Towards an ontological understanding of the Miss Venezuela

There she is.

I woke feeling a bit contrarian, so I’m going to propose a topic regarding last night’s Miss Venezuela (which I did not watch, by the way).

Every country has its rituals. Spain has its Real Madrid vs. Barça and its royal weddings. The US has its Super Bowl and its Academy Awards. France idolizes Jerry Lewis. Hell, even Germany indulges in crappy kitsch once in a while (er … Dinner for One? Anyone?).

Why should we be different? Why is it OK for a whole nation to be glued to the TV set watching grown men kick around a little ball, but not OK to watch grown women starve themselves, undergo the knife, and compete for a glorious career in broadcasting?

I know what you’re going to say. Soccer requires actual skill and extensive physical preparation. It requires stamina, strategy, and years of preparation.

But when you come down to it … so does winning Miss Venezuela.

So is there really any difference? Is one national obsession really much more acceptable than the other? Who are we to say that, yes, obsessing about Spanish football is superior to obsessing about Miss Península Guajira and who did her gown?

Isn’t it all just pointless in the end, just like 98% of all human endeavors are? Yes, the whole world laughs at countries such as ours, where beauty pageants still mean something.

But is that right?

64 thoughts on “Towards an ontological understanding of the Miss Venezuela

    • Exactly. Isn’t it all a matter of preferences in the end? I prefer watching Roger Federer a million times more than watching Lionel Messi, but I don’t put down Messi fans for that.

      • Exactly, but because sports are not based on the way athletes look, there is no all of this anxiety and criticism about how the girls don’t racially reflect the country, so because race is involved pageants seem so retrograde.
        Something very ironic is that although Quico is right and the propaganda ads reflect the real Venezuela more, most people who look like the one in the ad don’t care about not seeing people like then in TV, they prefer the blond-suburban fantasy of most advertising and novelas, many Venezuelans identify themselves as white, even when they are brown. That, plus that Venezuelan people are very vain and image conscious (we spend more money than most countries in beauty products) make the Miss Venezuela the reflection of the aesthetics aspirations of most Venezuelans. Its just a symptom of a bigger issue.

        • Sports are not based on how people look?! Tell that to David Beckham … or Maria Sharapova … or Cristiano Ronaldo.

          • In sports you need looks to get an sponsorship contract or getting photographed for a tabloid, you don’t need them to get into a team of compete and more importantly you don’t need them to win. For a beauty pageant you enter and you win, IF you look the right way, its something entirely based on aesthetics that is unavoidable going to tap into the anxieties a society has about race and women body issues.

            • But that’s true in every society. Why should we, as Venezuelans, suffer by our obsession with Miss Venezuela? Isn’t this obsession with beauty, vanity, sex, etc. a worldwide malaise? I guess that’s my general point.

              • Ok, I think understand. And I agree that our obsession with Miss Venezuela is not more shallow that the US obsession with the Kardashians or the Real Housewives of whatever. Perhaps pageants get a harder time because they are more politically incorrect than sports or tv shows, they are openly based on aesthetics and an idea of beauty.

          • Well, for every Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo, there is also a Ronaldinho or a Frank Ribery. So, no, sports are not based on how people look.

  1. I have some – not a lot, but some – sympathy for this position. Sure, Miss Venezuela is exploitative, but then hot women compete to exploit their looks all the time and in all kinds of settings. It’s tacky, but then tacky is a human right, no? Sure it’s racist, but it’s not any more nor any less racist than every day life in a country where success means money and money is what white people have.

    I guess that’s not what set me off last night. What set me off was this feeling of total cultural stagnation. I mean, Miss Venezuela hasn’t changed AT ALL in the last 30 years! The revolution, the massive change in women’s status in society, the fact that there are more women than men at university now…none of that registered, at all.

    It was the crazy time-warpyness of it that got me…the way all the commercials still show white families in big gringo-style suburban homes with gardens and cars, glamourizing a lifestyle that’s exactly nothing at all like what 98% of the audience will ever have access to, even now, even in 2012. It was the way the only recognizably and specifically Venezuelan bits in the whole thing, beyond the hackneyed Joropo dance routine, were THE GOVERNMENT PROPAGANDA ADS!…

    I obviously can’t quite put my finger on it. For something supposed to be so preternaturally Venezuelan, Miss Venezuela feels weirdly out-of-time and out-of-space, a celebration of a kind of womanhood that’s totally left out of sync with the times. ¿No?

      • Maybe you’re being sarcastic, but the modern game is far faster paced, more technical and more demanding than it was 30 years ago…Miss Venezuelas are still getting the exact same nose jobs they were back then!!

        • No, no, I’m not being sarcastic at all. They have even included technology, etc. Same thing with other sports.

          However, let’s agree that people who criticize Miss Venezuela are not criticizing it for being exactly the same as thirty years ago, though. They (we) criticize its very existence and its relevance.

