Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Beauty Code in Telenovelas

The other day in class when we were talking about "Cuidad Bendita" and breaking the codes in a telenovela love story, I was sort of shocked to hear about the ways fans reacted to Roque Valero being chosen as the male protagonist. Viewers said he wasn't handsome enough and didn't fit their vision of who should be in the role. Additionally, when the female protagonist with her limp wasn't healed at the end, people were disappointed by that outcome, wanting her so-called "physical imperfection" to be fixed. It's interesting that in this case, the code was transgressed, and the audience ended up loving the leads' chemistry and relationship. However, this type of strong, initially negative reaction made me start thinking a lot about beauty as a component of cultural identity in a sense and why it's so significant in Latin American telenovelas.

Looking at it from a business standpoint, if consumers are ultimately determining ratings and stating their opinions freely about the novelas on air, then they are the ones dictating what is actually consumed. So, yes, the media must a play a part in the societal pressures and high standards of beauty, but producers and writers are actually just fulfilling the want of the viewers too. As we've discussed, telenovelas are a commercial product. They thrive off of their social acceptance and popularity. The fact that some of the elements of epic love stories are physical appearance, the male protagonist's smile, and the female protagonist's sad/nostalgic beauty further emphasize the beauty code as a characterized prerequisite.

While researching online, specifically within Venezuela, I found that historically this may stem from marianismo, "the expected female behavior to be 'woman-mother-wife,'--emulating the Virgin Mary" (Roche 75). In her article, "Venezuelan Femininity The Painful Embodiment of Beauty", Michelle Roche says, "[...] because by trying to become beautiful, women are distracted from the most pressing gender and political issues in the country, thus perpetuating the idea that women's role is to be men's 'women-mother-wives' (marianismo)" (Roche 77). She went on to say that even women in the work place are not exempt from this obsession; women are expected to do everything and look good while doing it. Roche references too the influence of American democracy on the beauty code: "What Venezolanas imitated was the American looks they saw in television. In fact, television's introduction in the country in 1958 was the most powerful device in perpetuating the Venezuelan beauty myth" (Roche 76).

Roche believes the "beauty myth" in Venezuela is most visible through four factors: "first, the cultural obsession with the Miss Venezuela competition; second, female spending on personal care; third, the importance given to fashion; and finally, the high percentage of women that have had aesthetic surgery" (Roche 67). These are all things we've mentioned in class.

The beauty code in telenovelas seems to be a more complex issue than one might assume, driven by deep historical, societal, and political undercurrents. As we continue through the course, I hope to learn more about the psychology behind this code and its practical implications for viewers of the telenovela genre.

Roche, Michelle. "Venezuelan Femininity The Painful Embodiment of Beauty." Anamesa The Culture Issue (2007): 63-80. New York University. Web. 24 Sept. 2015. <>.


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  2. Hey Maggie, this is a very compelling post. Thank you for sharing. I actually wrote my last blog post on this same concept; however, I think you bring up some great points. First, I think you make an excellent point about telenovelas being commercial products. The fact that producers develop telenovelas with the preferences of society in mind goes to show just how significant of a role consumers play in telenovela production. If consumers expect to see gorgeous men and women in a telenovela, then the producer better choose their cast accordingly otherwise they have a high chance of receiving low ratings. This idea fascinates me because telenovelas are a major communication channel. One would like to think that producers can insert their own opinions into the plots and try to alter stereotypes with their stories; however, if consumers maintain their same expectations then this may not be a good option.

    The article that you quoted about Venezuelans taking their concern for physical beauty away from female actresses in U.S. television shows is very interesting. To me, I am not surprised that American culture and its depictions of women could have been the reason Venezuelans started valuing beauty. I definitely think that females in the United States have to deal with similar pressures and beauty expectations. In the U.S. I think that the media plays a major role in pushing these expectations on women. One can simply go to a grocery store and see aisles filled with magazines with beautiful and thin women on the front. Or if you were to step outside, billboards and advertisements use beautiful women to attract attention and often times, these pressures lead many females to face eating disorders or to have unhealthy expectations for themselves. However, it seems as though Venezuela still has far more women paying for plastic surgery. What do you think could be the biggest factor driving this beauty obsession in Venezuela? Do you think it has to do with the "machisimo" and "marianismo" ideologies? Do females believe that it is their duty and responsibility to fulfill the expectations for beauty? Do they think that beauty is the only thing in their life that they can control and be in charge of?

  3. This is such an interesting topic because it can fall into two separate worlds-- answering what are the beauty standards? or what makes a character endearing? I always think that injuries, disabilities and other obstacles are all things for the characters to come to terms with, overcome either physically or mentally, and are really a fantastic tool for creating that love from the audience for characters. But when you throw the standards of beauty into it, everything changes. It seems that novelas choose one or the other--they stick to beauty standards and social norms of what is considered beautiful, "improving" characters based on those terms, or they choose to create an endearing character through the struggle of coming to terms with an obstacle. I get annoyed when shows push an unrealistic standard of beauty and promote it when a character "transforms" and "improves" on that front, with the support of a better social and love life as a result of these changes. I would much rather relate to a character on that endearing level than the superficial. Does that just not sell?

  4. Kelly and Sophie, thanks for commenting! You both had great input. I'm still questioning this perpetual cycle between producers and consumers: who initially prompts the demand for the beauty code to be fulfilled? Sophie, I also would rather feel a virtual camaraderie with a character who overcomes a challenge and develops strength and lasting inner beauty than one who maybe is just extremely beautiful externally but has a superficial personality. I see what you mean about it sometimes seeming to be one or the other in novelas. I'd be interested to look at this historically; has there been less emphasis on the beauty code today versus thirty years ago or no?

  5. The line between financial responsibility and social responsibility is a significant topic in today's culture. Telenovela executives are revenue and ratings driven, where as a writer might be more inclined to to create a meaningful and impactful message. The balance between the two has long been debated. As a millennial, I look for brands that do good, but since discussing beauty standards of the telenovela industry I have become more aware of the areas I often overlook. The beauty standards often go unnoticed, until someone labeled "less attractive" is cast and the audience does not approve. Whether it's print advertising, online content, or telenovela actors and actresses, there is an undeniable standard that many people learn from a young age to uphold themselves and others to.