03/02/2014 12:31 GMT | Updated 05/04/2014 06:59 BST

The Plastic Surgery Witch Hunt - Why We Should Take a Leaf Out of Venezuela's Book

From Blake Lively's schnoz to Megan Fox's ongoing face transplant, celebrities as we know them are not exactly queuing up to admit to their surgery. Things couldn't be more different in Venezuela, where, on the contrary, a new nose, some porcelain teeth and cheek implants are somewhat of a status symbol, in a nation where facial bandages are worn with pride.

Another day, another 'suspicious' before and after opportunity for the internet to triumphantly point the finger at. This time its Kim Kardashian, who, despite adamantly declaring she has "only had botox" seems to have angered her online following by daring to post a picture that may serve as a giveaway for other procedures.


It stuns me that in a world where the internet can so easily immortalise one's image during every stage of a transformation, people continue to give themselves self-congratulatory pats on the back, simply for... not being blind?

It seemed like every journalist who speculated about the POTENTIAL use of fillers in Tulisa's near-bursting new lips on Big Brother last week wanted a prize for their in depth investigation. Congratulations, Sherlocks of Twitter everywhere.

So when the evidence is there right in front of us, why is there still this tedious has she/ hasn't she argument to be had whenever someone emerges from a blacked out car looking younger than they did 10 years ago? It's as though having some injections is this terrible sin we feel the need to expose.

Like most celebrities who have opened an Instagram account, Kim has become a magnet for internet vitriol, every picture she posts sparking debate about whether her apparently shrinking nose is just down to contouring with make-up, many disagreeing and some especially viscous commenters comparing the reality star to Joan Rivers.


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Providing we haven't fallen victim to hallucination (... or Photoshop), a simple Google should see the case closed, but for some reason every time these stories (if you can even call them stories) emerge, we see magazines consulting plastic surgeons, willing the rest of us to distrust our eyesight or continue bullying for the confession we so deserve.

I rejoice when women such as the aforementioned Joan Rivers of the world are open about going under the knife. We speak about plastic women not serving as good role models, but are we not ignoring the fact that those who continuously deny it are inspiring a generation of young girls to feel they should be ashamed of cosmetic surgery? Not to mention the fact it breeds terrifying gullibility and even further unconditional worship for these celebrities, to the point we're beginning to believe they're capable of shape shifting.

But from Blake Lively's schnoz to Megan Fox's ongoing (TOTALLY NATURAL) face transplant, celebrities as we know them are not exactly queuing up to admit to their surgery.

Things couldn't be more different in Venezuela, where, on the contrary, a new nose, some porcelain teeth and cheek implants are somewhat of a status symbol, in a nation where facial bandages are worn with pride.

In my time following the Miss Venezuela contest last year, I was constantly struck by the country's totally unashamed penchant for a nip and a tuck. On the surface it may seem off-putting, but I actually found their attitudes towards beauty totally refreshing.


It's difficult as a Brit to fully comprehend the gravity of the Miss Venezuela competition. Anti-beauty pageant protests saw them dropped from our screens years ago. Your average person has no idea who the current Miss England is. But over there, Misses are the national treasures. Venezuela has won more Miss Universe titles than any other nation.. this contest is X Factor hundredfold. Girls grow up watching it on TV, dreaming of taking part. Women involved in the contest go on to be musicians, actresses, even politicians; partaking means a foot in the door of their chosen career paths.

Venezuelan author and philosopher, Jose Manuel Briceno is quoted as saying "Whether you're for or against the competition and what it stands for, it is nationally recognized as a tool for social mobility".

Throughout the competition, most of the women undergo plastic surgery in some form. They are mentored by 67-year old Osmel Sousa, president of the Miss Venezuela Organization. Think of him as the Simon Cowell of the beauty world. He divides opinion with his ruthless remarks, but has a track record of making huge successes of all his subjects. It is he who calls the shots when it comes to the girls' operations, advising them on the procedures he thinks they should get in order to go far in the contest.

Osmel comes under much scrutiny for his role in the pageant, but I find his work to be strangely fascinating. The strength of the women competing is quite unbelievable; their willingness to obey Osmel and change their bodies did not strike me as a product of low self-esteem or bowing to any western pressure to resemble a size 0 supermodel - their goal was to succeed in the competition, and Sousa knows how to help them do that. These women do not enter the competition riddled with insecurity, far from it. They are only there in the first place because they consider themselves beautiful enough to win what is largely considered the most important prize of all in their country. Not Osmel, not anyone can dictate what it means to be truly beautiful... but he is an undeniable authority on what it takes to progress in this competition.

We read about girls getting boob jobs on the NHS because of trauma suffered from the media's pressure to be busty. None of the women who I met in Venezuela seemed to approach their body alterations with similar motives - it is career mindedness not vanity that leads them to undergo surgery.

One surgeon told me that Venezuelan women talk about their latest operations the way they discuss the weather; a casual topic where girls nonchalantly compare new boobs or noses at a party.

Despite Osmel's comments about my flat chest, I can't see myself enlarging my breasts anytime soon... but I have a feeling that I'll be ageing most ungracefully if I have the means and finances to do so. We've bred a culture where I feel like I should be ashamed of that, or that in doing so I've in some way compromised my feminist (sigh) values. Why?

We cannot ignore those who have died at the hand of backstreet surgeons or suffered gross deformities in their quest for 'perfection'; in fact the mother of Kim Kardashian's fiancé died after complications following a cosmetic surgery procedure.

But cosmetic surgery has also greatly enriched and improved so many people's lives - this is she plastic/isn't she plastic witch-hunt where women feel the need to lie about things that helped them? That? That's not feminist at all.

Secrets of South America airs on BBC Three on Wednesday 5 February at 9pm