In a nation that is famous for its gorgeous women—Venezuela holds the Guinness World Record for the most worldwide beauty pageant winners—people go to extremes to attain an impossible standard. The beauty business is worth $2.9 billion, with only petroleum surpassing its value in Venezuelan industry. Plastic surgery, cheap and readily available in the South American country, is a common occurrence. Some women make fasting pacts or take syrup to force themselves to throw up, while others have gone so far as to sew a peace of plastic onto their tongues to make eating painful and unappealing. And, in the latest fad, 15-year-old girls are often gifted biopolymer injections to enhance their rear ends on their birthdays.

But this obsession Venezuelan women have with aesthetic perfection is not just unpleasant or painful; it is killing them. The liquid silicone pumped into these women’s bodies is extremely deadly. And although the sale of biopolymers could result in a two-year stint in prison, women are finding ways to buy them and either administer the silicone themselves, or have it injected in a salon or gym for a mere $8. The Atlantic explains how many lives have been irreparably altered or destroyed thanks to these illegal enhancement procedures:

In Venezuela, 17 women have died in the past 12 months as a result of liquid silicone buttock injections. The procedure, which according to Jesus Pereira, the president of the Veneuzelan Plastic Surgeons Association, an estimated 30 percent of Venezuelan women aged 18 to 50 have undergone, attempts to achieve a figure thought to be more attractive to Venezuelan men.

While the death toll resulting from these injections has risen since they became widely available in 2008, it has done little to curb the trend of Venezuelans seeking a quick-fix solution to what they perceive as physical inadequacies. Despite being illegal in Venezuela…the country’s Association of Cosmetic Surgeons estimates that 2,000 women every month are receiving injections of this biopolymer, either at home or illegally at unlicensed businesses.

“The injections take just 20 minutes, but they can never fully be taken out,” says Jesús Pereira, the president of the Venezuelan Plastic Surgeons Association. “100 percent of cases become complicated. It could take four days or it could take 20 years, but eventually the patient will become irreversibly sick.”

…The average Venezuelan woman spends 20 percent of her annual salary on beauty products, while 4,000 people go under the knife every month in the name of self-improvement. Indeed, most banks in Venezuela offer long-term loan packages specifically tailored towards plastic surgery procedures.

Sadly, it has taken the death of one of the country’s leading anti-biopolymer campaigners to awaken Venezuela to the dangers of these injections.

Mary Perdomo, the president and founder of the NO to Biopolymers, YES to Life foundation, died several weeks ago as a result of the buttock injections she received four years ago. The mother of three had used her worsening illness as a method to teach fellow Venezuelans about the fatal risks the phenomenon poses….Perdomo’s legacy lives on through the various organizations that work to educate young Venezuelans about biopolymers.

Government efforts to put an end to the dangerous procedures fall short according to some activists, since the sale and purchase of liquid silicone is still relatively hassle free. Many of the women who inflict themselves with these pernicious injections come from low-income families, and believe that beauty is the key to success, an idea that is consistently reinforced in a society that values becoming a “Miss” (a reference to Miss Universe or Miss World) more than education or hard work. Anti-biopolymer organizations attempt to fight against these deeply ingrained notions by offering young girls information they often do not have access to and remain unaware of. Namely, their message seems to be that beauty is still attainable through less harmful measures, and that a “perfect” body is not worth the price many have paid with their own lives.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

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