Friday, December 12, 2014

The horrors of being a beaty queen

Girls as young as 12 are getting cosmetic surgery such as butt lifts and nose jobs under the watchful eye of their mothers in a desperate and extreme bid to become beauty queens in Venezuela.
In a country obsessed with winning international contests like Miss World and Miss Universe fame-hungry teens are going to shocking lengths to conform to the beauty pageant ideal.
They include extreme measures to lose weight, with girls as young as 16 undergoing drastic surgery to cut out their large intestines so food passes through their body without being digested. 
Other methods to make themselves thin include sewing plastic mesh on girls' tongues to prevent them from eating solids, and having plaster casts fitted which shrink their waists.
Meanwhile, parents desperate to see their daughters crowned queens are injecting them with hormones, aged just eight or nine, to halt the onset of puberty and cause them to grow taller, our investigation found. 
Disturbingly, most of the procedures are openly encouraged by the country's 'beauty academies', finishing schools for beauty queens attended by thousands of Venezuelan girls as young as four.
And many parents, who see their daughter's success as a route out of poverty, do whatever it takes - even getting into crippling debt - to finance places in the academies and pay for expensive surgical procedures. 
But the craven pursuit of physical perfection - or rather the Barbie-doll look of Miss World winners - often ends in bitter disappointment for the starstruck youngsters, and sometimes tragedy. 
Dozens of teenage girls die every year during cosmetic surgery in the country. A recent campaign aimed to educate Venezuelan girls about the dangers of liquid silicone butt injections before the age of 12 to 'get to them early, as parents tend to offer these injections as 15th birthday presents'. 
The campaign in middle schools by an organisation called NO to Biopolymers, YES to Life foundation was set up by Mary Perdomo, who later died of the result of buttock injections she'd had four years earlier.

To be a beauty queen the breasts can't be too large or too flat. Often the surgery is just to change slightly the shape or the size. It also depends on which contest the girl wants to compete in 

Alexander Velasquez, Belankazar Academy director
Maria Trinidad, from the group, said: 'Every girl here dreams of being a "Miss". We Venezuelans see those people as the perfect women. When you live in a country where a beautiful woman has greater career prospects than someone with a strong work ethic and first-class education, you are forced into the mindset that there is nothing more important than beauty.' 
The fact that Venezuela has produced more winners of international beauty pageants than any other nation is a source of national pride.
Their tally so far includes six Miss World, seven Miss Universe, six Miss International and two Miss Earth crowns - more titles that any other country.
Debora Menicucci, 23, will try and make it seven Miss World titles next week when she competes in the finals being held in London.
The annual Miss Venezuela contest - the precursor to Miss Universe - is the country's most popular television event, watched by two-thirds of the nation's 30 million population. 
When the Miss Venezuela 2005 broadcast was interrupted for 15 minutes by a televised speech by then-president Hugo Chavez, thousands of angry viewers in Caracas protested by banging on pots from their windows and firing guns into the air.  

'When the girls start we already classify the girls, depending on their potential. The Top group and Mini Top group is for those girls who really have a chance at becoming a beauty queen. 
'If at the age of 13 or 14 they are already 5ft 6in high, thin, good-looking, and possessing that certain style, then they have the chance, as long as they really want it.' 
He said many girls - often pushed by their parents - go to extremes to achieve the look that could win them the most coveted tiara of them all. 
He said: 'I've seen so many things. Some girls drop out of school and work in three or four jobs at the same time so they can pay for the academy, their make-up and the surgical procedures they need. 
'The girls sometimes look for a boyfriend with money who can sponsor them, then when they've drained the poor guy out of all his money they'll dump him and find another. Of course, they are beautiful so it's not hard for them to convince a man to date them.' 
Mr Velasquez said that the average age for a girl to get a breast implant is 16. He said: 'To be a beauty queen the breasts can't be too large or too flat. Often the surgery is just to change slightly the shape or the size. It also depends on which contest the girl wants to compete in.' 
And he told of other aspiring queens who, unable to lose enough weight to reach the required measurements, have taken drastic measures to get thin. Many girls opt to have a plastic mesh sewn onto their tongue, making eating solid food unbearably painful. 

