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November 17, 2017
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Venezuelan mannequins on display in Caracas. Source: nytimes.com.

Walking by the Holt Renfrew on Toronto's Bloor Street is especially thrilling during the holiday season. This year, the store's plethora of designer gowns, bags, and shoes are set amongst an outdoorsy Canadiana scene. But this festive mix of apparel isn't what stands out most this year.

It is the mannequins, and their nod towards the cultural melting pot that is Canada. Each one is different - a different skin colour, a different hair colour, a different nose shape. And while they are still 5 foot 11 inches in height and unrealistically slender, it is interesting to see the gradual movement away from the typical, often faceless mannequin, to something that is more representative of the consumer on the other side of the window's glass.

A Venezuelan mannequin factory. Source: nytimes.com.
A Venezuelan mannequin factory.
Source: nytimes.com.

Venezuelan shop windows are also experiencing a shift in mannequin aesthetic; their new body shape is likewise focused on one that is considered both "normal" and something Venezuelan women go to great lengths to achieve. However, unlike those on display in Canada, these mannequins have incredibly large busts and curvaceous butts, but noticeably tiny waists, resulting in a body shape that is clearly unnatural.

This year's Miss Universe win for Miss Venezuela, Gabriela Isler, marked the seventh time a woman from the South American country took home the crown, and this pageant success has caused millions of Venezuelan women to place a great deal of importance on their looks. And, for those times when their natural shape does not make the mark, surgery is often the answer.

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"I have breast implants, my mother has them, [and] a lot of my cousins have them," says an unnamed 26-year-old Venezuelan woman who grew up in Toronto. "If you go to Venezuela, you feel bad [because] the women are so beautiful. Whether it's natural or cosmetic, they really take care of [their bodies]. I did it because I had very small breasts, because I wanted to feel better, [and] because no matter how much exercise you do, it can only be resolved with surgery."

Women are pressured to achieve this ideal that is completely unrealistic according to nature. I really wish that something more meaningful was being cultivated.

She estimates that roughly 90 per cent of Venezuelan women have enhanced their figures via some form of plastic surgery - be it breast augmentation, butt lifts, nose jobs, or liposuction. And the mannequins that are now ubiquitous in Venezuelan shop windows perfectly imitate this ideal shape, likely perpetuating the desire for this unrealistic figure.

Alison Matthews David, an assistant professor at Ryerson University's School of Fashion, is not surprised that these mannequins are serving such a purpose.

"The mannequin came about in the 19th century as a way of displaying and making fashion [and] it has always been a beauty ideal," says David, when speaking with The Genteel. "At the beginning, it was a female body in a corset that had its waist artificially cinched. By the late 19th century, department stores [had] shorter, rounder, more curvaceous mannequins, whereas couture mannequins were longer and slimmer. The philosophy of fashion is to present something aspirational. If you see the ideal, and you don't measure up, you will do anything to achieve it."

Eliana Cuevas, a Venezuelan singer who lives in Toronto, didn't see this desire for beauty, no matter the cost, in her home country while she was growing up. But now, she is worried about the younger generation and how impressionable it is. "It's unfortunate that the young women think this is what they have to do [to be happy]," says Cuevas of cosmetic surgery.

"Women are pressured to achieve this ideal that is completely unrealistic according to nature. I really wish that something more meaningful was being cultivated." Cuevas says that the new thing for a Venezuelan girl's quinceañera, a party to celebrate her 15th birthday, isn't asking for a big family and friends affair anymore. Instead, she is asking her parents for breast implants.

Miss Venezuela Gabriela Isler is crowned Miss Universe 2013. Source: huffingtonpost.com.
'Miss Venezuela' Gabriela Isler is crowned
'Miss Universe 2013'. Source: huffingtonpost.com.

In a culture where a mannequin with a double D bust and a 20-inch waist is considered normal, it is not surprising that young women want these measurements too. According to William Neuman of The New York Times, Osmel Sousa is at the forefront of Venezuela's obsession with beauty. Sousa is the head of the Miss Venezuela pageant, and he takes credit for suggesting the nose job that allegedly won Miss Venezuela its first Miss Universe crown in 1979.

"I say that inner beauty doesn't exist," Sousa told The New York Times earlier this month. "That's something that unpretty women invented to justify themselves."

Of course, Cuevas is not the only one who would disagree with Sousa, and Venezuela is not the only country that is seeing the influence that unrealistic beauty ideals have on their culture. Women everywhere are chasing an image of beauty, one which is often unattainable. As things currently stand, they see this image reflected in fashion - be it on a model, in a magazine, in an advertisement or on a mannequin in a store window. It is only when changes are made within these outlets that women will start recognising and appreciating real beauty when they see it.

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