Sunday, January 31, 2010


[unpublished article]

Beauty in Mexico goes much deeper than the skin. To begin with, the image of beauty displayed on television, in ads and throughout the pages of glossy magazines in Mexico tends to be tall and thin, fine-featured, light-skinned and blond. Taking advantage of the fact that the vast majority of women in Mexico have indigenous blood running through their veins and thus dark skin, hair and eyes, multinational corporations make millions of dollars each year offering Mexican women the opportunity for an extreme cultural make-over, with skin creams that whiten, hair dyes that lighten and contacts lenses that brighten.

A sizable chunk of women’s income in Mexico City is invested in beauty treatments and products. Although imported beauty products can be more expensive by weight than gold powder, there are also thousands of cheap locally produced or imported beauty products sold in neighborhood markets, inside the metro stations or in street stalls. These products tend to contain much higher levels of toxic ingredients than costly imported products, and some are never even tested on animals or humans. The long-term use of heavy doses of cheap foundation, mascara, lipstick or hair dye can lead to the absorption through the skin of high levels of toxic substances, especially lead. In addition to threatening their own health, the hundreds of thousands of dyed blondes and painted beauties in the city are responsible for heavy doses of toxic chemicals dumped into the air and water supply, chemicals that eventually reenter humans’ bodies as microscopic particles.

Mexico City’s dangerously high levels of pollution, aggressive parasites in the food and water, and constant stress all do their part to drain people of the life force that makes them beautiful. If health is beauty, then the quality of substances people put into their own bodies is more important than what they smear onto their skin or gob onto their eyes lids. A culture's diet shapes local concepts of beauty. The modern Mexican diet of imported junk and processed food, rich in the four basic food categories of fat, sugar, nicotine and alcohol, pumps up women's bodies, and although love-handles and cellulitis are many a woman's worst enemies, Mexican men consider these extra curves as added attractions.

The fact that, added to a poor diet, almost half of the population does no exercise at all is responsible for the fact that Mexico has the second highest level of obesity after the USA. Not coincidentally, after the USA Mexico is second in the world in terms of cosmetic surgery. Cosmetic surgery, like magic products or religion, is consumed in the belief that it will help women find a lover, solve marital problems, cure depression and help get a better job. The most common surgical interventions in Mexico City are nose jobs, breast and butt implants, as well as the removal and/or introduction of fat into various parts of the body.

To help women fulfill their dreams, one bank in Mexico City offered loans of up to $25,000 USD at 24% interest for desperate housewives and aspiring models to undergo cosmetic surgery. Wealthy women in Mexico City often fly to the United States for surgery, and one Mexican airline recently offered an all-inclusive package that included round trip flights from Mexico City to San Antonio, Texas, hotel, and medical procedures in the Methodist Healthcare System at the hands of bilingual doctors. The trip includes an extra couple of days to relax and shop at local malls until the bandages come off.

Women unable to afford costly surgery within Mexico or in the States have lots of cheaper options in their own neighborhood. Besides the many certified surgeons, there are thousands of unlicensed, untrained doctors within the city who tend to gravitate to cosmetic surgery and weight loss, some of whom advertise on hand-painted signs hung on trees or lampposts. To keep costs affordable, pirated products are often used, such as breast implants imported illegally from China. The cheap materials increase risks of infection and disease, as well as the probability of the body’s rejection of the foreign matter. This same dangerous disregard for women’s bodies can be found in the Mexican drug smuggling industry, where women are coerced into swallowing or stuffing bags of coke into various bodily cavities, or using their breasts and butts as virtual suitcases.

Adding curves to women’s bodies is a common practice in Mexico City, with women’s buttocks representing around half of these interventions, followed by breasts, legs, thighs and hips. The most common liquids injected into women in Mexico are paraffin and silicon, but even cheaper liquids, such as baby, vegetable and car oils, are often used. Many of the people who inject these chemicals into women’s bodies are not doctors, licensed or unlicensed, but rather housewives or neighbors looking to supplement their income. Although the curves tend to melt eventually, thus demanding regular follow-up injections, side effects such as pain, lumps, skin thickening, hyper-pigmentation, vein and arterial malformations, inflammation and arthritis often become chronic, and the accumulation of these and other substances in the body over time can cause death from blood poisoning.

Women in all cultures have always paid highly for their good looks, but in Mexico these days the expression “looks that kill” refers more to the health costs women must pay than to any display of beauty.

No comments: