Cosmetic surgery is in the focus as Venezuela's afterglow of winning yet another Miss Universe crown has once again illuminated national pride in its Latin beauties.
Surgical enhancement to the body has become such a norm in the South American nation that it has emerged as a top destination for "scalpel tourism" by foreigners looking for a lift or new contours at a cheaper price.
Advertisement"There are patients who come from Colombia, the United States, Ecuador, the Caribbean islands... They have surgery and then spend a few days on vacation," explained Rosi Oyon, head of a French subsidiary selling silicon brest implants.
The passing of the Miss Universe crown from one Venezuelan to another, from 2008 winner Dayana Mendoza to Stefania Fernandez a week ago, could spur an uptick in a sector already booming, several participants in the industry said.
It was Venezuela's sixth Miss Universe crown in the 59-year history of the pageant, and the first time the same nation has claimed the title twice in a row.
The win puts Venezuela just one spot behind the United States in terms of overall Miss Universe victories -- although with only 26 million people it has less than one tenth of America's 300 million population.
Denials their beauty is anything but natural is par for the course in the beauty pageant world, but for plastic surgeons there was no doubt that Fernandez had a little help.
"I didn't operate on her, but I am sure that she has had work. They all have," said Daniel Slobodianik, a plastic surgeon who has helped several Venezuelan celebrities better fill out a bikini.
Vanessa Brito, a 27-year-old Caracas resident who added breast implants fitted five years ago, explained that surgery was common for women from all walks of life.
"I think there's a social pressure in Venezuela, a beauty ideal that can be seen in contests like the one for Miss Universe. And seeing that, everyone wants to look the same," she said.
Laura Gonzalez, a 19-year-old student, agreed. Over the past four years she has had a nose job and breast enlargement.
"This goes beyond the Miss Universe contest. Venezuelan women love to look good. We love to get our hair done, to dress well. A woman needs to feel good about herself, and it?s something that has really influenced me," she said.
Arturo Rojas, the head of another breast implant supplier in Venezuela, said: "Venezuelan woman are among the most vain in the world. Beauty is considered a basic necessity."
Girls barely in their teens sometimes receive surgery as a gift from their parents, as in the case of Yudnara, a 13-year-old who made a pre-op trip to a doctor's office accompanied by her mother.
"I think women have the right to get these kinds of operations. We are all beautiful, but sometimes we want to be even more beautiful. Not just on the inside, on the outside too," she said.
Even the risk of infection, which can lead to a mastectomy in the case of silicon breast implants, does little to dissuade adolescents -- though that has generated a sideline industry for malpractice lawyers.
"They don?t heal quickly, because such young girls, at 15, 16 or 17 years-old, are not ready for this kind of surgery," said one lawyer, Emilia de Leon.
Breast surgery is by far the most popular procedure in Venezuela, with an estimated 30,000 procedures carried out each year, according to specialists.
"Mammary prostheses are the backbone of Venezuela's beauty market," Oyon said.
In that section of the market, French-made silicon sacs -- considered more reliable and smoother -- dominate over rival US, Chinese and Brazilian products, accounting for around 80 percent of the enhanced busts created.
For non-Venezuelans visiting to improve their neckline, the difference in cost can be significant. In Caracas, breast enlargement goes for around 2,500 dollars, compared to several thousand more in other countries.
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