America’s Next Top Model has reached Chile and with it so has Twiggy (celebrity judge for one of the seasons). Not only has ANTM reached Chile, but also, Brazil has a spin off: Brazil’s Next Top Model. Both shows are equally horrific and objectifying (while also for some I am sure, entertaining).
But that is not what I am here to talk about. Rather than debate what beauty is and how it is transmitted and taught in our societies, I want to look at how this is operationalized in the lives of so many young women.
A couple weeks back a Chilean survivor of anorexia, Denisse Fuentes, launched the release of her book, La Dieta de La Muerte, about her struggles with the disease. The 19 year old in her interviews repeatedly states that she hopes the book will help lead to the ministry of health coming up with diagnosis or treatment standards for people with eating disorders in Chile. At this time, the only health concern the ministry of health addresses is obesity. Moreover, the young author before the release of her book wrote the president about her problems (if it is not classified as a health concern by the ministry of health than it is very hard to get and seek treatment). She got no response. She has now sent a signed copy of the book.
Chileans will comment on weight much more than an American would. I don’t think I have ever been in the country more than a week without hearing that I am skinnier or fatter than I was last time said person saw me; that the clothing works or doesn’t work because of how it does or does no slim me. In the states you might comment that someone looks skinny or compliment them on losing weight; however, it needs to be someone very close with whom you have “that kind of trust” to tell them they look fat. Especially regularly. Especially if its just a pound or too. Especially if you are just gonna blurt out “yea, you look really chubby today” or “wow how much weight did you gain”.
At the same time, Chilean women tend to wear tight revealing clothing. This is true even if the person is overweight. In the states a woman will spend hours searching for the right shirt that covers and diminishes her love handles. Here in Chile they let them fly.
But does that make the country healthier with their attitudes towards body image?
Another American and I got into this debate over Thai food the other night. Deb’s point was that Chileans, although they have the same concepts of beauty (perhaps more voluptuous and curvy than the current stick-figure-Twiggy-inspired model), they are more conformed with their particular shape. I, on the other hand, argued that issues around body image are simply not spoken about as freely in society, that the internalized pressure is humongous, and that the inability to find and use clothes that hide ones body exacerbates the problem. In some ways, we are both right.
The constant commentary about weight weighs much more heavily on Americans here who take offense to the comments and internalize them in a negative way. On the other hand, I can’t even begin to count the Chilean women I know with anorexia, serious body image issues, or obsessions with exercise. Yes, exercise is good but not when it comes at the expense of your job, your marriage, and everything else in your life.