Albion Monitor /News

Argentina's Dictatorship of the Perfect Body

by Marcela Valente

Argentina leads Latin America in cosmetic implants

(IPS) BUENOS AIRES -- A fairly tall woman weighing 128 pounds might be considered fat in Argentina, a country ruled by a dictatorship of slimness, beauty and eternal youth to the point of causing serious mental and physical health problems.

Argentina leads Latin America and is fifth in the world in cosmetic implants. The local society for cosmetic medicine reports that cosmetic surgeons carry out between 2,500 and 3,000 operations here each month, with most of the patients being women.

Breasts are enlarged or reduced. Lips are made fuller. Wrinkles are removed or eyelids lifted. Chins are reduced. Fat deposits are removed. A nose is straightened or simply exchanged for another one.

Argentine women "are obsessed" with the size of their hips and the shape of their legs

Cosmetic surgery for the rich and famous is no longer a topic just for gossip magazines but has aroused interest among political journalists and sociologists. A book promising "the complete truth" about those who have undergone such surgery is expected to top the country's best-seller list this month.

"Masks of Argentina," by the journalist Luis Majul, will detail what celebrities do to improve their appearance. Some of the interviewees confess to having submitted to the surgeon's knife up to six times for various "touch-ups."

Some surgeons explain that people often demand plastic surgery when it isn't necessary. "I sometimes tell women who come to my office that they don't need an operation, but they insist on it," said a surgeon who preferred to remain anonymous.

For his part, the Brazilian plastic surgeon Ivo Piayanguy declared that Argentine women "are obsessed" with the size of their hips and the shape of their legs, two parts of the body that they usually think are fatter than desirable.

"When one asks these patients what they want to be in life, they reply 'thin' -- this is their life's project"

In addition to surgery, there is weight watching. Statistics on nutrition indicate that at any one time, 30 per cent of Argentines are dieting and 60 per cent of these are doing so to "maintain" a desired weight. Moreover, 43 per cent of Argentines consume low-calorie foods.

Most women have either dieted or are dieting, even when nutritional standards show that their weight is appropriate for their height. They are driven to do so by media images showing ever-younger models displaying figures that approach the pathological, say experts.

"It'll be hard to find pants with a 42 waist in this country if we keep going on like this," a woman of 40 complained as she fruitlessly sought fashionable clothes for her 16-year-old daughter. Even clothing-store sales clerks admit that they offer clothing "that nobody could get into."

These circumstances prompted one clothing brand to launch an advertising campaign this year touting clothing "that fits the body, not the skeleton" and to publicize provocative slogans encouraging young women to "eat pizza and be happy" instead of dieting and getting depressed.

The marketing campaign is based on dramatic studies of juvenile pathology associated with the care of the body. "In Argentina, one of every 25 adolescent girls has an eating disorder caused by an obsession with a slim body," Mabel Bello, a psychiatrist and president of the Association to Combat Bulimia and Anorexia (ALUBA), told IPS.

World Health Organization statistics show that between five and 15 per cent of those suffering from these illnesses die of a heart attack.

Bello says that 90 per cent of those smitten by eating disorders are women. "And what's most tragic is that they all begin with a normal weight.

"When one asks these patients what they want to be in life, they reply 'thin' -- this is their life's project. They don't have another one. Their ideals are professional models, who have to diet constantly to work," she asserted.

According to Bello, some 40 per cent of Argentina's leading models are anorexic, a claim that many of the models dispute. But they privately admit that contracts require them to keep their weight under 105.6 pounds even though a normal weight for their size would be 121 pounds.

Sufferers of of bulimia as well as those of anorexia diet compulsively. Anorexics abstain from eating and don't feel hungry. Even after their weight has dropped to far less than normal, they perceive themselves as fat when they look in the mirror.

Bulimia victims undertake self-enforced diets and allow their hunger to grow until they binge on whatever food they find around them, later "cleansing themselves" by inducing vomiting or abusing laxatives and diuretics.

Psychologist Alfredo Moffat warns that the flip side of insisting on constant thinness is a loss of self-esteem: "Since the ideal can't be reached, women get depressed by thinking that they won't be accepted."

Girls of six and seven already show symptoms of anorexia

A tragic case recently shook the Argentine public. A 15-year-old girl killed herself after failing repeatedly to reach her goal of becoming thin.

"The problem is not just the ambition to have a thin body but the fact that this ideal is imposed at an age and time when adolescent girls are susceptible to depression, instability, and a lack of self-esteem and direction," Mabel Bello explained.

But problems of bulimia and anorexia are neither new nor limited to Argentina. ALUBA has affiliates in Uruguay and Spain, and Chile's Catholic University recently asked Bello to advise its faculty about the issue.

Patients from Venezuela, Peru and Paraguay have also sought the help of the Argentine Association. "The difference is that the problem is more visible here because of all our models and because of our thinness obsession," said Bello.

She warned that in recent years the eating disorders have struck at ever-younger victims. Girls of six and seven already show symptoms of anorexia as they try to improve their figures.

"These girls are raised in families where the mother, the father, and the siblings live in anxiety about their bodies, about not getting fat, about looking young and attractive, and they communicate contempt for those who don't follow this mandate," Dr. Bello observed.

Albion Monitor December 21, 1995 (

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