When I first arrived here to the Colombian coast, I was amazed at how self-confident the girls seemed. Most of the time when I see girls going out at night, they’re all wearing sheer tops, or crop tops, or backless tops, or tops with the backs cut out. I witnessed in English classes when a teacher wanted to illustrate “fat” and “skinny,” and rather than draw pictures on the board selected two actual students to say, “she is fat,” and “she is skinny.” People comment nonchalantly on other people’s weight all the time, saying “you look fat today,” and calling people Gordo or Gorda (basically fatty) as a nickname. Compile all of these things, and it seems like your body is just your body and it does what it does and there’s nothing to be self-concious of.
That can’t be. Young women and girls are told everywhere they turn that they should be sexy – the Sunday edition of El Heraldo, the Barranquilla newspaper, actually has an insert that always has a very sexy woman on the front cover posed very sensually, and a (barely-clothed) centerfold. The newspaper. At school assemblies, there is often a pagaenty-type “dance competition” in which the young girls battle one-by-one to be the winner after doing a few catwalk runs and then getting in some champeta or mapalé dance-offs (both dance styles that involve a lot of body rolls and other sexy movements). At school.
This may seem unrelated, but check it: In the US, more than 1% of people get some form of plastic surgery; here that number is closer to .75%. Yet when you look at what those surgeries are, you see the obsession with bodily appearance. This chart compares various plastic surgery procedure numbers between the United States and Colombia, as taken from the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery in 2014.
|Total Pop.||318,900,000||% of procedures||48,320,000||% of procedures|
|Face and Head||438,669||10.79%||74,290||20.80%|
|Body and Extremities||417,186||10.26%||100,434||28.12%|
No wonder girls spend as much time as they do taking the perfect selfie. No wonder they contort their body to get the perfect pose to make their butt visible or their boobs prominent. No wonder it’s a big deal to them who wins the pagaent on jeans day at school. Sexiness has a lot of value in this culture. And while I do think that girls have better self-esteem here, generally speaking, than girls in the United States do (or at least better than I ever did! Let’s be real, even my own self-esteem has grown here), I know that not all girls are confident or happy with their bodies…and those that have these problems and money are probably the ones getting the butt implants. Who knows if it actually helps that confidence.While a higher percentage of Americans get plastic surgery than Colombians do, the majority of that is non-surgical procedures. Meanwhile in Colombia, the distribution between non-surgical procedures and bodily procedures is almost equal, with face & head and breast procedures not far behind. The number of people getting procedures like lipo, tummy tucks and butt implants is the same as the number of people getting fillers and laser facials. Colombians are obsessed with the perfectly shaped bootylicious body.