$1,200.
The customer will pay monthly installments for the pair they want and bring them to a surgeon.
Another company, that has financed 25,000 operations, pays the surgeon before transferring the cost to the patient to be paid off in monthly bites.
Although Venezuela has dropped off most people’s travel list for its insecurity, thousands of visitors arrive every year for cheap cosmetic procedures.
In recent years, many members of the Venezuelan diaspora have used a trip home to visit the family as an excuse to tweak their physical appearance.
SVCP president, Edgar Martinez, said these surgical procedures “continue to be cheaper in Venezuela,” where a mammoplasty, for example, costs a quarter of the price as the same procedure in Spain
The sector is often marketed as a package holiday complete with private, comfortable accommodation, specially-chosen food for the recovery period and even personal medical care.