Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Unrealistic beauty standards dominate Latin America

This semester I chose to study the telenovela Yo No Creo en los Hombres. This telenovela is fairly complex due to the large cast and multiple subplots. However, one of the common themes that I have found to be present in the storyline is the importance of appearance and physical beauty. In the telenovela, several of the romantic relationships are based on the characters’ pursuit to have a good appearance, whether it is to be physically beautiful or to appear wealthy and put together.

In the telenovela, there are two characters, Daniel and Malleny, who are dating people solely to gain access to their wealth. Although they are both in love with other people, they put themselves through difficult relationships just because they prioritize wealth, materialism and appearances so much. At the same time, there are two sets of relationships in the telenovela that have female characters who are critical of their own physical beauty. First, there is the relationship between Ari and Doris. Several times, Doris will get mad at Ari because she is convinced he thinks she is a “fat cake.” The second relationship is between Daniel and Ivana. Ivana, who works with a fashion designer company, has not been in a serious relationship before and as a result is constantly second-guessing Daniel’s intentions. Ivana views herself so poorly that she finds it difficult to let herself love Daniel.

I find this topic especially fascinating after our class discussed the importance of physical beauty in Latin American countries, particularly Venezuela. As discussed in class, Venezuelan citizens idolize physical beauty­. In the minds of many females, plastic surgery is considered very normal. If anything, plastic surgery has almost become an expectation among women. Dr. A told us that Venezuela has more than 70 international beauty crowns and that credits and loans exist for plastic surgery. These statistics suggest just how much Venezuelans prioritize physical beauty.

Despite attempts of many producers to criticize this public attitude toward physical beauty, telenovela watchers are displeased if they do not see beautiful actresses and actors. In class today we talked about a specific telenovela called Ciudad Bendita. In this telenovela, Bendita is a beautiful woman who has a chronic limp. After several episodes, she eventually falls in love with a man, who happens to be “average” looking. Despite the telenovela’s effort to break the beauty code, viewers were not satisfied with the characters, according to Dr. A’s research. Dr. A concluded that viewers thought the protagonists were too ugly and thus were not happy with the telenovela as a whole. They also didn’t like that Bendita was never healed and that she fell in love with a man who was considered by many to be “un-prince” like.

In conclusion, I have found that people crave what they can’t realistically have. Though plastic surgery allows people to change parts of their bodies, there isn’t just one standard for beauty. Even with surgery, people will find something wrong with the way they look. At the same time, it is common for people to have issues, such as limps. However, in my opinion, to wish these circumstances away is to wish life away. Life is full of challenges and unexpected turns and we can't simply avoid these topics. It is fascinating to think, though, that viewers would rather watch a telenovela with characters who look like a small portion of society rather than have more realistic looking characters who they can actually relate to and understand on a deeper level.

Altogether, physical beauty and appearances play a major role in telenovelas and in everyday life in Latin America. Despite attempts to counter this public perception, telenovelas continue to give major casting roles to beautiful actresses and actors, knowing full well that these characters will increase their ratings. I can’t help but think, however, will this trend ever be broken? What could producers do to counter public perception?


  1. I think that this is such an important topic--not only in terms of the telenovela industry, but in entertainment in general. It's true, as viewers we want to use television and other entertainment as an escape, and to get what reality can't give us. But at the same time, we criticize the lack of our realities in television and movies. I think it really comes down to the business aspect of it--reality doesn't sell, unless it's dramatized. I do think, though, that we're on the right path as other issues become more important to us as viewers. Societal changes and the increasing awareness for certain issues have already opened our minds to portraying reality in television and entertainment--maybe that will keep moving us to someday see our own true reality in our entertainment.

  2. I agree with Sophie that this is an important topic in the entire entertainment industry, including that in the U.S.. But I also understand why you critique beauty standards particularly in Latin America, especially after our discussions in class (the one you mentioned about Venezuela and plastic surgery). It's a popular joke in the U.S. that movie stars are particularly beautiful while television actors are just casually attractive. So I think maybe it says something that a television genre that comes out of Latin America is expected, by audiences, to have "A-list" attractiveness.

    1. Also one more thing that I just thought of as I'm watching my novela tonight - everyone is beautiful. Even the parents are extremely fit for their age. The principal is probably like 60, and she's been seen rocking a bathing suit. The only person who is slightly chubby (and I mean slightly) is constantly called out for being "fat." Unrealistic indeed.

  3. Hey Kelly! (this is long but bear with me! it reads fast!)

    I really agree that this crazy perception of beauty completely dominates latin American countries. I am a Latina by birth, I was born in Colombia, and I see this so prevalently in my country! It is very sad… BUT I can say there is an upside. Let me rewind a bit: I want to be careful in saying this, because of course I am a woman as well, and living under these standards hurts me deeply in certain occasions… but I chose to see the bright side of it as much as I possibly can. Sometimes I feel like the freedom to be whoever you want to be, specially found in America, is actually quite limiting sometimes. The pressure to be SO different is paralyzing sometimes for anyone- we have coined the terms “basic” and everyone associates Starbucks and Ugg boots to “basic girls”. I think this is just as bad as what the latin American countries are doing in pressuring women to be a certain look, have a certain hair color, or specially a certain body type. A very positive thing comes out of this expectation of beauty is: healthy competition (emphasis on the H.E.A.L.T.H.Y). I experience this any time I leave this country- I may think I’m different and dress well here in America, but as soon as I leave the country, I see how much people care about their appearances and how much effort they put into this! This makes me want to work harder, care more, research more new trends and stay on top of everything that matters to me. I do NOT believe your size, look, weight, body type, hair color, nail length, skin color (or whatever stupid thing people nit-pick) determines your worth- I DO believe what matters is how you present yourself to the world. How you go about this is a CLEAR representation of how you view yourself, and how you respect yourself. When you could care less and show up to class in you PJs (or something along those lines) you are showing the world exactly that- you. don’t. care…. Should why should we?

    I really think these could be some positive things (when done right, and you stay healthy physically and emotionally) to come out of this expectation of beauty. I’m not sure why viewers still seem to want the same old-same old steamy hot actors, but I’m also not complaining! At the end of the day, all I personally care about is someone’s genuine talent and dedication to their craft. That would make anyone more attractive!

    1. Valentina, I agree with a lot of this! I think there's a perception in that in the states, there's freedom to be whoever you want. But in reality, there's still those categories that reign supreme.

      Especially in college, I've experienced some negativity for not just rolling out of bed and coming to class. Which I've always thought was strange––why would we want people to think we don't care about ourselves? I think it's interesting that in every country and culture there's a different expectation.

      I feel like what I'm really trying to say, is that is should be okay to express yourself in any way without fear of being told you care too much, look too basic, or dress too crazy. Hopefully, telenovelas (and society in general!) can begin to accept all different representations, without judgement.