    • For something supposed to be so preternaturally Venezuelan, Miss Venezuela feels weirdly out-of-time and out-of-space, a celebration of a kind of womanhood that’s totally left out of sync with the times. ¿No?

      Wrong.

      Venezuelans continue to be, to this day, a “preternaturally” superficial, shallow and obsessed with forma, rather than fondo. Venezuelans will take beauty over brains any day of the week. And the continued popularity of Miss Venezuela just reinforces how out-of-touch folks like you are. I mean, for fuck sake, we’re talking about a society where parents give boob-enhancing operations to 15 year-old daughter, where being “reina de feria” is actually something to be proud of, where women, of all ages, are obsessed with their looks…

      Desde luego que Osmel no esta preocupado por perder el puesto en el pedestal con el organizador de las olimpiadas matematicas, that’s for certain.

      • Alek has a point here and I agree. We’re are a shallow nation and will continue to be in the forseeable future. I see it every single day IRL.

      • I agree with you. If there is anything I don’t like about Venezuela’s society is that is “obsessed with forma, rather than fondo”.

        I don’t watch the pageant. I think it is silly. As silly as 22 grown men chasing a ball. At then it comes all down to the fact that they provide entertainment.

        Yes, I agree, futbol is a sport, it keeps kids healthy (unless you get injured) and off drugs (recreational ones at least). But it is arrogant to say that one should execrate one thing or the other from a society.

  2. “So is there really any difference? Is one national obsession really much more acceptable than the other? Who are we to say that, yes, obsessing about Spanish football is superior to obsessing about Miss Península Guajira and who did her gown?”

    The way I see it one of these two obsessions doesn´t advance the notion that to be beautiful or successful a venezuelan woman needs to be white, thin and undergo plastic surgery.

    Say what you want about football being too commercial. I can grant that obsessing about it can also be pointless. But I dont see little boys being forced beyond mental and physical health to aspire to the level of football players in order to feel fulfilled or complete as men.

    Am I missing something here?

  3. Dinner for One’s equivalent is more like “mi pobre angelito” playing once and again every Christmas in Venezuela.

    Is not like the nordic countries are venerating the heavy drinking or dream of being either of the characters. The analogy with football is almost accurate, but it’s not valid with the sketch. And well sports will (in theory) inspire people to be fit. Beauty contests will inspire people to be vain.

  4. Dejá vu: Formula One vs Soccer. In that discussion, Soccer’s sportswear spinoffs were even mentioned, while F-1’s gasoline saving inventions were even ignored.

    With regard to Miss Universe, let’s not forget Procter & Gamble was the one responsible for making it such a big deal as venue for advertising their soap and detergent products. So, its success is, in a sense, is USA culture growing roots elsewhere, much like the success of Baywatch, worldwide: “According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Baywatch is the most watched TV show in the world, with over 1.1 billion viewers.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hasselhoff

    Note, I’m perplexed with your defending the freedom of cultures to have guilty pleasures, not out of principle, but out of waking “feeling a bit contrarian”. Are you going to wake up tomorrow feeling they don’t have that right?!

    • Yes, defending the freedom of cultures to indulge is contrarian in these nanny-state, mob-mentality days we live in.

  5. I was asking my wife what she thought of the girls and she just said “they all look like Cyborgs to me…”

    What gets her is the cosmetic surgery angle, and how brazen and in your face it is. “It’s like watching a bike race where every cyclist is doping and one of the sponsors is a HGH manufacturer.”

    “If there was a clear rule against plastic surgery, I can imagine getting into it. It’s like in the olympics, you marvel at the amazing things a human body can do, but that’s only interesting because you know it’s a real human body doing it. Without the knife, there might be a real thrill to seeing just how pretty a girl can be born. But none of these girls look even a little bit real to me. It’s not really a competition between girls, it’s a competition between surgeons…”

    Kanako’s conclusion is that she’ll watch it only if they get honest and start giving the prize not to the Misses, but to their surgeons.

    • I used to work in the office building where the “official plastic surgeon” of the Miss Venezuela had his clinic and it was creepy how indistinguishable where the girls from one another when run into them in the elevator, same nose, same breast, same buttocks.

  6. I think the problem is that it feeds sexist stereotypes and retrograde notions of beauty. I was a big fan of “Little Miss Sunshine”. Having said that, it is nearly dead as an institution, a sign of human development, I think. So its ok to laugh.

    Hey, the women are playing football now!!!

    • OK, I fully agree with you, but …

      What is sexist and retrograde to you and me may not seem like so to other people. In fact, some people could say that beauty pageants are not sexist because they empower women to use their God-given or surgically-enhanced looks to get ahead. In a weird, twisted way, it empowers them. See here, for example,

      http://www.forbes.com/sites/tjwalker/2011/07/13/are-beauty-pageants-sexist-relics-from-the-past-or-are-they-modern-tools-for-empowering-women-media-training/

      I can’t believe I just wrote that … but in the end, isn’t it all about tastes? And can’t we make a similar argument about sports? I wonder what empowers the macho culture more, football or beauty pageants.

