Botero sculpture of Adam and Eve, Medellin, Colombia ©2019, Cyndie Burkhardt

The Colombian Beauty Secret

The Colombian Beauty Secret 870 1024 Cyndie Burkhardt

Everyone knows Colombian women are beautiful. They’re the ones you want to look like, your boyfriend wants to be with, and the world puts on a pedestal. With sultry looks that practically define the modern beauty ideal you’d be excused for thinking their mixed European, African, and Amerindian heritage has naturally blessed them. 

But are they really born that way? Is it possible that a population of women is faking it? Maybe things are not what they seem…

Pablo Escobar & Beyoncé

I’ve noticed women at the gym killing themselves. There’s an obsession here to be thin but also to have curves. I’m told it’s an influence from Pablo Escobar, the country’s infamous, billionaire drug lord who surrounded himself with beautiful, young women fitting that description. People noticed the image and the lifestyle and women saw that beauty pays. Beyoncé has also been a reference point with her curves, beauty, and success—although the local influence started long before she became known, driving women to cultivate a certain look.

I asked Karla at the gym, who is rail thin and very sweet, about her exercise habits and what motivates her. “At first it was losing weight, then I began to enjoy the time I spent in the gym since I made several friends and increased the frequency with which I attended. When I started to notice results in my body I adopted it as a lifestyle,” she said. Bodytech gym, where I’m a member, sent me a promotional text message about getting fit with sexercise, using their app.

Text message from Bodytech gym; images from the FIT app.
All photographs ©Cyndie Burkhardt, 2019.

Sex is everywhere

The look women are aspiring to screams “sex” and it’s pervasive. Walking down the street there are countless lingerie shops, sex stores, and hair and nail salons. There are very possibly more of these than there are Starbucks shops in New York City, which says a lot. El Hueco (The Hole) is a fashion store that sells jeans that literally lift the butt to make it look bigger. It’s a special kind of business here. Conversely, you can find form-fitting undergarments that squeeze the body to make it appear smaller and tighter.

Plastic surgery is hugely popular and many women get breast augmentation, butt enlargement, and liposuction. Girls today are given surgery for their Quinceañera instead of a big party. Their 15th birthday celebrates a girl’s passage into womanhood and why wouldn’t they want surgery to mark this occasion? Society is pushing its standard of feminine beauty and the visual imagery is absolutely everywhere.

Big business

The ugly side to all of this is a growing sexual tourism industry. I’m told Medellin is becoming the next Thailand; prostitution and escort businesses are abundant. Tourists want a beautiful Colombian woman and women want a “gringo” to take them out of here, or at least their money.

I’m both saddened and confused by this. Doors seem to open easily for beautiful people and the world is at their feet. I asked Margury why so many women get into these businesses.

“Colombian women are born naturally beautiful and for them it’s a choice. They don’t have to work hard or do anything, just be beautiful, it’s easy. They make a lot of money, much more than having a regular job.” Her answer makes sense in some regard but I feel sorry for these women. What has led them to prefer selling themselves over self-empowerment through other, dignified means? What happens when they get “old?” She doesn’t have an answer.

Restaurant sign saying no to sex tourism, Medellin,  Colombia
Restaurant sign saying no to sex tourism, Medellin, Colombia.

The men here don’t have the same pressure or motivation to achieve a certain look. For them it’s “take me as I am.” It’s a macho culture and it’s their world.

©2019, Cyndie Burkhardt

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