If the girl's stomach isn't perfectly flat, she should have liposuction. If her nose doesn't have that little curve, then she should have a nose job. 
'If her hair is too thin, we need to add hair by transplanting it onto her head. If their teeth aren't absolutely perfect, we can sculpt the teeth. 
'Every pageant has a slightly different ideal. For a girl who wins Miss Sport and wants to enter Miss Venezuela, for instance, she'll have to lose at least six kilos. Then she might have to have more surgery so her nose or jaw looks aesthetic on her thinner face.' 
He said that the present Miss Venezuela is preparing to have surgery on the tip of her nose to fit the ideal for Miss Universe. 
'Almost all Misses have had some kind of plastic surgery. Fifty per cent of them have false hair. It's not cheating, it's a winning mentality. And besides, it's not wrong if there is no rule prohibiting it.' 
Mr Caldieron, who accompanies Venezuelan entries at international competitions, said contestants prepare for the pageants with the same commitment as Olympic athletes. 
He said: 'Miss Venezuela, Mariana, is right now spending 18 hours a day preparing for Miss Universe. 
'She has a team of professionals who are with her 24/7. They include a nutritionist, personal trainer, protocol teacher, catwalk teacher, oratory coach, a talent assistant, and a team of make-up artists and clothing designers. 
'On the day of the competition they work with a military strategy, studying the hair styles and dress designs of the other contestants before making their decisions. 
'Everyone always waits to see what the Venezuelan contestant will do, so we always need to be one step ahead.' 
One of the girls who went through Mr Caldieron's boot camp was Oriana Gomez, who eventually came second in the Miss Sport contest. 
The reason she didn't win, he said, was that 'she was fat. She didn't want to lose the weight. I couldn't handle her.'

We tracked down Ms Gomez, who spoke to MailOnline in a coffee shop in the centre of Caracas. 
The 21-year-old beauty was in visible pain as she spoke. Later she lifted her top to black strap tightly wrapped around her stomach, crushing her waist to just 25 inches (63 cm). 
The strap replaced an even more painful and restrictive plaster cast stomach wrap which she had worn for two weeks before having it removed three days earlier. It was just one of the numerous attempts she had made to lose weight. 'I still have the bruises all over my torso,' she said. 
'It's supposed to make me lose 6 cm (2.4in) around my waist. A lot of people have told me that I am too fat to compete, it's a constant battle for me to get thin enough.' 
She said that, on a pain scale of one to ten, the stomach strap is a five and the plaster cast was a nine. 
But by far the worst was the slimming method used by many budding pageant queens, a plastic mesh which is sown onto the tongue, making eating solid food so painful it is impossible. 
She said: 'I was 18 and competing for Miss Venezuela. I wasn't losing weight faster enough, so I was advised to have the plastic fitted. It was something I was advised to do directly by the organisation. 
'I wore it for a whole month and I lost 6kg (13lb) . But the pain was unbearable. And it had another side effect once I'd had it removed, when I started eating solid foods again I put all the weight on again.' 
But Ms Gomez, who is now hoping to compete in Miss Venezuela for a second time, said she would consider such extreme methods again in order to achieve her dream. 
She said: 'These things are good if your goal is be Miss Venezuela, for those who want to go all the way. Yes, there are risks, and it's up to each one to take the risks.' 
But she said she worries for the many young, naive budding beauty queens who are coming up the ranks in the country's countless beauty academies. 
'They can get very hurt,' she said. 'It happens a lot at this stage, when they are just starting out. It's very different being a beauty queen to being a model. A model is selling what they're wearing, a beauty queen is selling herself. 

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