      • I’m the last person to be entering into a feminist analysis but this is a blog so I will do it anyway.(I think Miranda- below- is onto it in any event). I think the glorification of (distorted) female beauty is a function of an absence of power in other areas. Stereotypes prevail in these circumstances. As women become more powerful in society, and have access to leadership in business, government, the arts, sports, academia, etc, Miss Venezuela becomes less of a tool to express power (i.e. that does not exist elsewhere) and more of a quaint ritual for old folks. I think this is why, beauty pageants are almost completely irrelevant in many developed countries (who watches Miss USA? Miss Germany? Do they exist?), and in my day to day life, I worry just as much appearing in front of a man with my work product as I do in front of a woman. I don’t care about the Lolas so much when that person can decide the fate of my trabajo. The values shift.

        Look at it with Latin Americans. We are witnessing, I think, a rapid transition in north america in the popular perception of latin americans. It is not only a function of numbers. It is mostly, I would say, a function of economic and political power. The stereotypes are falling away, as this demographic takes power.

        So yes,there are just cultural tastes, which run the gamut from beauty pageants and smoking, to polygamy and foot-binding, and people have to decide where to draw the line, what is regulated, and what should just be “discouraged”. I think Miss Venezuela is on the “try to discourage” end of the sprectrum, but when things are becoming irrelevant they also become funny. Venezuela is at a huge crossroads. This was a circus sideshow.

        I’d just add, some things from “macho” culture have the effect of disempowering men in the modern world. Boys, it appears, are getting “dumber”. They are not as well represented at the top of graduating classes. We have to fight back, get them to read, appreciate the arts, encourage them to do “marico” things like play with girls, play sports on mixed teams, so they can learn.

  7. In qualifying kitsch – crappy- , the implication is that there is another. less than crappy version, possibly less unwelcome in the fancy drawing rooms of the age. Was that the thrust? As for the changes over the years and the underlying assumption that, absent said changes, an event, as Miss Venezuela, loses its authentic appeal or value, I would beg to differ: these things can be called anachronistic, old fashioned, passé etc; they can also be called, as I would for Miss Venezuela, timeless. Timeless rituals have their place and the more so in a Venezuela racked by turbulences at every turn. This stuff is a welcome relief. A very welcome respite in the social pressure-cooker that we all live in just now. I didn’t see much of it either by the way but wouldn’t deny its place in the grand scheme of (local) things. As for other laughing at us: a) do they really? and b) who gives a tinker’s damn if they do?

  8. Ok. Aquí voy yo. En español para que salga más rápido y fluido.
    Soy mujer y nací y crecí en Venezuela. Mi problema con el Miss Venezuela no es que unas niñas decidan pasar hambre, someterse a los riesgos que significa una cirugía innecesaria y competir para hacer algo que en muchos casos no requiere mayor talento que mostrar con cierta gracia sus cuerpos que irremediablemente se deteriorarán con el paso del tiempo. Mi problema no es con eso. Si eso es lo que quieren hacer, muy bien por ellas. Mi problema con el ritual del Miss Venezuela es el cuento del huevo y la gallina y el daño que a mi juicio provoca a la sociedad en general. Me explico.
    Primero con el cuento del huevo y la gallina. Estas niñas se dedican a esto porque: 1) después de analizar un amplísimo abanico de posibilidades que tenían por delante finalmente decidieron luchar por el sueño de sus vidas que era competir en el Miss Venezuela?, ó 2) por el contrario se les ofrecieron pocas alternativas, recibieron los mensajes errados, y finalmente decidieron que ese era el único camino a seguir?. Cuando lo que están viendo las chicas (en general, no solo las suficientemente atractivas y “afortunadas” que participan en el concurso), es que sus madres y tías hacen inmensos sacrificios para hacerse las lolas (no para sentarse con ellas al final del día a revisar las tareas escolares), que no importa mucho si les va bien en la escuela (pero sí que estén a la moda), que el mensaje de sus padres no es que se desarrollen intelectual y profesionalmente para que tengan un futuro seguro (sino que se aseguren un tipo con dinero para que les “garantice” su bienestar), que los bancos ofrecen créditos para hacerse las lolas (pero no para ir a la universidad), entonces, pareciera que la realidad se parece más a la alternativa (2) que a la alternativa (1).
    Que una fracción del 50% de la población esté obsesionado acerca de cómo luce debe traducirse, pienso yo, en un alto costo de oportunidad. Y aunque no todos estemos obsesionados, ese es el mensaje que explícitamente o no recibimos constantemente las mujeres venezolanas…de otras mujeres y también de los hombres. Tienen que verse bien buenas, usar ropa bien apretada y tacones bien altos, tienen que ir a la peluquería por lo menos una vez a la semana (*), gastarse una fortuna en maquillaje y accesorios, lolas? Cómo no te has hecho las lolas? Todo el mundo se ha hecho las lolas!. Ese es el mensaje, un mensaje poco enriquecedor. En fin, el costo de este ritual es tener un pueblo extremadamente vanidoso y sobre todo extremadamente vacio (un cascarón). El daño, que aunque no es obvio, está ahí. Ese es mi problema con el ritual del Miss Venezuela.
    (*) Lo de la peluquería es literal. Un muy buen amigo y posteriormente compañero de trabajo me decía constantemente que él no entendía por qué yo no iba a la peluquería todas las semanas, que su esposa si lo hacía. Que yo también debía hacerlo. Yo le decía que no era necesario, que yo tenía el cabello corto y podía secármelo muy rápido, que yo no podía pasar una semana sin lavarme el cabello porque me parecía antihigiénico, y que para mí no tenía sentido hacerme las uñas porque yo misma limpiaba mi apartamento y se estropeaban muy rápidamente, y que por encima de todo, estaba ahorrando dinero porque quería seguir estudiando. El nunca entendió por qué yo iba a la peluquería sólo cuando necesitaba un corte de cabello y yo tampoco entendí por qué él insistía.

