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. <http://www.nyu.edu/pubs/anamesa/archive/fall_2007_culture/venezuelan_femininity.pdf>.