Venezuela, a country known for its beautiful, busty women, is feeling the sting of an ongoing shortage of silicone breast implants. For many Venezuelan women, breast augmentation surgery has a direct link to self-esteem. It seems that having surgery in order to obtain bigger and better breasts is a practice that most women in Venezuela, not just the rich and famous, embrace wholeheartedly.
Breast augmentation surgery is a medical procedure in which silicone pouches, filled with saline solution, silicone gel or some other combination of ingredients are inserted under the breast tissue or chest muscles to increase breast size. There are several reasons why women elect to have their breasts enlarged. These include reconstruction after breast cancer, restoration of size and shape after pregnancy and breastfeeding and correction of symmetry in cases where one breast might be smaller than the other.
By far the most common reason that women elect to have breast surgery – especially women in Venezuela, some of whom scrimp and save for years in order to pay for the procedure – is to look better. Most women experience an increase in self-esteem and a newfound confidence in their sexuality. Many women endowed with smaller breasts do not feel as attractive as their bustier counterparts.
While some might think a breast implant shortage a trivial matter, for many Venezuelan women, it is a matter of urgent concern. One of the country’s claims to fame is the number of wins it has chalked up in terms of beauty pageants. Venezuela holds the title as the country with the most wins in the “Big Four” beauty pageants: Miss International, Miss Earth, Miss Universe and Miss World. For many school-age Venezuelan girls, learning the Miss Venezuela theme song is just as important as, say, learning the National Anthem is here in the U.S.
Breast implant surgery is overall the number one surgery for women and the number of women going under the knife has increased steadily in the last 10 years. In the U.S. however, it is considered an elective procedure and it is generally reserved for those with larger amounts of disposable income. In Venezuela, the surgery is considered more of a necessity.
Articles related to the current crisis in Venezuela abound with jokes, but Venezuelan women, unable to obtain the breast implants necessary to obtain fuller, firmer bust lines due to the shortage, are not laughing. The practice is so widespread that girls as young as 15 regularly line up for breast implants. According to one young woman, Daniela Holmes, getting breast implants “is like a rite of passage,” akin to a bat mitzvah for young girls in Jewish culture.
In recent years, the ability to obtain the much-sought-after plastic inserts has dwindled significantly. As a result of economic restrictions that limit the cash needed to import FDA-approved implants, many women have been forced to use implants obtained from China and other countries where safety is not always of primary concern. In a country where the currency has been devalued and there are food shortages, a lot of women are angrier about small pouches filled with saline solution and silicone gel being less obtainable.
According to Daniel Slobodianik, a surgeon who has performed fewer and fewer procedures in recent years, “It’s a culture of, ‘I want to be more beautiful than you.’ That’s why even people who live in the slums get implants.” Venezuela, where more than 88,000 breast implants were performed last year, is said to be the leader of the pack when it comes to breast augmentation surgery. The U.S., Brazil and Mexico round out the top four in terms of numbers, but the larger populations account for higher percentages.
Breast implant surgery is such a common practice in Venezuela that there is some concern about the lengths women might go to obtain the prized pouches. The shortage could pave the way for the unscrupulous to prey on the women. Many desperate women are opting to purchase ill-fitting and potentially unsafe implants from China.
The door is also open for a mass exodus of women seeking implant surgery in other countries or for smuggling of breast implants from across the Columbian border. Additionally, black market sales from sites similar to Craigslist in the U.S. could entice some women. Whatever the reason, and despite the recent judgment surrounding this obsession with bigger bust lines, Venezuelan women seem adamant that they will have their breast implants.
By Constance Spruill