  9. Here’s my two cents: I don’t like beauty pageants, but I have no desire to get rid of them. The Miss Venezuela is indeed part of our cultural traditions and it has been during my lifetime. The contest itself has changed drastically in recent years and turned into something horrid, as it has embraced its plasticity to the Nth degree. Most of those girls now are more like real life dolls than ever before. (No wonder the contest now has an official plastic surgeon. That tells us all we need to know about the pageant itself). The fact that Osmel Souza himself has now assumed a more prominent role center-stage in the whole show confirms this.

    But Venezuelan girls still dream of being a Miss. The whole pageant business has exploded in the last decade or so here, specially the ones focused on little kids. This worry me. Many girls prefer to become a miss or model than do something else. They see it as the key to a better life. It’s no different in other Latin American countries like Argentina (where more girls look out to be a vedette or model) or Mexico (where they want to be the next star of Televisa). Even in the first world, many girls want to be a sport WAG or the next Kim Kardashian. Sadly this is a global tendency.

    BTW, I know personally one former Miss contestant of four or five years ago. She works near where I live and she moved on with her life just fine.

    • I’m friends with a former Miss Venezuela and she is the nicest, most good-hearted and down-to-Earth person you will meet.

      She is also, clearly, from another species.

  10. I think the pageant used to be much more glorious and glamorous than what it is today. So, it has either lost its sex appeal or we have just evolved into other types of audience euphoria – say maybe politics… although we can all agree Venezuelan politics is far from being beautiful.
    The “most beautiful women in the world” myth, however, is one of the few international prides we get every year… sad to say.

  11. No politics for a change!

    Anyway, I remember a good friend of my sister who’s about 1.80 mts, skinny and regularly pretty, no bombshell. Osmel cambe by her one day and lured her into the Miss Venezuela. She was subject to the typical reconstruction program: breasts, nose, exercise and super-limited nutrition. Some days prior to the event I saw her at a friend’s house and, besides not recognizing her, what shocked me most was she looked sick. She had become skinny to the bones, her new nose just seemed plain artificial and was masked in runny make-up.

    That day she told us she was given the denomination of Miss which-ever-interior-state when she had lived all her life in Caracas in a wealthy neighborhood. She told us she knew the contest was rigged, that her function in the event was to participate -and act as a prospect beauty queen- but not to win. After all she didn’t mind it, she was having fun and enjoying the experience.

  12. Contrast THAT spectacle with the achievement of this woman, Linda Briceno, a Venezuelan jazz musician:


    Venezuela has a lot of real talent. No need to dispair!

        • Partly, but I think it goes deeper than that to what we value and celebrate as a society, even before Chavez.

        • can’t blame it on chavernment. Picture this: The extended family gathers for a weekend lunch at the home one of the matriarchs. Among the members are women between the ages of 18-50, most of them competing with each other, while they subconsciously gesticulate their hands to show off their manicure, if not jewellry, and call attention to themselves. The conversation is scintillating. If you like Vanidades and such.

          That has long been the norm. Now, imagine plunking among those women a Mayly Sánchez or a Linda Briceño, (or even a prima of mine, the only female graduating with a degree in civil engineering, back in the early 80s). Watch the extra-terrestial experience. For both parties.

          Zero in common. What’s worse, is that there’s negative interest in the lives of women who don’t follow the established pattern, in a country where the economy is not diversified, nor provides ample, rich opportunities to explore.

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